A New Year of Firsts

Amy Pellegrin

With a long history of academic excellence, Fairmont State University is a place where teaching and learning matter and students are the First priority. The new year brings with it new opportunities to help students create their own Firsts by achieving their professional and personal goals.

Dr. Maria Rose, FSU President, knows firsthand the life-changing power of education and the value of a degree from the University. 2012 marked her Inauguration as the University’s 14th president, and the proud alumna has spent the year strengthening connections on the campus and in the community. She sees challenges for the University in the year ahead, but also many ways to build on the strong academic and athletic traditions of the past.


Building High Quality Academic Programs

“Fairmont State University certainly is a very good institution, but I believe we can make it a great institution,” Rose said. “We want to keep looking at our academic programs and building them up, putting our resources toward the programs that are growing the most.”

A priority in 2013 will be the development of a new Master of Architecture degree, which was approved by the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission in December 2012. The degree now must be approved by the Higher Learning Commission.

“We are really excited about this because we are now the only institution in the state of West Virginia where an architect can become licensed. This is so important for our undergraduate students as well as for former graduates and other people who work in industry in the area,” Rose said. “We have to secure some additional space and some additional funding to get that program moving, but we think that it will really be the star of this institution once we get it going.”

A significant donation by Thrasher Engineering, Inc. several years ago generated a basis on which to build and also indicates the importance of this new master’s degree to the industry. The program is expected to launch in the spring of 2014.

Rose predicts that the National Security and Intelligence Program’s Open Source Intelligence Exchange (OSIX) and the IBM Academic Initiative will continue to produce star students in the new year.

The National Security and Intelligence program, the only one of its kind in West Virginia, provides the necessary background for students to pursue careers as research or intelligence analysts in government agencies and private enterprise. NSI students are handpicked and rigorously screened to participate in OSIX, which is the program’s laboratory and applied research component.

The West Virginia Research Trust Fund selected OSIX to participate in a matching grant challenge for up to $100,000. Also known as “Bucks for Brains,” the Research Trust Fund was established to fund STEM-related (science, technology, engineering and math) research.

“We are very close to raising the matching funds required for that grant,” Rose said.

Bridging the gap between higher education and industry, the IBM Academic Initiative matches graduates’ information technology skills with workforce needs. FSU is the only college or university in the state participating and is already experiencing successful outcomes.

“As a result of this partnership, Fairmont State faculty gain access to innovative technology, and our students receive first-class learning opportunities to prepare them for today’s competitive marketplace,” Rose said.

Three FSU students have found lucrative jobs through their participation in the Academic Initiative, and several students have been placed in prestigious internships. Faculty in FSU’s School of Business and College of Science and Technology continue to receive guidance in how to best utilize IBM technology in the classroom and to prepare students to be leaders in the industry.


Improving Important Numbers for Student Success

Taking FSU from good to great in 2013 also includes improving graduation rates, retention rates and enrollment numbers.

“We need to improve our retention rates. We are trying to become even more of a student-centered institution. We now have four-week grades so that students can be made aware if they are having difficulties in a class. Advisors reach out to students and try to help them resolve some of their problems before they become too much to manage,” Rose said.

Improving the University’s graduation rates is vital not only for FSU, but also for the state of West Virginia.

“Right now, out of 100 students who are enrolled in the ninth grade in West Virginia, only 17 of those students will earn a degree in 10 years. When you look at the projections, West Virginia is going to require at least 20,000 additional degrees by 2018 in order to meet our workforce needs. In order to meet West Virginia's workforce needs, we as an institution certainly have to improve our graduation rates. It’s no longer okay for a student just to have a high school diploma,” Rose said.

The West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission has implemented a new compact series that has established goals not only for the number of students to be enrolled but also for the numbers of students in specific categories. For example, goals are now set for recruiting students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) areas and students ages 25 and older and for improving diversity. Under the leadership of Kaye Caplinger Widney, FSU’s new Vice President for Student Services, efforts already are under way to achieve these goals.


Drawing on a Strong Tradition of Athletics

In the new year, FSU hopes to transition to a new athletic conference, the Mountain East Conference (MEC), which will yield new opportunities for athletics and for recruiting prospective students. Because of the membership of the new conference, the University’s recruiters will be expanding their reach to new areas in Ohio and Virginia.

The MEC’s formal application was filed with the NCAA in December 2012. If the MEC is approved for competition in 2013-2014, the league would meet the NCAA requirement for conference championships in 16 sports: men’s and women’s basketball, baseball, men’s and women’s cross country, football, men’s and women’s golf, men’s and women’s soccer, softball, men’s and women’s tennis, men’s and women’s track and field and volleyball. Final confirmation of approval by the NCAA is expected in March 2013.

“We have done a good job of recruiting great student athletes. We have wonderful graduation and retention rates for our student athletes. We would like to bring that same level of excellence to the playing field and to the basketball court,” Rose said. “We certainly have a strong athletic tradition here and I think members of the community long for those days and remember those days very fondly.”

Rose credits Fighting Falcons men’s basketball head coach Jerrod Calhoun for helping to renew community excitement about FSU athletics.

“You can’t go anywhere in this community where people aren’t talking about basketball. Coach Calhoun has been a wonderful influence. He worked very closely with legendary coach Joe Retton and gained his support from the very beginning. Coach Retton is at absolutely every game and helped with recruits and helped mentor Coach Calhoun. We’re very proud of that,” Rose said.

The new conference is generating some new athletic goals.

“We’re looking at changing our football program to generate as much enthusiasm as we’ve been able to generate for basketball. With the new conference, we’re thinking about moving to a Thursday night football game of the week. Each Mountain East school will be showcased at different times throughout the season,” Rose said.

The president pointed out that Thursday night games are particularly good for Fairmont State because many FSU students are commuters. In addition, Thursday night games generally have higher community attendance because the schedule does not compete with Friday night high school football games or Saturday West Virginia University football games.

“During the past season, we installed a new scoreboard with new high technology capabilities, which was a wonderful addition to Duvall-Rosier Field and we look forward to building on that,” she said.


Encouraging Community Support

In 2013, civic engagement will remain a critical part of FSU’s mission.

“Our Architecture students just participated in an exciting competition to present design ideas for the redevelopment of the Masonic Temple building in historic downtown Fairmont. FSU is always working with the City of Fairmont, the Marion County Commission and the Marion County Chamber of Commerce. Our Education students are out there all the time working in public schools; our Nursing students are in local hospitals. When people have a need they look to the University, and we are glad to help,” Rose said.

A native of Fairmont and a graduate of East Fairmont High School, Rose serves on the boards of directors for the United Way of Marion County and the Marion County Chamber of Commerce. The community has taken notice of Rose’s lifelong commitment to Fairmont and North Central West Virginia. For the second year in a row, community volunteers have decorated the Shaw House on campus for the holiday season as a way to give back to the University.

“There is a fresh enthusiasm with Maria as president,” said Kim DeVault, one of the Shaw House decorating team volunteers. “There is more talk in the community about becoming involved and participating by going to the football and basketball games. Maria is a local person; this is her home. She has such a servant’s heart. She serves; she doesn’t want to be served. She’s a true giver.”