TENNERTON – The president of West Virginia University addressed junior and senior students at Buckhannon-Upshur High School Monday, taking the opportunity to encourage students to stay in the Mountain State following graduation.
“I want every one of you to stay in West Virginia, and I don’t want you to leave,” Dr. E. Gordon Gee, WVU president, told B-UHS students. “I want you to get your education here, I want you to stay here, I want you to make it better and I want you to improve the quality of the state. We can only do that if we have young people.”
Gee said the second thing he wanted the students to take away from his visit was that he doesn’t care where the students go to school but hopes they will consider attending WVU.
The bottom line? Gee just wants students to continue their education and become lifelong learners.
“In this state, we have 40,000 jobs for which we do not have skilled workers,” Gee said. “We don’t have a job problem; we have an education problem. We need to make sure that we are dealing with that because it is very important.”
Gee said WVU has 30,000 students and programs in almost every possible field – from teaching and engineering to medicine, art and music.
“We offer almost everything you could ever imagine,” Gee said, adding that he often refers to WVU as the ‘Goldilocks University.’
“We are just the right size,” Gee said, laughing. “I was president of the largest university in the country – the Ohio State University which has about 65,000 students, and it felt like I was running a big city. From there, I moved to Brown, which is the smallest of the Ivy League Institutions, and I felt like I was an antelope in a telephone booth – it was just too small.”
Gee said after that, he tells people that WVU is “just the right size.”
“We have everything you could possibly imagine, and we are big enough to have every kind of opportunity on the campus, but at the same time, we are small enough that you can get involved,” he said.
According to Gee, WVU has students from all 55 counties in the state, all 50 states in the U.S. and 118 countries.
“We speak 100 languages,” he said. “We have students from Europe, Malaysia and Japan. Being with them is a way to find out who you are and what you are trying to accomplish.”
Gee also fielded a variety of students’ questions. One B-UHS student asked about the music program at WVU, and Gee replied that WVU has one of the world’s greatest marching bands, saying music and theater is top-notch at WVU.
Another student asked Gee what his toughest challenge is as president of WVU.
“I love what I do,” Gee said. “What I think is the most difficult is that everything is constantly changing. By the time you figure out what is happening, things have changed again.”
“This is my first time in Buckhannon-Upshur High School, but it won’t be my last,” Gee added. “It is a gift for me to serve at West Virginia University, and I want you to think about it that way, too.”
Gee was introduced to students by B-UHS Student Body President Caitlyn Wendling, who said she met Gee at Fall Convention for the West Virginia Association of Student Councils. Gee had spoken at the banquet, she said.
“We started corresponding by email from then on and I am actually going to WVU to meet with him and have a tour,” Wendling said. “I am thrilled that he is here.”
Wendling said her intended major will be neuroscience and during his visit at B-UHS, Gee announced that Wendling’s application to WVU had been accepted.
She said she thought it was important for B-UHS Students to hear Gee’s message.
“A lot of kids have expressed interest in going to WVU,” Wendling said. “President Gee is WVU. Everyone in the state loves him – with his little bow ties, how could you not love him? I think he will let them see that WVU is their university and can be their home. He is very personable for someone of such high prestige, and that was something that made the university a more viable option for me. I think he will have the same effect on everyone else.”
Upshur County Schools Superintendent Dr. Sara Lewis Stankus said she and her staff were thrilled to host Gee.
“We are so happy to have President Gee at Buckhannon-Upshur High School,” Stankus said. “What makes me even happier is that our students met President Gee and invited him to visit our school – that is why he is here. I am so excited he saw how great our students are and he responded by coming to B-UHS. Mr. Eddie Vincent, principal of Buckhannon-Upshur High School, does a great job of managing this school.”
Vincent said Gee had been scheduled to visit B-UHS about a year ago.
“President Gee was headed to Elkins for something and his secretary called me,” Vincent said. “She said he wanted to stop by, and we scheduled a visit back then, but it was during the teacher walkout, so we had to reschedule.”
Gee’s bio says he is one of America’s most prominent higher education leaders, having helmed universities for more than three decades. It said in 2009, Time magazine named Gee one of the top 10 university presidents in the U.S., and recently, the website Great Value Colleges named him the nation’s top university president.
Gee became the dean of the West Virginia University College of Law in 1979 and in 1980, was first named the president of WVU, a role he served in until 1985. He went on to lead the University of Colorado from 1985 to 1990, Brown University from 1998 to 2000 and Vanderbilt University from 2001 to 2007. He served as president of The Ohio State University from 1990 to 1197 and again from 2007 to 2013.
In 2014, Gee returned to WVU, where his career as a university president began. His leadership goals include putting students first, advancing the university’s research agenda, partnering with West Virginia communities and making sure that 1.8 million West Virginians know in their hearts and minds that West Virginia University is their university, according to his bio.