Guest Essays, Opinion

Guest essay: Universities collaborate with state for better future

by E. Gordon Gee and Brad D. Smith

As presidents of West Virginia’s two large public universities, we share more than a mission to educate our state’s citizens — we share a drive to build bridges, blast barriers and soar beyond boundaries to unearth West Virginia’s transformative power.

Our fundamental purpose in public higher education is helping all West Virginians to have access to stellar education, first-rate health care and economic security.

Unfortunately, our state has frequently languished near the bottom by most of these measures.

Many people would blame our state’s shortage of financial resources. Money can certainly smooth the path toward prosperity. But we believe we move West Virginia forward by advancing our imagination.

That is why our universities are embracing bold change and taking strategic risks.

That is why we are trying new approaches — and, in turn, pioneering new discoveries.

We both envision West Virginia as a living and learning laboratory for successful partnerships among all sectors — public, private, education and government.

One of our highest priorities, for example, is taking West Virginians from last to first in health outcomes. 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.

That is why Marshall University and West Virginia University often collaborate to solve the Mountain State’s health problems.

Both universities are part of the West Virginia Clinical and Translational Science Institute, a catalyst for groundbreaking research attacking prominent health threats, including addiction, cancer, cardiovascular disease and chronic lung disease.

During the pandemic, our institutions have supported the state in many ways, including through a shared effort with the state Department of Health and Human Resources to identify SARS-CoV-2 variants.

WVU and Marshall University also are partners in West Virginia Forward, an effort to power economic growth by building the innovation ecosystem that is so critical to our state’s future.

Marshall and West Virginia University Institute of Technology work together on the Alliance for Economic Development of Southern West Virginia, which is an effort to harness the strengths of higher education to impact economic growth.

Through the powerful Brad and Alys Smith Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative, housed at West Virginia University, we are building alliances to create awareness of the state’s unique wealth of beautiful outdoor spaces and to develop incentives for businesses and entrepreneurs to move to and remain in the Mountain State.

The OEDC, working with the West Virginia Division of Tourism, created the highly successful Ascend WV program to support remote workers and their families as they relocate to West Virginia in pursuit of high quality of life and an outdoor-driven lifestyle.

West Virginia has been exporting talent for generations. Working together, we can create ways for that talent to return home and for new talent to discover our state’s advantages.

In another effective example of collaboration, West Virginia University and Marshall University work together to help West Virginians through the Center for Consumer Law and Education.

The center serves as a principal consumer, law, policy, education and support resource in West Virginia and nationally. It is the only one of its kind on the East Coast and the only one that is a collaboration between two universities.

We both believe that limitless future opportunities exist for our two universities to partner with each other and with West Virginia’s government and business leaders.

As steadfast partners with the state, we will pursue transformation with renewed purpose to improve education, health care and prosperity in West Virginia.

Knowing that our universities can change the arc of the future for the better, we will harness and combine our collective strengths as never before.

And we will move forward together in shared purpose toward a better tomorrow.

E. Gordon Gee has been a leader in higher education for more than three decades. He first served as West Virginia University’s president from 1981-85 and returned to WVU in 2014. Brad D. Smith is a Marshall University alum who returned to Huntington as Marshall’s president beginning Jan. 1, 2022.