Today’s climate of economic, social and political turmoil creates a rocky road for the futures of West Virginia University and the state of West Virginia, but, as WVU President Gordon Gee pointed out Tuesday (June 14) in the nation’s capitol, challenges create opportunities waiting to be seized.

Gee delivered the annual presidential message at the 38th WVU Alumni Luncheon on Capitol Hill, hosted at the National Press Club, to a crowd of about 300 that included Mountaineer alumni, friends and members of West Virginia’s congressional delegation including Sens. Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito and Reps. David McKinley and Evan Jenkins.

The yearly event provides the University president a platform to address key issues relevant to WVU. It also raises money for Washington, D.C. area students.

As part of his address, Gee urged the gold-and-blue loyal to band together to strengthen three critical pillars of the University and the state: education, health care and broad-based prosperity.

To do this, he emphasized a dire need for unity in times of uncertainty.

“We cannot stop progress because the future is coming,” Gee said. “And it is approaching far faster than most of us imagined. One need only scan the latest headlines to understand that the pace of change is accelerating rapidly, exponentially, across the world.

“But challenges can create opportunities – if we have the courage to seize them. And seize them we must.”

In the face of these challenges, WVU earlier this year received a designation that only elite universities can claim. WVU was granted an R1, or highest research activity, classification by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Learning. The ranking is shared by only 114 other universities, including the likes of Yale, Duke and Johns Hopkins, and authenticates WVU’s quality on the global stage, Gee said.

However, students, faculty, staff and supporters cannot stop there. Instead, they must focus on those pillars of education, healthcare and prosperity to elevate the University to even higher ground.

“(The three pillars) are inseparable,” Gee said. “They are essential. And they are what West Virginia University is uniquely empowered to generate.

“We will reinvent education for our young people, on our campuses, throughout our state and beyond. We will transform health care for our citizens. We will cultivate prosperity in our communities. And we will do it now because time is of the essence.”

On education, Gee said WVU has provided a doorway to the American dream for generations. He specifically mentioned journalism alumna Margie Mason, who recently won a Pulitzer Prize for her part in investigating slavery among seafood suppliers, as an example of WVU serving as a catalyst.

To continue opening doors for students like Mason, the University is plugging away at several initiatives that include the opening of the Beckley campus, continued emphasis on Extension programs such as Energy Express, and the ACCESS WVU Early College Program, which invites high school students into university-level study.

Reinventing education is not limited to just students. The University must also seek new ways to reward faculty and staff in order to retain and recruit the best teachers possible, Gee said.

On the health care front, Gee addressed West Virginia’s dubious distinction of being one of the top states for prescription drug abuse and heroin addiction. To combat those problems, WVU Medicine is devoting research, clinical care and outreach leaders, Gee said. The WVU Law Enforcement Naloxone Project provides law enforcement with training to administer naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of overdose. In addition, WVU Medicine offers a telepsychiatry program that has served more than 6,000 patients in 2014 with addiction treatment.

Another deadly health threat in West Virginia is heart disease, Gee continued. The recruiting of world-class physicians, such as Dr. Vinay Badhwar, who will lead the new Heart and Vascular Institute, will help reverse the trend, he said.

WVU is pursuing broad-based prosperity through actions that will enhance the state’s lagging economy. Last summer, the University launched the Innovation Corporation, a new tool that will enable WVU to increase the amount of contract-based testing and evaluation for industry and government.

Gee also applauded the work of WVU’s recently formed transformation teams that analyze ways to bust bureaucracy and save money. Gee said these teams will identify at least $45 million in cost savings and revenue generation over the next five years.

Finally, in order to embrace reinvention, Gee said WVU must remain cognizant of what makes a university a great university – open and civic discourse.

“On campus, people come together to argue and rebut, to debate and debunk,” he said. “That is how we learn.

“A University’s role is not to make people comfortable; it is to make them think. Our responsibility is not to shield students from the harsh winds outside. It is to teach them how to weather strong disagreements. Any attempt to deny free speech protections to others is a threat to our own freedom.”

Some $23,000 in proceeds from Tuesday’s 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.

Sponsors of this year’s luncheon included Widmeyer Communications, Hamilton Insurance Agency, Integrated Direct Marketing, Asher Agency and Capital Caring.

A moment of reflection was also held for former Alumni Association President Steve Douglas, who passed away in May.



CONTACT: University Relations/News

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