By Jessica Farrish
For the first time in three years, fall enrollment at West Virginia State University has surged, increasing nearly 50 percent from fall enrollment a year ago, WVSU officials reported Friday.
The institution is also under the new leadership of Dr. Brian Hemphill, who began serving as president of the university one year ago.
Numbers of entering freshman soared from 291 last year to 432 on Friday.
“We have done a lot more outreach to let prospective students and their families know about the opportunities available at West Virginia State University,” said Katherine McCarthy, vice president for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs at WVSU. “We have also hosted a number of events designed to bring students to campus, and we have made great strides in getting financial aid packages out in a timely manner.”
WVSU Board Member Tom Susman credited Hemphill’s vision for WVSU as one of the major components of the increased admissions.
Since Hemphill took office, improvements have been made to campus infrastructure and research funding at WVSU has skyrocketed from $1.5 million secured over the past 12 years to $14.5 million last year, Hemphill’s first year as president.
“What we’ve seen (from Hemphill) is a drive to really make the university student-centered and academically challenging, but at the same time we’re seeing growth,” said Susman. “If you would’ve seen the university three years ago versus the university today, it’s an amazing difference.
“It’s a team approach,” he added. “We have a great faculty and staff, but he’s enabled people to facilitate that kind of movement.”
WVSU, a historically black college, was established by the 1890 Morrill Land Grant Act to promote access to higher education and application of research to meeting state needs.
WVSU, along with West Virginia University, is one of two land grant universities in the state. Land grant institutions were created to teach branches of learning associated with agriculture and mechanical arts.
“A part of the (goals) as a land grant university is the ability to engage in meaningful research, and not just for the sake of research, but research that leads to business development and potential patents,” said Hemphill. “We have to make sure we’re engaging in research, just making a difference for the state and beyond.”
WVSU currently employs Dr. Barbara Leidl, a professor who recently published a book that outlines her research on pathogen-resistant tomatoes — research that can be used to increase disease-resistant crops in the state.
Another professor is researching mine reclamation, he added.
“It’s just amazing to look at the type of work that’s going on that will make a difference long-term,” said Hemphill.
A groundbreaking ceremony on the Damon J. Keith Scholars Hall, a new residence hall, is planned for Sept. 20.
Hemphill said the facility was developed as a public-private sponsorship effort with a non-profit group that specializes in privatized housing.
A new basketball arena that also hosts classrooms and more space for athletic programs is set to open Feb. 14, Hemphill added.
He said faculty, staff and students are working together to move WVSU forward in a way that will be meaningful to students and state residents.
“We’re beginning to take a look at who we are, some of the trends of the state and work force needs for the state, and how we can support overall the economic growth of the state,” Hemphill said.
Energy and health care needs are two primary areas of focus, he said.
He added that changes are being made to improve academic programs, although WVSU has always had a high-quality academic program.
“None of this happens without a solid team of professionals,” Hemphill said. “It’s been a team effort, 100 percent.”
Hemphill earned his doctorate and master’s degrees from the University of Iowa and completed his undergraduate studies at St. Augustine’s University, he said.
He added that excellence in all areas and being student-focused are two beliefs that have directed his course of action at WVSU during his first year.
“As far as a school, and the ability to get a good, quality education in terms of value, there’s few in the state that can match WVSU,” said Susman.
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