The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Sunday Profile

February 17, 2013

Dr. Jerry Forster

BECKLEY — A closer look at Dr. Jerry Forster, regional president of University of Charleston at Beckley, reveals a man who has undergone as much change as the facility that now bears the UC-Beckley flag.

A self-proclaimed family man, Forster, with his wife Gayle, left their three adult children and four grandchildren in middle Tennessee to sit at the helm of a campus still in its infancy.

Not only did he leave behind family, Forster left a position as chief financial officer for Sewanee: The University of the South. There he worked for a stable and selective institution with a $325 million endowment.

“Returning to West Virginia was something I really wanted to do, even though it was hard to leave family and the work at Sewanee,” he shared. “It is good to reconnect with old friends here and help my alma mater with this very challenging task and great opportunity.”

Both Forster and his wife are alumni of the University of Charleston and began their careers in Charleston. Forster received his master’s at Marshall University and then spent nine years working as University of Charleston’s vice president of finance and administration under its current president Dr. Ed Welch.

Returning to Tennessee, where he grew up, Forster received his doctoral degree from Vanderbilt University while working at Sewanee.

“It is because of my connections with Dr. Welch and the University of Charleston that this challenge is so meaningful to me,” he explained.

With operating costs higher than the school’s income, UC-Beckley must strive to build its on-campus presence. Applications are now being submitted for the fall, and Forster explained that admissions officers are recruiting at area high schools, inviting students to come to the Beckley campus.

“With our programs, distinctiveness, quality faculty, state-of-the-art facilities and our unique curriculum, I think we present a very attractive option for adult-aged students as well as traditional students,” he said.

UC-Beckley is offering respected academic programs and has a high placement record for students wanting to work after school, as well as those looking to attain a higher degree after graduation, he said.

The Beckley campus also offers exceptional facilities, he said.

“We can advertise and promote the reputation of the University of Charleston, but we have to get students here to see our residence halls are second to none and our classrooms are state-of-the-art,” he explained.

Likewise, he said the campus faculty are “passionate about what they teach and engage with the students. We provide a close student and faculty relationship, as small schools like UC do.”

And lastly, Forster anticipates that UC’s unique liberal learning outcomes curriculum will fulfill the needs of students, employers and the community.

“We are very methodical about making sure our students can communicate effectively, are creative and can think critically. It is important for employers to know that when they hire a UC or UC-Beckley graduate, they are hiring someone who can think critically, problem solve and know something about the world around them,” explained the regional president.

One of Forster’s tasks has been to reach out to the community and hear its concerns and needs regarding a higher education presence in Beckley.

Some people talk about the specific programs needs, he explained, particularly the culinary arts, social work and health care.

While there are currently Physicians Assistant upperclassmen who were part of the Mountain State/University of Charleston teach-out, UC-Beckley cannot enroll new students into the program until a specialized accrediting agency approves it.

Likewise, UC-Beckley must submit a request to begin an undergraduate nursing program to the state and national accrediting bodies. Forster hopes to see new students in these programs by fiscal year 2014.

The community has also talked about the need for UC-Beckley to provide quality jobs in the area. “Mountain State University had grown to employ a good number of people, and we want to build up employment,” said Forster. But the key to strong programs and more employment opportunities again comes down to building up an on-campus population.

“We hear from people that want South Kanawha Street to be vibrant again, and that is connected to providing an enhanced student experience, in part through athletics,” Forster noted.

“Beckley is an attractive place to go to school. We hope and want business and civic leaders to take ownership of this campus and help us promote the City of Beckley and the university jointly as an attractive place for students to learn.”

For more information on UC-Beckley program offerings or the application process, visit http://www.ucwv.edu/Beckley/.

— E-mail: splummer@register-herald.com

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