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E. Gordon Gee: West Virginia University offers hope

Published in the Charleston Gazette-Mail, February 19, 2016.

On Friday, 4-H youth and volunteers from across West Virginia will converge on our state’s Capitol Complex to share a powerful message with legislators.

These are some of West Virginia’s most talented young people, with bright futures ahead. On West Virginia University and WVU Extension Day at the Legislature, they are here to tell our leaders that West Virginia’s future can be bright, too — if we all work together.

That means expanding our thinking about the ways business, government, higher education and other sectors can partner. Only by working together can we leverage West Virginians’ energy, vitality and creativity and transform them into a catalyst for progress.

We are one West Virginia, and the power of partnership will make all our lives better.

Having spent the past two summers touring West Virginia, I know that our university’s calling extends far beyond Morgantown. From Charleston to Clay, from Sutton to St. Albans and at the State Fair in Fairlea, I saw that we are making a difference.

I also saw that we need to do even more. And I can sum up what we need to do in two words: Provide hope.

West Virginians are among the most resilient people I have ever met, but we at West Virginia University know that we must give them reasons to keep hoping.

Big challenges call for bold approaches. And that is why we are dancing beyond all boundaries by forging strategic partnerships throughout the university, across the state and around the world.

For example, our gold-and-blue nation has come together with others to move the Mountain State from last to first in health statistics. West Virginia University and Marshall University together have pledged $1.5 million to jumpstart healthcare research and delivery projects across the state.

West Virginia University’s relationships with Marshall, Charleston Area Medical Center, the School of Osteopathic Medicine and dozens of other partners in health education, research and healthcare are at an all-time high.

The health of our people directly affects the health of our state, the health of our economy and the health of our positioning in the global market.

When it comes to investing in our state, it is time to go big or go home.

In order to embrace bold action, our university has created a Center for Big Ideas. Its first big project has a theme that can be summed up in two more words: community resiliency.

For generations, communities grew their identities around the seeds of industry. As in other parts of the country, West Virginia has seen changing job markets trigger a cascade of economic and social problems — and those problems have strained our ability to connect people to jobs.

WVU is launching a conversation with community members who have lived through these industry shifts.

From Weirton, to Harpers 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.

Another important action West Virginia University has taken is opening a campus in Beckley — the new home of WVU Tech. As we partner with our colleagues in the area, the university will be able to provide more opportunities to more people in southern West Virginia.

And we are looking beyond our state’s boundaries to integrate West Virginia into today’s worldwide economy. Most recently, I visited the Middle East with other university leaders. We celebrated partnerships, made new connections and founded our first alumni chapter in that region.

And those alumni, as well as all graduates of West Virginia University, have many reasons to be proud of their university — including earning the highest Carnegie Classification for doctoral universities, “highest research activity.” Our faculty and staff do remarkable work every day. And we do it with one unwavering focus: to change lives.

Our highest priority is — and always will be — to ensure that 1.8 million West Virginians can thrive, not merely survive. And by working together, we can make the future bright for our state and all our young people.