VIDEO: President Gee highlights resiliency, reinforces WVU's devotion to education, health care and prosperity in annual fall address
In his annual address to the Faculty Assembly, West Virginia University President Gordon Gee touted the institution’s whirlwind of accomplishments – from student, faculty and staff successes to its budding partnerships with communities and public and private entities.
He also lifted up the state’s battle-tested resiliency through economic hardships, natural disasters and the stigma of being one of nation’s most unhealthy.
The Mountaineer nation, Gee said, has its brightest days ahead of it.
At Monday’s (Oct. 10) Faculty Senate meeting, Gee expressed the University’s intentions to ride its wave of momentum forward, particularly in bolstering the three pillars of education, health care and prosperity for West Virginia.
“Whatever the opportunity may be, if we always return to our purpose – if we ask ourselves ‘Why am I here? What can I do to help? How can I be indispensible to the mission of this institution?’ – I firmly believe we can transform West Virginia and this state we all call home,” Gee said.
Student success initiatives introduced under Gee’s leadership – he returned to WVU in 2014 – seem to be paying off already. This fall, WVU saw increases in enrollment, retention and academic quality. The Fall 2016 freshmen class was the University’s largest ever at more than 6,000 students at all three campuses.
“We have reversed a decline in overall enrollment and made progress in building a more diverse campus,” Gee said. “First-time applications from underrepresented students were up 70 percent this year, and the number of admitted underrepresented freshmen rose by 27 percent.”
In addition to quantity, fall freshmen weren’t lacking in quality as they represented the highest high school GPA in history. Also, Honors College numbers surged to include about 18 percent of the freshman class.
The University’s emphasis on student success doesn’t rest only on new and incoming students. Initiatives such as Project 168, a blueprint for how students spend their time outside the classroom, target students’ development throughout their college careers.
WVU also became the first in the country to have a dean of completion, Joe Seiman, and is currently adding tutoring centers across campuses, streamlining advising and assisting students earlier when they begin to struggle academically.
Out-of-the-classroom accolades were also highlighted this past year as WVU students earned an unprecedented 30 national scholarships.
Gee wants young West Virginians to realize the potential they can fulfill at the University.
“I do not want to see a single bright young West Virginian leave our state to attend college,” he said. “And as One WVU, we must leverage all of our statewide resources – from Morgantown, Keyser, Martinsburg, Charleston and Beckley – to recruit and retain the best and brightest.”
It’s no news that West Virginia lags behind nationally in health, from opioid addiction to obesity.
WVU, Gee said, is tackling those issues head-on.
“Last month, Dr. Badhwar became the first physician in the state to implant a new minimally invasive device for treatment of a leaking mitral valve, called mitral regurgitation. This procedure does not require incisions in the chest or use of the heart-lung machine, so recovery time is improved.”
Recently, WVU has formed partnerships with hospitals across the state from Camden Clark Medical Center to Potomac Valley Hospital to Jefferson Medical Center, to name a few.
In other healthcare feats of the past year, the University has consolidated all of its neurosciences research under a new WVU Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute with the goal of curing Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.
And Susannah G. Poe, associate professor of pediatrics, has developed and led the Intensive Autism Services Delivery Clinic, which has gained national attention for training the next generation of autism experts.
All three pillars are connected and influence one another. Lacking in one area bears a detrimental effect on another. Therefore, without the power of education and health care, prosperity ceases to exist.
West Virginia’s economy has taken its share of hits, but WVU is partnering with others to reverse that trend, Gee said.
This year, the University nurtured entrepreneurship and economic development through a new Women’s Business Center, funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Health Sciences Innovation Center.
The University has also forged partnerships with Boeing, the U.S. Army Special Forces and Pierpont Community and Technical College to build a workforce with in-demand skills.
“By leveraging our expertise, we can bring the necessary entities together to examine new avenues for economic development,” Gee said. “We will grow our partnerships with federal government agencies, as well as NGOs and businesses. We will listen to our communities and then together create a plan that meets their needs.”
But beyond those three pillars, there’s a simple mantra that must be exercised by West Virginians at their core to flourish: Take care of one another.
Gee noted the response to the summer’s devastating floods as proof.
“This summer, among some of the worst circumstances imaginable, we learned anew how compassionate, courageous and united Mountaineers can be,” he said.
The University raised funds, which alumnus Ken Kendrick augmented with a $500,000 challenge match.
Gee invited Berhanu to his address, which ended with a live performance of the song.
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