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38th WVU Alumni Luncheon on Capitol Hill

Prepared Remarks
June 14, 2016

West Virginia University is on the move.  And we have reached a brand-new level of accomplishment and prestige.

The brightest signpost of our current stature is our ranking as a “Highest Research Activity” — or “R1” — university.

We are one of just 115 R1 universities among the nation’s more than 4,500 higher education institutions.

This designation is important.

First, it reflects years of innovative and rigorous work by our faculty, staff, administrators and students. Second, it will enhance our ability to attract and retain top-ranked scholars.

But, while R1 status elevates our University, it does not represent a pinnacle or an apex. We are not done.

We have the potential to reach even higher peaks.

We cannot stop progress — because the future is coming.

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.

And so we find ourselves perched, not on a plateau, but on a precarious boundary between today and tomorrow.

A boundary between excellence and eminence.

A boundary between conventional wisdom and new ideas.

A boundary between West Virginia’s problems and solutions that lead to success.

As we balance on this lofty verge, without the time to admire the view or even pose for selfies, we have only enough time for one thing:  Charting our next ascent.

That is why we are engaged in Campus Conversations about our future. We are asking, “Where do we want to be in five years? In 10?”

And how can we best collaborate to craft that journey?

To reach our destination, we are ready to shred our outdated roadmaps and eschew the comfort of well-worn paths.

We are demolishing obstacles that bar our way, so we can blaze new trails and conquer new frontiers.

We are facing challenges, from continued pressure on our budget, to the way higher education is structured in our state, to our own bureaucracy.

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

We have no time to lose.

Because transforming the arc of higher education can transform the arc of our University’s future and West Virginia’s future.

As our recent achievements show, West Virginia University is on an upward trajectory. Our momentum gives us the power to lift our entire state.

Our land-grant heritage deeds us the moral obligation to do so.

President Abraham Lincoln changed American education forever when he signed the Morrill Act in 1862 and put success within reach of all people.

Today, in 2016, we can begin to change West Virginia forever.

The people of West Virginia University have the perseverance, vigor and knowledge to be skilled architects of our state’s future.

But like the world’s tallest buildings, West Virginia can only rise from a strong and stable foundation.

That is why I am pledging our time and talent to reinforcing that foundation.

We are reinventing West Virginia’s future by strengthening three critical pillars: education, health care and
broad-based prosperity.

Prosperity will remain elusive if our workforce lacks education and our citizens are suffering from disease and despair.

Education. Healthcare. And Prosperity: They are inseparable. 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.

So today, I want to discuss how we radically change education in West Virginia — forever.

Make no mistake: I am talking about a complete overhaul, not casual tinkering.

I am talking about transformative thinking around every aspect of academics, from the way we reward and recruit faculty to the way we teach students.

As West Virginia’s flagship, land-grant University, this is our moment.

For generations, we have been the doorway to the American dream.

We have opened that door to people like Margie Mason, who came to our University from Daybrook, West Virginia—
a town so small most maps omit it. Her father was a truck driver, and he passed along to Margie a willingness to work hard.

At age 19, while pursuing her journalism degree, she took a minimum wage job as a typist at the local newspaper. She soon worked her way up to part-time reporter status, and one day she covered a guest lecture by legendary Vietnam War correspondent and West Virginia University alumnus George Esper.

Having grown up around the war’s veterans, Margie already had a strong interest in Vietnam. Meeting Esper turned that interest into a life’s direction. Esper went on to join the University faculty and became a mentor for Margie.

After graduation, she went to work for The Associated Press.

She eventually took a position with the AP’s bureau in Hanoi, going on to serve as its Asia medical writer and later Indonesia bureau chief.

In that role, as part of a team, she investigated slavery among seafood suppliers. And for her work she won one of the highest awards in journalism — the Pulitzer Prize Gold Medal for Public Service.

When the award became public last month, Margie reflected on the late George Esper and her other mentors.

She said: “There were a lot of people there who wanted me to succeed. But certainly, I never dreamed I would be part of a team that would win a Pulitzer.”

We must continue to open our door to students like Margie — and we must make the path to that doorway even straighter, throw open that door even further, and guide scholars through it even more diligently.

That is why we are opening our campus in Beckley — to bring higher education to more people in southern West Virginia.

Our calling is to change lives through education. And that calling extends far beyond Morgantown.

It is a calling that starts before students arrive on our campuses. Indeed, it starts before they ever skip into a kindergarten classroom.

That is why we are partnering with West Virginia’s pre-K-12 educators to awaken our children’s love of learning.

We encourage reading through programs such as Extension’s Energy Express.

We are training more secondary science and math teachers through our UTeach program.

And through a new alliance with 100Kin10, we have committed to doubling the number of math and science teachers
we graduate by 2020.

WVU Extension STEM specialists are getting students excited about science and math through fun activities such as Lego robotics.

And I am proud to report that Boa Constructors 4-H robotics team from Monroe County earned a first place award at the recent Lego League World Championship.

Our University shepherds talented minority and underrepresented youth into health care careers through our Health Sciences & Technology Academy – which, by the way, recently received more than $200,000 from The Annie E. Casey Foundation to replicate this program in other states.

We also invite high school students into university-level study through the ACCESS WVU Early College Program.

This fall, we added online courses to our highly successful mathematics and engineering portfolio.

The result is the largest number of high school ACCESS students ever.  We have attracted aspiring Mountaineers
from 69 high schools in West Virginia and eight other states.

And once students enter West Virginia University, we must ensure they graduate with a degree — as well as with the
personal and career skills needed to flourish in the 21st century global economy.

For our undergraduates, the route to 21st century success will be Project 168, a comprehensive program that infuses learning into every moment of student life.

This path beckons before the students arrive and shows them how they can enrich their time on campus with academics, personal and professional development, campus life, community service, and global exploration.  

They will approach college in a mindful way – gaining skills, experiences and attitudes that promote career achievement.

Project 168 was developed for students, but the question it poses truly applies to all of us: How can we best use our limited time and our unique talents to make a difference?

Making a difference in the lives of 1.8 million West Virginians is at the very core of our mission. And it is those who pursue that mission tirelessly that help to distinguish the University from its peers.  

Those like Parkersburg native Dan Carder. After studying mechanical and aerospace engineering at West Virginia University, he went on to become director of our Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines and Emissions.

Leading the research team that broke open the Volkswagen emissions scandals, Dan earned a spot on Time Magazine’s annual list of the world’s 100 most influential people.

The list also included such ubiquitous names as President Barack Obama and Nicki Minaj — although, frankly, Dan does not sing as well as either of them.

But he does fully embody the Mountaineer spirit and the spirit of scientific inquiry — unafraid to challenge the status quo, bold enough to face the unknown and determined enough to change the world.

We want faculty members like him because they change our students’ lives.

And, in the years ahead, we will need them to meet our students’ ever-changing needs.

Because just as we finally got a handle on the Millennials, it is time to meet a new cohort — Generation Z, today’s teenagers.

Research shows that they are a completely different animal.

Gen Z values college most as the means to secure a good job, but its members also have a sincere love of learning.

They want to have careers that suit their interests rather than the needs of others.

That means they tend to envision careers in technology, such as computer science and video game development,
whereas our present students are more likely to seek careers in health care, engineering and education.

Gen Z is enormously entrepreneurial.

About 20 percent of this new generation already have their own businesses and another 20 percent plan to own a
business in the future.

And Gen Z students are digital natives. The latest technology is something they expect and embrace, not merely adopt.

So, what does this mean for West Virginia University? It means even more and faster change. A curriculum flexible enough for constant revision. Technology that is on the leading edge. It means new ways of thinking.

Our University must shift swiftly and effectively to meet our obligations to this new generation.

We are already revising and reinventing the student experience.

We are seeking input on Live and Learn Communities that will integrate residence hall programming more closely with academic experiences from our colleges.

And we are encouraging our students to adopt a culture of service through the 12 (BIG!) Days of Service initiative. These service projects also take us one step further toward fulfilling our goals for the Million Hour Match.

In every facet of our education mission, we are striving to be better.

To innovate. To invest. To envision a different paradigm.

We are West Virginia’s education experts. Therefore, we must lead.

We are One West Virginia University. Therefore, we must stack hands and work together.

We are One West Virginia. Therefore, we must merge opportunity with ability so that we may bring hope and optimism to those we serve.
 
The second pillar we, as a University, must address is transforming health care in West Virginia — forever.

What could be a more powerful means to fulfilling our land-grant mission than by defeating problems that cause suffering and cut lives short?

As we know, those problems are legion. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, our state has:

•    The highest percentage of adults who smoke
•    The third-highest rate of adult obesity
•    The second-highest rate of adult diabetes
•    The second-highest cancer death rate
•    The highest percentage of adults with hypertension
•    And the second-lowest life expectancy at birth.

And, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, we also have the nation’s highest rate of drug overdose deaths, more than twice the national average.

These statistics are simply unacceptable. West Virginia deserves better – and we are capable of doing better.

Big challenges call for bold approaches. WVU Medicine is directing its top research, clinical care and outreach leaders
to organize resources against prescription medicine abuse and heroin addiction.

We are caring for addicted persons and reforming pain care to reduce further abuse. We are treating people on campus
and across the state, and giving communities tools to fight overdose deaths. And we are conducting groundbreaking research into prevention and treatment.

Because West Virginia has the dubious distinction of leading in abuse and overdoses, our University must become a national leader in preventing and treating opiate and opioid addiction.

To do that, we are training law enforcement officers to carry and administer naloxone, which can reverse the effects of overdoses.

Through the Opioid Medication Therapy Management program, our pharmacy experts are helping to develop pain management guidelines for the state of West Virginia and conducting medication reviews with patients and prescribers.

Through our telepsychiatry program, patients in rural areas received accessible, confidential and trustworthy addiction treatment close to home.  In 2014, more than 6,000 patient visits took place through telepsychiatry.

Our Department of Behavioral Medicine offers a Comprehensive Opioid Addiction and Treatment program, whose leaders are working with the West Virginia University Injury Control Research Center and experts from many fields to predict who is at risk for addiction — and to stop it before it starts.

We must make a difference in the prevention and treatment of opioid addiction in our home state. And we will continue to work diligently to do so.

Another deadly health threat we must stop is heart disease.

To prepare for battle, we are recruiting world-class physicians, such as Dr. Vinay Badhwar, an internationally recognized master cardiac valve surgeon, to join our outstanding heart team and to lead our new Heart and Vascular Institute.

And our gold-and-blue nation also is empowering people to improve their own health and that of their communities.

We are partnering with groups like Try This West Virginia and Sustainable Williamson to provide resources and expertise for community-led efforts.

We have also come together with Marshall University to jumpstart healthcare research and delivery with $1.5 million dollars in projects across the state.

By reinventing health care, we can ensure that West Virginians thrive — not merely survive.

Because standing steadfast in survival mode is no longer an option — which brings me to our final priority.

This is our moment to help West Virginians thrive by changing our state’s economy — forever.

We have the power to nurture resiliency and reposition our state for broad-based prosperity.

West Virginia has witnessed firsthand how changing job markets can trigger a cascade of economic and social problems — and those problems have strained our ability to connect people to jobs.

Our University is launching a conversation with community members who have endured these industry shifts. From Weirton, to Harper’s Ferry, to Charleston’s West Side, we are pairing University resources with front-line intelligence from residents to capitalize on economic trends.

I believe West Virginia can be a model for communities and people across this country of how to be resilient, determined and successful.

Last summer, we established the WVU Innovation Corporation, which is a new tool that will enable us to increase the amount of contract-based testing and evaluation that we perform for industry and government agencies, with a special focus on increasing our funding from the Department of Defense.   

This is one more example of how the University is serving as an economic engine for West Virginia by leveraging our fundamental research capabilities in a new way, and by building stronger relationships with industry and government.

We also have been in discussions with McKinsey Consulting, through our Center for Big Ideas, on ways to spark an immediate reversal in West Virginia’s economy.  

We are cultivating a relationship with the Gallup organization. They have taken an intense interest in working with universities on projects impacting the future.

Our project with Gallup will focus on how one reinvents a University to lead the reinvention of a state.

And, thanks to an expected major donation from a friend of the University, our Center for Big Ideas is gearing up to study how one restructures state government to make it effective, efficient and forward-thinking in this era of dynamic change.

Creating prosperity for all will also require our University to become more effective and efficient. We must transform all that we do.

That is why I have asked my leadership team to revolutionize our work processes.

By forming Transformation Teams, we are examining everything from how we recruit talent to how we increase student retention to how we simplify business functions.

The goal is to identify at least $45 million dollars in cost savings and revenue generation over the next five years so that we can reinvest those dollars into the work that is mission critical.

We will move quickly, while seeking input from a variety of constituencies as we discover new strategies and generate ideas.

Only by re-examining and reinventing our work, can we become a catalyst for political, social and economic transformation in West Virginia.

So in conclusion, it is my hope that our continued dialogue on these matters will set a standard for open and forthright campus discourse, regarding even the most contentious issues.

On this day that celebrates our nation’s flag, let us pause to remember our founders’ belief that free and open discussion is the cornerstone of democracy.

Free and open discussion is also the cornerstone of a University.

On campus, people come together to argue and rebut, to debate and debunk.

That is how we learn. That is how we challenge our own ideas and open our minds.

Unfortunately, these days, we see minds closing and civil discourse withering all around us.

We see it in presidential primary debates that resemble episodes of Jerry Springer.

We see it across the Internet, which has become a platform for rude and sometimes vicious commentary.

We even see it on our nation’s campuses, where some students demand “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” to protect them from opposing viewpoints.

However, I believe in our students. I have great faith in this generation.

What is more, I have faith in the University experience.

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.

It is a threat to education. And it is a threat to democracy itself.

President Lincoln, who led at a time of greater division and despair than we can even imagine, said:
“Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as a heritage of all men, in all lands, everywhere. Destroy this spirit and you have planted the seeds of despotism around your own doors.”
Our University is a miniature version of the wider world, drawing students from 110 countries, 50 states and 55 counties.

On the great issues of the day, you will find as many views on campus as there are students and faculty.

Varying opinions cannot rend our community because our differences are outweighed by the values we share.

We are respectful, inclusive and fair — always mindful of our true sense of self.

We are curious, seeking new opportunities and suggesting ideas to build a better future.

We are supportive of each other, and are good stewards for the University, choosing to use our collective resources for the betterment of all.

And we are making a difference.

We work swiftly to create real solutions for real problems.

We are changing what it means to be a land-grant institution.

In fact, I like to think we are Mr. Lincoln’s university on a modern-day mission to drive change that matters.

I am proud of our new research classification. I am proud of our faculty, our staff and our students who have devoted
their time and talents to this institution so that it may grow.

I am proud of our elevated reputation on the national scene.

But I am MOST proud of the values that guide our work — and the potential we have to change life forever for 1.8 million West Virginians.

Doing our best for them is our noblest calling and our proudest distinction.

And our link to them is an unbreakable lifeline that sustains us all, as we scale ever higher mountains.