MORGANTOWN — First Ascent, a new program designed to cultivate and retain local talent within West Virginia, is now accepting applications from recent West Virginia University and Marshall University graduates, helping the Mountain State’s best and brightest young professionals stay close to home.
Built on the foundation of the Brad and Alys Smith Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative and the state Department of Tourism’s successful Ascend WV program, First Ascent is designed to set participants on paths for successful remote and hybrid careers in the state, addressing the population loss and brain drain that stems from new graduates pursuing employment opportunities elsewhere.
“For too long, we have watched as the young people our state needs for its future have packed up and left,” WVU President Gordon Gee said. “The love our graduates have developed for West Virginia while living and learning here during their collegiate careers is profound. This kind of post-graduation support can help them forge pathways to stay while embarking on challenging, fulfilling careers.”
Six communities — including five existing Ascend locations — will be home to First Ascent members: Morgantown Area, Huntington Area, Eastern Panhandle, New River Gorge, Greater Elkins and Greenbrier Valley.
“When we started with Ascend, the goal was to bring people to West Virginia — either for the first time or as returners,” Marshall University President Brad D. Smith said. “With First Ascent, we’re working to keep our graduates in state by positioning West Virginia as a hub for remote workers who can find success in the increasingly digital world while supporting overall state economic growth.”
Current students and alumni from WVU and Marshall can apply for First Ascent during the last year of their degree program through one-year post-graduation. Those applying must be willing to live in a featured community and accept a remote or hybrid full-time position for a company based inside or outside of West Virginia, or have launched a business that operates and/or delivers services remotely prior to applying.
Those who qualify for First Ascent will have access to free co-working space and outdoor recreation equipment, success coaches and professional mentorships, a remote worker certification, professional development, community engagement, outdoor and social activities, and more.
Supporting entities include WVU Career Services, the John Chambers College of Business and Economics Center for Career Development and the Marshall Office of Career Education.
First Ascent solidifies the program’s impact on the future of the state’s workforce and demonstrates a commitment to investing in the future of West Virginians. Seed funding for the First Ascent pilot program originated from WVU Provost Maryanne Reed’s Innovation Summit; a subsequent award was provided by the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Build Back Better Regional Challenge Grant to Coalfield Development and WVU, and will fund the First Ascent program. A $25 million gift from the Wing 2 Wing Foundation was awarded to WVU to launch the Ascend WV program in partnership with the state. This funding provided the foundation for the Smith Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative to leverage West Virginia’s outdoor assets, take a lead role in asset-based economic development by investing in people and communities and build the infrastructure that will ultimately serve as a model for workforce development.
“West Virginia’s greatest assets are her people, her culture and her vast natural resources,” Smith said. “First Ascent capitalizes on these assets by providing an important pathway for our state’s graduates to build a successful and viable career here in the Mountain State. I am confident the First Ascent program will strengthen the state’s efforts to enlist our best and brightest to remain in the state and build the foundation for a more prosperous future for all West Virginians.”
Smith and Gee announced the program’s launch during the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Meeting and Business Summit at The Greenbrier on Aug. 30.
“First Ascent will help build a workforce that can be used to attract employers from a variety of industries,” Gee said. “All of West Virginia stands to benefit from this investment in talented, motivated young professionals and from having them in communities that offer quality-of-life benefits not available anywhere else.”