Skip to main content
Facebook Twitter Instagram

Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation

Prepared Remarks
April 18, 2017

For more than 10 years, residents of tiny Prenter, West Virginia, have lived without the most basic requirement for a healthy life—clean water. 

When the coal company that established Prenter’s water system left the area, it quickly fell into disrepair. 

West Virginia University student Morgan King, a civil and environmental engineering major from Charleston, learned about abandoned water systems in Prenter and 12 other communities while she was interning with the Department of Health and Human Resources. 

She helped to bring our University’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders to Boone County to help get clean water flowing again.

Much work lies ahead, but these students and Prenter residents are determined to create real change.

For 150 years, West Virginia University has been linking people with state-of-the-art knowledge to create solutions and improve lives.

That is our mission as a land-grant institution. And it is the driving force for everything we do to advance education, healthcare and prosperity in West Virginia. 

Education, healthcare and prosperity are the three pillars that support our work, and it is not surprising that they are similar to the three biggest priorities the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation identifies for this region. 

Education, healthcare and prosperity are clearly the building blocks for West Virginia’s future. And strengthening them has never been more important to our state than it is right now.

Our state is at a tipping point. Economic shifts have triggered a half-billion-dollar budget shortfall that lawmakers are still wrangling about here in Charleston. 

Where some see a crisis, however, I see an opportunity to stack hands. Where some seek to slap Band-Aids on our economic wounds, I see the potential to heal them once and for all.To do so, we must change our strategy from “cut” to “invest.”

We must adopt an abundance mentality, rather than one based on scarcity. 

We must enlarge our budget pie, not fight over the size of our pieces as it crumbles before our eyes.
The people who work for and with the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation understand this better than most.

For more than a half-century the Foundation has brought together public and private sector partners to build wealth and change lives in this region.

I congratulate Dr. Foster, Board of Directors Chairman Charles Loeb Jr. and everyone else who makes this Foundation so successful.Like you, we at West Virginia University, see partnership as the key to West Virginia’s future. 

We partner with the business community, including those involved in tourism, our state’s second-largest industry. The hospitality and tourism program in our College of Business and Economics was the first of its kind in this state. 

Students in the program gain real-world experience in restaurant and hotel management by spending time in learning labs.

We partner with West Virginia’s struggling communities, such as Charleston’s West Side, where we are pairing University resources with front-line intelligence from residents to capitalize on economic trends.

We partner with other educators, such as those at Marshall University. Together, our institutions are investing $1.5 million to jumpstart healthcare research and delivery projects across the state.

We forge multifaceted partnerships, such as the Marcellus Shale Energy and Environmental Laboratory—or M-SEEL—in which our partners are Northeast Natural Energy, the National Energy Technology Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy and the Ohio State University. 

This is the first-ever long-term, comprehensive field study of shale gas resources, a key area of economic growth for West Virginia.

We also partner with West Virginians through community foundations such as this one. 

WVU Extension professionals have worked with the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation area to bring science, technology, engineering and math education to area children through the STEM Ambassador program. 

In Clay County, more than 600 youth participated in STEM activities led by a chemical engineering student serving as an ambassador last summer.

In all we do — and all partnerships we form — we are enacting a strategic vision to transform West Virginia.

And, make no mistake: A full-scale transformation is necessary. And higher education must drive it.

Manufacturing employment has declined by about one-third since 1990. 

Meanwhile, state spending on public two- and four-year colleges is at its lowest point in a decade.  

While funding has decreased, the need for higher education is at an all-time high. 

Since 2008, 11.8 million jobs have emerged in this country. But only 80,000 of those jobs required only a high-school education. The rest required either a college degree or substantial post-secondary training. 

The world is changing, and if we in West Virginia do not act as the architects of change, we will become its victims.

Our building blocks for change, as I noted earlier, are education, healthcare and prosperity.

Let me give you a few examples of what we are doing to advance those areas, particularly in the Kanawha Valley.

Strengthening education is a must if we want West Virginia to have a workforce capable of securing the technology-rich careers of the future.

Our university is providing high school teachers with the training to do just that through WVU Teach.

In addition to training more math and science teachers for our schools, we are opening children’s eyes to the joy of discovery. 

We encourage reading through programs such as Extension’s Energy Express. In 2015 alone, this award-winning program served more than 90,000 meals and helped children gain, on average, 2.8 months in broad reading achievement.

Strengthening math and science knowledge is another major priority. In Boone County, for example, WVU Extension has helped to involve about 150 youth in a Lego robotics program and hosted two STEM day camps last summer.

In Fayette County, Extension expanded financial literacy in more than 300 middle school students and showed them the link between academic achievement and the lifestyle they envision for themselves after graduation.

Meanwhile, throughout West Virginia, our faculty members are nurturing a love for the arts by giving virtual music lessons to youth. 

For students of college-going age, our University opens the door to endless opportunity. And for our state, it is preparing a new generation of leaders to create progress.

Consider Noor Dahshan, a student from George Washington High School here in Charleston, who recently earned one of our most prestigious awards, the Bucklew Scholarship.

Noor, who wants to become a psychiatrist, was born in Oklahoma and lived in Saudi Arabia for two years. But West Virginia is her home, and it is here that she wants to build her future.

Noor said:  “West Virginia has given so much to me it would be wrong of me not to give back,” she said. “The sense of family and community – I always feel safe here. West Virginia becomes your life. I’ve always felt like I belong here.”

Jessica Miller from Boone County is another Bucklew Scholar and aspiring healthcare provider.

She said: “I’ve had big dreams since middle school. I’ll probably stay here and do rural medicine. There’s not great access to healthcare.”

Increasing access to higher education in southern West Virginia is the reason we are moving our Montgomery campus to Beckley this summer. 

Along with our campus in Keyser and health sciences campuses in Martinsburg and Charleston, our Beckley campus will help us provide the academic programming and supportive environments that meet the needs of our students.

Increasing access is also the reason we have made raising scholarship funds a priority, with our $50 million “Dream First” scholarship initiative exceeding its goal in less than two years.

Our Mountaineer alumni in Boone County have set the standard when it comes to helping youth attend college. 

For more than 25 years, they have been raising money for scholarships that provide assistance to every Boone County student attending our University full-time.

Thanks to their efforts, the number of Boone County youth on our campus has increased dramatically, and they have left their mark on the University. 

Many have been involved in the marching band, athletics, student organizations and student government, where more Boone County students have served in leadership roles than any other county in West Virginia. 

Many of these students stay in West Virginia after they graduate and help to make our state better.

Aaron Gillespie, one of the first recipients of the Boone County scholarship, graduated from the University in 1994 with a degree in engineering and now works for the West Virginia Department of Transportation.

Aaron said: “I knew I wanted to go to college, earn my degree and return to the Boone County area to live and work. The scholarship was the biggest blessing I have received, and it enabled me to accomplish those goals.”

Once they arrive on our campus, we help students achieve their goals by enriching their education with leadership development, research and community service opportunities. 

We call this curriculum Project 168 because it helps students maximize learning during a week’s 168 hours, not merely the hours they spend in class.

For budding inventors and entrepreneurs, we have a LaunchLab that help students turn big ideas into big business.

We have student organizations such as the Pride of West Virginia Mountaineer Marching Band, whose 330 members sparkled in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade last year.

Budding scientists and scholars find faculty mentors who involve them in meaningful research projects.

At this year’s Undergraduate Research Day at the Capitol, 11 students from the Kanawha Valley were among those showing legislators the value of science and discovery.

We also nurture the drive to discover and create in students through community projects, including the production of a 360-degree video on West Virginia’s flood recovery, which earned recognition from the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

Just as our University is responding to West Virginia’s need for an education workforce, we are attacking critical threats to the health of our population.

That population is aging, and its older members are at high risk for neurodegenerative diseases.

We have consolidated all of our neurosciences research under a new West Virginia University Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute with the goal of curing Alzheimer’s and similar conditions. 

Autism affects 1 in 68 West Virginia children. 

Susannah Poe, associate professor of pediatrics, developed and leads our intensive Autism Services Delivery Clinic, which has gained national attention for its success in training the next generation of autism professionals.

Opioid addiction killed more than 700 West Virginians last year alone. 

Dr. James Berry leads our Comprehensive Opioid Addiction Treatment Clinic, which is expanding to battle this national epidemic. Dr. Berry is visiting doctors across the state and using teleconferencing to give physicians the training and support they need to treat drug addicts.

Our state also has a high incidence of cardiovascular disease. In January, the WVU Heart and Vascular Institute opened its new doors on the Morgantown campus. 

In the first two months, the new facility attracted more than 700 visits, and another 5,600 patients sought treatment in the Institute's clinics around the state.

In another example of meeting state health needs, the School of Medicine is launching three new physician-training programs on the Morgantown campus. 

The residency programs in radiation oncology and plastic surgery, as well as a fellowship program in vascular surgery, addresses known deficiencies in West Virginia health care.

All told, WVU Medicine—the state’s largest private employer—served 800,000 outpatients and treated more than 37,000 people in our hospitals last year.

We are building strong programs not only in Morgantown but in communities across the state to address cancer care, women’s health, children’s health and critical care. 

Through WVU Extension, we bring knowledge about healthy lifestyles directly to West Virginia families. For example, by working with the Fayette County Commission, we involved almost 4,000 residents in exercise and healthy eating programs in 2015.

In the years ahead, West Virginia University will continue to lead the way in helping treat those fighting addiction, as well as those battling obesity and diabetes.

In addition to saving lives, we are also working to revive West Virginia’s economy. 

Energy will always be an important industry in the state, and our faculty and staff members are advancing efficient, sustainable energy production.

For example, we have joined a national effort to turn natural gas into valuable products — and do it at the wellhead. This serves a real-world need for many production locations in West Virginia, where some shale gas resources are stranded without pipeline infrastructure, which affects access and price.

Across many disciplines, we are leveraging our fundamental research capabilities and building stronger relationships with industry and government.

We established the WVU Innovation Corporation, 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.

To promote workforce development, we are partnering with such companies as Boeing to offer online degrees in fields that match industry needs. Arrangements like this bring value to corporations by offering the expertise and knowledge that our University has in niche areas. 

To help West Virginians navigate the legal system, our College of Law students provide more than 40,000 hours of pro bono legal aid per year.

In January, for example, student clinicians in our Veterans Advocacy Clinic traveled to Madison to meet local veterans and learn about their struggles with the VA benefits bureaucracy.

Rachel Roush, a third-year law student, said: “The experience was extraordinarily meaningful; meeting these veterans and hearing their stories, learning from them, and getting a firm sense of how we can better assist them moving forward was truly a pleasure and an excellent learning experience.”

Working together, with communities, businesses, other educators and concerned citizens, we can make West Virginia a model for people across this country—a model of the resilience, determination, and cooperation and a living and learning laboratory for successful partnerships among all sectors.

In this tumultuous time, powering our state’s future requires us to look at things in new ways. Our most fearsome enemy is the phrase, “This is the way we do things in West Virginia.”

That is why we have been working so diligently in partnership with our Governor and legislative leaders to invest in higher education. 

In the past three years, West Virginia University has dealt with a nearly $30 million dollar reduction in state funding. In January, the governor proposed an additional 4.4 percent reduction – and we are prepared should that occur. Our accountability to West Virginia taxpayers has driven our endeavors to bust bureaucracy, increase efficiency and seek new revenue sources.

However, legislative leaders have suggested even further reductions to higher education.

Reductions of that magnitude would jeopardize the educational quality and value we offer students, as well as programs and services we provide to the state.

We are also facing challenges at the national level, with our country’s new budget director indicating a desire to reduce funding to many of our University important partners in transformation, including the Department of Education, the Department of Agriculture, the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Appalachian Regional Commission, Americorps and the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities.

Forward-looking West Virginians must stand up for the importance of investing in education, research, science, the arts and community partnerships.

As government funding dwindles, generous supporters of foundations like this one are more important than ever to our state’s future.

Last summer, among some of the worst circumstances imaginable, we learned anew how compassionate, courageous and united Mountaineers can be.

When floods ravaged southern West Virginia in June, everyone reached out to help, including our students, faculty, staff and alumni.

We raised funds, which alumnus Ken Kendrick augmented with a $500,000 challenge match. 

We set up collection sites for supplies and sent more than 20 truckloads of items, along with students, staff, and faculty members to help with clean up.

I have heard that our supplies reached Clay County and Webster Springs before emergency responders did. 

Members of the Mountaineer football team coordinated their own effort, collecting and distributing bottled water. Our Forestry Department helped clear fallen trees, allowing access to damaged areas. WVU Medicine caregivers provided vaccines and other assistance.

Later, our Student Emergency Fund helped students from flood-raved areas to return to campus, and will continue helping next academic year. For students like Clay County’s Brooklyn and Tyler Gould, siblings whose family home was lost in the flood, returning to college without help from the Emergency Fund would have been difficult, if not impossible. 

Just as West Virginians came together to help flood victims, we can apply our resilient spirit to conquering our state’s economic challenges.

After 150 years serving West Virginians, through wars, economic fluctuations and incredible technological advancement, our University is reimagining what West Virginia can do and become.

Working with people like you, we can help 1.8 million West Virginians design a thriving future that surpasses anything our forebears dreamed of in 1867, or that we can imagine today.