President Gee urges alumni to help fellow Mountaineers 'dream big' and 'go first' at WVU Capitol Hill luncheon
WASHINGTON, D.C. – West Virginia University President Gordon Gee believes the new Mountaineers Go First campaign is more than just flashy words and fancy advertising: It’s a living, breathing mantra that embodies the boldness of the Mountaineer spirit.
He proved that to a crowd of about 300 at the 37th annual WVU Alumni Luncheon on Capitol Hill on Tuesday (June 16) with stories of faculty, staff and student success.
Members of West Virginia’s congressional delegation and WVU alumni and friends in the D.C.-area attend the luncheon every year to reconnect with the gold-and-blue. Attending this year’s luncheon were Sens. Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito and Congressman David McKinley. Former Sen. Jay Rockefeller also attended.
The event also provides the University president a platform to address key issues relevant to WVU.
One example of a Mountaineer “going first” is Dr. Julie Brefczynski-Lewis. As a college student, Brefczynski-Lewis wondered about thoughts and memories and how those all rolled around in a three-pound organ known as the brain.
Today, she is a research assistant professor at the WVU Center for Neuroscience. She is on a team studying the human brain in motion, using an innovative portable PET scanner as part of a national BRAIN Initiative, launched by President Obama in 2013, to research brain disorders.
From her work studying the brains of meditating monks, Brefcyznski-Lewis developed a kindness meditation app that injects serene stretches into otherwise chaotic lives.
“This portable PET scan research represents a whole new way of thinking – literally,” Gee told the audience. “And new ways of thinking are what we need so desperately today.
“Clinging to outworn ideas and outmoded traditions will not do. So, how can we regain our country’s leadership in innovation? How can we create a vibrant economy for West Virginia? And how can we continue to reposition West Virginia University as an eminent land-grant institution?”
Gee referenced the ancient Romans as an answer to those questions – Fortes fortuna adiuvat, meaning “Fortune favors the bold.”
At WVU, it is time for bold action, Gee declared.
Later in his address, the president turned his attention to student success and showed a video of a history-making wildlife and fisheries major. Hannah Clipp this year became the first WVU student to win both the prestigious Udall and Goldwater scholarships.
“Hannah personifies the American Dream,” Gee said.
Clipp, who was born in China, was adopted at 7 months old from a rural orphanage by parents from the Maryland suburbs. She hopes to someday study mammals and birds for a federal wildlife agency. She is currently serving a research internship in Seattle with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“I promise you she will accomplish her goals because she wields rugged determination,” Gee said. “She embodies the Mountaineer spirit to ‘Go First.’”
Gee asked alumni and friends to help the University recruit, retain and reinforce more students like Hannah Clipp. He addressed recent student initiatives, such as the $50 million scholarship fundraising campaign known as ‘Dream First.’
“It is crucial that we drive our students to the doorstep of their dreams,” Gee said.
In addition to Dream First, Gee discussed Project 168, students changing the party culture and engineering students’ big win last week at a NASA robotics competition.
One WVU for One WV
“As we march into tomorrow with our students’ best interests at heart, we must also march together toward the road that best serves the state of West Virginia and its citizens,” Gee said.
He noted that the U.S. Census Bureau reported this year that West Virginia was losing population faster than any other state.
WVU, being West Virginia’s flagship, land-grant university, must step up to the plate, collaborate with its partners and solve that problem.
Industries have changed. The steel mills, coal mines and factories that once served as West Virginia’s economic backbone are fading away, Gee said.
“We must reinvent what West Virginia is all about,” he said. “As a land-grant, research university, we are on the cusp of an ascension of innovation.”
Gee believes the University has taken a solid, first step in purchasing the former Mountain State University campus in Beckley. Officials plan to have the new WVU Beckley campus up and running by fall 2016, with programs in the allied health fields, including nursing, and programs akin to the region such as tourism, outdoor recreation and hospitality.
“It is hoped that the economic impact of the campus will benefit community businesses and the tax base as the campus enrollment grows – perhaps as much as several thousand students in a few years, making it the third or fourth largest campus in the state.
“This Beckley acquisition represents the beginning of a new era of educational access throughout West Virginia. We are truly dreaming big and going first.”
‘How do we want to be remembered?’
Gee ended his remarks by borrowing from an idea in David Brooks’ new book, ‘The Road to Character.’
He asked the audience, “How do we want to be remembered?”
That question is essential to creating the perfect West Virginia and the perfect University, he said.
“It is time for us – one West Virginia University family – to build that special aura – that intangible essence – that far exceeds any bullet point on a resume,” Gee said. “We shall no longer obsess over individual success. We shall be remembered for how we entered the lives of others and lifted them up to reach their full potential.”
Some $30,000 in proceeds from the luncheon will be directed to the John F. and Lucy Nicholas Memorial Scholarship Fund benefiting Washington, D.C. area students attending WVU and the New Home for Mountaineers Alumni Center Fund. Beneficiaries include student internships at the Alumni Association, the Association’s Loyalty Permanent Endowment Fund, and the Mountaineer Athletic Club for student-athlete scholarships from the D.C.-area.
This year’s event sponsors included Asher Agency, BDO, First Energy, CONSOL Energy, Hamilton Insurance, The Hill newspaper, Ellen Goodwin Fundraising Counsel, The Greenbrier, Capital Caring and Widmeyer Communications, a Finn Partners company.
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