The former chief economist at West Virginia University knows all too well how important economic research and data are to the John Chambers College of Business and Economics, the University and the state. For nearly three decades, Tom S. Witt headed the WVU Bureau of Business and Economic Research and helped provide economic research that was used by lawmakers, business leaders and media throughout the state and nation.
In an effort to provide economics students with extraordinary experiences both inside and outside the classroom, Witt and his wife, Grethe Myles, established the Tom S. Witt Scholars Program. The gift will extend over a two-year period and creates infrastructure Witt said he hopes will lay the groundwork for increased “economic literacy” in West Virginia.
The gift from the Morgantown couple not only supported the revolutionary Applied Regional Economics Research course, but has now also created the first group of Witt Scholars. The scholars completed last year’s inaugural course and now have opportunities to take on advanced regional economics research in West Virginia, including economic forecasting.
“We always had excellent student support, and I felt the college and the BBER needed to offer research experiences for undergraduate economics majors,” said Witt, who retired from WVU’s business school in 2012. “Our gift would help provide more relevant experience to these students, as well as help more rural areas understand the dynamics and the components of individual economies.”
Applied Regional Economics Research is an advanced undergraduate class where students are actually selected to participate in the course. The students are assigned to research specific regions, compile data and present a statistical analysis to business leaders in their respective regions. Their research involves economic forecasting for those areas and will be part of official statewide economic forecasting compiled by the BBER. The course was designed to give students an innovative learning experience, while allowing the BBER to serve more regions of West Virginia. As the BBER expands its bandwidth, economics students get in-depth experience.
“The Witt Scholars Program is a real win-win,” said John Deskins, Witt’s successor as BBER director and who teaches the class with Brian Lego, BBER research assistant professor. “The students get an outstanding, real world experience while, simultaneously, more regions in West Virginia receive full regional economic analyses and forecasts.”
Javier Reyes, Milan Puskar Dean of the Chambers College and an economist himself, said the real world experience now available to economics students is a differentiator at WVU’s business school.
“Our learning philosophy is one that couples a great classroom experience with great experiential learning opportunities outside the classroom,” Reyes said. “This gift from Dr. Witt and Grethe Myles provides strong components to both parts of that formula, while allowing the BBER to serve expanded audiences throughout West Virginia. Advanced opportunities like this will serve these students well — now and into their professional lives.”
The impact of the gift was nearly immediate, as evidenced by the first regional economics class that rolled out last year during the Spring 2018 semester.
“While we have made allowances for various WVU programs in our estate planning, these short-term gifts will allow us to view outcomes while we are still here to see them,” Witt said. “I was initially appointed acting director of the BBER in 1985 and ended up serving as director until my retirement in 2012. During those 27 years, I saw significant changes in the economic landscape of the state. I saw in our economic outlook conferences, our studies and our presentations to the state legislature that it was necessary to increase economic literacy across the state. This program allows that to happen.”
The study of the labor force, population estimates and industry throughout West Virginia by the Chambers College has been identified as a goal for the WV Forward initiative to advance the state’s economic future. WV Forward is a statewide collaboration led by West Virginia University, the state Department of Commerce and Marshall University to help grow the economy by adding jobs, investing in education, and improving health and wellness to create the most prosperous West Virginia possible.
The gift was made through the WVU Foundation, the private nonprofit corporation that solicits and administers donations on behalf of the University.