GLENVILLE, WV – Glenville State College’s Science Hall has long been a haven for academic success. For decades, the building has produced students who have gone on to success in graduate school, teaching, and the professional world in a variety of areas.
Dr. Kevin Evans, Glenville State College (GSC) Professor of Chemistry, has been in the center of this tremendous academic culture for most of his life. Today, he is one of the leaders in this effort. The veteran educator has not only served for over two decades on the faculty, but is now the Faculty Representative on the institution’s Board of Governors.
Evans’ relationship with Glenville has been a life-long affair. His father, Dr. Joe Evans, came to GSC in 1966. The elder Evans became a mainstay on campus and helped elevate an already highly productive Science Department.
Kevin Evans was born in Weston’s Stonewall Hospital, and grew up in Gilmer County. He started his education at Troy Elementary, then attended Glenville Elementary from the fifth grade through the eighth grade. Moving on to Gilmer County High School (GCHS), he eventually was able to get ahead on his college career by taking college courses at GSC during his senior year of high school.
“Back then, the high school didn’t offer dual credit course so you had to come to the campus for classes,” Evans noted. “So you had a time commitment on top of your regular amount of work. This helped me in preparation for the rest of my college courses.”
Not that Evans was unfamiliar with the college scene. He had indeed grown up on the campus being around his dad. But it was for this reason that he was looking beyond GSC for his immediate future after graduating from GCHS in 1984.
“My intent at that time was to stay at home and go to GSC for a few years, then go to Virginia Tech and pursue engineering,” Evans said. “But after my first year here, my plan changed. I was enjoying the college and my friends, and chose to fully pursue chemistry. I was able to graduate in three years.”
Graduating cum laude with the Class of 1987, Evans was also an active member of the campus community. This included appearances in several plays for GSC’s legendary Theatre Director, Dennis Wemm. In high school, Evans played roles in productions such as “The Music Man” and “Camelot.” At GSC, he was a regular in Wemm’s productions and played a major role in the hit “Thieves Carnival.”
After graduating from Glenville, Evans attended graduate school at Louisiana State University (LSU). He considered the move to Baton Rouge based on the recommendation of former GSC professor Mary Jo Pribble, who was an LSU alumnus. Evans missed his first scheduled visit due to a snowstorm, and thought perhaps this was a sign, but LSU was able to get him a rescheduled flight. The interview was successful and Evans was accepted.
He would spend the next six years of his life on “The Bayou” and earned his doctorate in 1993. It was not a smooth trip, as his dissertation in the early 90’s took a circuitous route to acceptance.
“It was ironic that I would end up pursuing my dissertation research in the area of organic chemistry…that was the course I despised the most as an undergraduate,” Evans conceded. “My basic research premise was to quantify the role that proximity and orientation plays in catalysis. Enzymes catalyze reactions by bringing substrates into close proximity and with proper orientation. I was hoping to prove the significance of proximity and orientation in catalysis. Unfortunately, I was not able to synthesize the molecules to quantify the roles and I was becoming increasingly frustrated. The models simply were not reacting as predicted in terms of organic reaction.”
As the day approached for Evans to meet with his committee, he had to prepare a strategy. He designed a defense to illustrate what he proved by what he “could not” prove.
“I never solved my project with quantitative conclusions. However, I felt that I was able to prove indirectly that proximity plays a critical role in catalysis,” Evans said.
After his presentation, the five-person committee returned their verdict. After six years of study and research at LSU, he was now officially Dr. Evans.
“One of the committee members noted that I dared to confront what I couldn’t prove head on. He said that I was so confident in my research, that if I ever gave up chemistry, that I would be a great used car salesman,” Evans joked.
At that point in time, Evans was unsure of his next move. He had been so focused on his research that he had not fully plotted a post-LSU strategy. Plus, he had grown fond of his Louisiana life and friends.
“To this day, when I think of my memories in Baton Rouge, I think of the amazing culture and the amazing food,” Evans said. “There are also a lot of commonalities between the people of West Virginia and the people of Louisiana…good people who are all about hospitality and enjoying life.”
While reviewing his employment options, an opportunity presented itself in the summer of 1993. Evans’ research adviser at LSU had taken a position at Virginia Tech (VT), and offered Evans to join him for an open postdoctoral position. VT had been Evans’ original college choice when he was back at Gilmer County High School; now things had come full circle and he was finally living and working in Blacksburg.
Evans worked at Virginia Tech for two years, the 1993-94 and 1994-95 academic years. It was during this time that he met his wife Traci. While attending the GSC graduation of Mandi Nicholson, a common friend of the two, the romance was sparked between Kevin and Traci. The couple was married the following year.
“Blacksburg will always have a special place in my heart, because I met my wife during my tenure there,” Evans said.
After Blacksburg, Evans accepted a faculty position at Davidson College in North Carolina. He taught at the prestigious institution for three years, then moved on to another outstanding academic school; Grinnell College in Iowa. Evans would remain at Grinnell through the 1997-98 academic year, and his stay in the Midwest was a very positive experience.
“I fell in love with the school and community while we were in Iowa,” Evans said. “I almost stayed there long term. It was the kind of place where an entire neighborhood would come out and a help new family move in when they arrived, and would come together to help with clean up after a bad storm. It was a unique area and also a very unique student body.”
Evans moved closer to home for the 1999-00 school year, teaching at Ohio Northern University (ONU) in Ada, Ohio – another prestigious institution. While Evans was originally prepared to stay at ONU for an extended period of time, he stated that he was ready for another venture after a year in Ada.
“Dr. (Thomas) Powell was President at Glenville in 2000, and my dad was a VP at the time. They reached out to me and encouraged me to consider applying for the open position in the Science Department,” Evans said. “I applied, but to be honest, I was not that excited about the position. The advanced chemistry lab had lab sinks, but only one of them could even drip water. I really did not put a lot of preparation into that interview, I just decided to come in and shoot straight with everyone on the committee. Whatever happened from there I was fine with.”
Evans’ open and honest approach did not disqualify him from candidacy as he thought might happen. Instead, they rolled the dice that perhaps the institution had found a candidate who would be aggressive in bringing positive change to Glenville’s academic needs.
He was hired.
With several challenges ahead of him, Evans’ return home was a road of hard work and accomplishment. Within two years of his return, he had played an instrumental role in the procurement of a $9.5 million facilities grant. This not only addressed the antiquated lab facilities, but helped propel the historic GSC Science Hall into the 21st Century.
From a teaching standpoint, Evans takes great pride in the growth and success of his students. Like so many faculty, current and past in the Science Department, GSC has built a strong reputation for producing talented graduates in the field.
“That is the best part of my job,” Evans said. “Seeing their development and finding success. It has always been important that I set the bar high for the students and really push them to reach those heights and beyond. Chemistry is not for everyone, but those that have the ability and the dream, I find it a responsibility to push them to maximum effort and achievement.”
Student success however, has not been the biggest plus to Evans’ return. His biggest joy has been family.
“I had always looked up to my father,” Evans stated. “He has always not only been my father, but one of my best friends. But for ten years of my tenure on the faculty here, I was blessed to work with him as a colleague. That was a period of time that I will always cherish. It was exciting to get to come to work every day with him there, and even though I had been around him and that building as a kid, getting to actually work with him was amazing. I was able to learn so much from him, and to this day, the way I handle a lot of things goes back to knowledge I learned from him.”
Returning home was also special from an extended family standpoint. The Evans’ children were able to now be near their family as a whole, with relatives on both Kevin and Traci’s sides nearby. In the end, the couple, both area natives, raised their own kids in the county. The Evans kids have forged their own path of success.
Daughter Tara followed her dad’s footsteps and graduated from GSC with a chemistry degree in only three and half years. Now 24, she is already in her third year of pharmacy school at the University of Charleston. Daughter Ashley has also taken the science path. At age 20, Ashley is an undergrad student at Marshall University in the prestigious St. Mary’s School of Nursing.
Outside of the classroom Evans has also been active on numerous college committees during his time at Glenville, including the College Leadership Council and the Academic Policy and Academic Appeals Committees. He has served several terms as Vice President of the Faculty Senate and is currently the Faculty Representative on the GSC Board of Governors, the 12-person body that governs the institution. Evans is also a board member representing GSC with the West Virginia Space Grant Consortium. The Consortium provides research funds for faculty and students to all Mountain State higher education institutions to support STEM research.
With a decorated career filled with success, Evans has many positives to reflect upon as he has now reached his mid-50’s. Still, he sees many exciting chapters ahead.
“I still enjoy what I am doing, and I still enjoy the students. At this point, I don’t have any sort of end date in my mind,” Evans said. “With my role on the Board, I really want to play a role in seeing the college grow and succeed and be a strong institution for years to come.”
With the challenges he has conquered in the past, Evans is certainly a proven leader for the institution in this role. He is a Gilmer County and Glenville State graduate…a hometown hero who has returned home and made a difference.