“The problems facing our state and world are too big for any one person, department, institution or sector to solve alone,” Gee said Monday (Oct. 5) to the Faculty Assembly before its regular monthly meeting. “Boundaries within the University must not be boundaries on our ingenuity.”
Gee’s call for outreach comes on the heels of a summer fire that ravaged part of historic Harpers Ferry’s downtown business district. Shortly after the fire, Gee telephoned Harpers Ferry Mayor Greg Vaughn to offer the University’s time and resources to help rebuild the town.
WVU and Harpers Ferry residents met to formulate a response plan, and several colleges and departments—including WVU Extension Service, the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, Reed College of Media and College of Law – stepped in to provide support.
The University’s devotion to its land-grant mission of “applying real-world knowledge and application for the public good” will not end in Harpers Ferry, however.
Gee announced the beginning of a community engagement project aimed at understanding the sociological and economic needs of Weirton and helping the town rebound from the collapse of its steel industry in the 1980s.
“Through inter-disciplinary work that pairs University and external resources with front line community intelligence, we can find solutions that honor the culture and history of our communities,” he said.
For these type of projects, departments from across the University and within the John D. Rockefeller IV School of Policy and Politics will play a vital role, guided by those who have lived through these real-life challenges. Gee said he believes that solutions to problems often come from collaborative efforts across all sectors and platforms.
Weirton is choosing a “path forward,” he said. “West Virginia can be a model for communities and individuals across this country – of how to be resilient, determined and successful.”
In addition to peering into the future, Gee reflected on the previous year’s efforts enhancing the student experience at WVU.
He noted that reshuffling Welcome Week provided more learning and service opportunities for students and led to less destructive behavior at the beginning of the fall semester.
A new event, Saturday Night Lights, brought 3,500 freshmen together at Milan Puskar Stadium for a fireworks-filled extravaganza that brought Mountaineer tradition alive. More than 1,000 students volunteered in Welcome Week service projects throughout the community. And FallFest was moved from Monday to Sunday so it would not distract students from academics. That move resulted in zero incidents at FallFest for the first time ever.
The number of student arrests in August was almost half that of the same month last year, according to police records. There was also a 50 percent decrease this August in DUIs and a nearly 50 percent decrease in liquor law violations, Gee said.
Honors College enrollment surged from about 500 students last year to 740 this year, demonstrating that WVU is attracting more students who are intellectually curious and career driven.
“Putting students first is our highest mandate,” he said. “That means more than just transforming the culture and strengthening academics. It also means making sure we are accessible and affordable for every qualified student who wants to learn here.”
Gee continued to push Project 168, which emphasizes hands-on learning, outside-the-box thinking and global exploring. Part of Project 168 is a revitalized advising system that will help students stay on track for graduation.
“We have set a 90 percent retention rate as our future goal,” Gee said. “Let me repeat that: A 90 percent retention rate as our future goal and we will achieve it.”
To help achieve this, the University has hired its first dean of completion, Joe Sieaman.
“We have deans of admission who help get our students into the University,” Gee said. “Why do we not have a dean of completion who will help our students graduate from this University?”
The previous year witnessed ongoing construction across campus, as well as the opening of several facilities geared toward serving students, faculty, staff and the community.
The WVU Art Museum, located next to the Creative Arts Center, officially opened its doors to the public in August. It houses more than 3,000 works of art and admission is free to the public.
New student living complexes continue to sprout up on campus, including Oakland Hall, where 900 freshmen live in ultra-modern rooms, and University Park, with apartments for upperclassmen.
Gee also touted Evansdale Crossing, which opens later this semester as a student services hub, or one-stop shop, that will also feature amenities including a two-story Barnes & Noble, various restaurants and an innovation lab.
And spring will see the opening of a new Agricultural Sciences Building.
“These and other strategic investments will give our students in Morgantown the best possible learning environment,” Gee said.
And while investing in student life programs, scholarships and facilities is important, none of those things will help students succeed if we lack a University’s greatest resource – “talented people to teach, mentor and guide our students,” Gee said.
Investing in faculty and staff means encouraging “risk taking,” he said—rewarding success – and even failure when it springs from innovation. It also means building a merit-based University, “one that is fair but not equal.”
Education for all
Bolstering his message of outreach, Gee reiterated that the University must help provide all West Virginians with the tools to shine in their personal and professional lives.
One way to do that is through the power of education, he said.
“Educational enlightenment is a lifelong process,” Gee said. “It is not wedged between pre-K and 12th grade. It is all interconnected.”
The university must continue to encourage reading in the summer months through programs like Energy Express and also train more secondary science, technology, engineering and math teachers through the WVUteach program. Helping high school students get a leg up and earn college credits toward their degree through WVU’s ACCESS Early College Program is another forward-thinking approach, he said.
The recent purchase of the Mountain State University campus in Beckley will help grant residents in the southern part of the state better access to a WVU education. This past weekend, WVU and WVU Tech connected with thousands of potential students, community members, business leaders and local officials during an open house at the Beckley Campus.
Another way WVU is making education accessible is through Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs – a course of study made available over the Internet without charge to a large number of people.
WVU moved into the world of MOOCs, partnering with Coursera, a leading provider, by offering two courses. A course on today’s music industry attracted more than 4,500 students from 126 countries, and a course on forensic accounting and fraud examination enrolled more than 20,000 students from 86 countries.
“Online education supports our highest calling as a land-grant university—providing access to opportunity,” Gee said.
“But despite ever-evolving technologies, we cannot let what has historically elevated higher education as a public savior slip away – face to face, real-life interaction.”
He also cited important, cutting-edge research by faculty and graduate students that is making a difference in the lives of citizens, including making stroke diagnosis as fast and easy as a blood test; studying gravitational waves to discover more about the universe; developing digital publishing; being a leader in diesel emissions research, the neurosciences, energy and shale gas, among others.
WVU is also working to launch a faculty-led Humanities Center that will position the University as a “leading voice” in the value and necessity of human life education.
“I am committed to leading this institution to our rightful place among the best research universities in the world,” he said.
Gee topped off his remarks with a charge to the audience to ride the University’s momentum and forge ahead to better themselves and the community.
“We have accomplished many great things this past year – of which I am very proud. But what makes me even more proud is the spirit of our leadership, our faculty, our staff and our students who want to do more.
“It is not enough to achieve the goal – we want to surpass it. We exceed expectations. We dance beyond the boundaries.
”’Going big’ sometimes comes with risks – and that is OK as long as we move forward thinking strategically, moving quickly and fearlessly, and always, always putting our students and the 1.8 million people of the state of West Virginia first.
“That is the way West Virginia University will lead. That, my friends, is the way we all must lead.”
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