I have not had this much fun in quite some time.
As president of the state’s flagship, land-grant university I am reacquainting myself with all 55 counties of West Virginia.
I have already encountered a few hidden gems scattered throughout the Mountain State: the Mothman statue in Point Pleasant, the Green Bank Telescope in Pocahontas County and, more recently, the world’s largest teapot in Chester.
The 14-feet tall teapot kicked off my trek to the Northern Panhandle counties of Hancock, Brooke, Ohio, Marshall and Wetzel, bringing the tally up to 27 counties visited thus far.
Over my two days in the Northern Panhandle, my team and I ventured over to the Homer Laughlin China Company factory in Newell, the Hancock and Wetzel County Extension Offices, a Weirton Rotary Club meeting, the Brooke County Museum, Oglebay Resort and a gas well and processing plant tour hosted by Consol Energy, Noble Energy and Blue Racer, among other stops.
So, why am I doing this?
Because West Virginia University is West Virginia’s university. And as a land-grant university, we have a responsibility to empower every West Virginian with the ability to rise higher.
A.J. Brewer is one of our students who is rising higher. A.J. is a petroleum and natural gas engineering major from Mingo County. I happened to meet A.J. on a site visit in Marshall County. He is spending his summer there interning with Noble Energy – just one of four select interns from prestigious universities like ours.
A.J. is seizing opportunities made available to him through his studies at West Virginia University and in partnership with businesses like Noble that invest in our state.
In fact, I met people all along the Northern Panhandle connected by the same gold-and-blue thread.
I had a chance to visit with several of our students who are working in Newell, W. Va., at Ergon, Inc., a company that refines and distributes petroleum products.
And I met George Charnie Jr., who runs an insurance agency in Weirton. He graduated from West Virginia University with a finance degree. And although George graduated under a different president, he asked me to sign his degree when we met at the Rotary event. I was honored to do so.
It is gratifying to see so many Mountaineers doing good work in our communities. But as I told West Virginia Senate President Jeff Kessler at an alumni reception at Oglebay Resort, we have more work to do.
I was in Chicago about two months ago and a woman who is an alumna came up to me and said, ‘Aren’t you the new president of WVU?’ She told me all about her job and life in Chicago. I said to her, ‘You work for a great company and live in a high-rise in a nice part of the city. It must be great living here with a good job and all of these amenities.’
Without any hesitation, she replied, ‘Find me a job in West Virginia.’
We have an opportunity – and a responsibility – to partner and work together to take West Virginia to new heights. By connecting with our neighbors in the corner coffee shops, the public schools, the fairs and festivals, and the small-town Chambers of Commerce, we will make that happen.