CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A $300,000 gift from American Electric Power is the latest in a stream of donations steadily flowing into the West Virginia State University coffers this fiscal year.
That brings donations for State since July to $1.8 million, more than triple the total at this point last year.
"Last year at this exact same time we had $504,000," said State President Brian Hemphill, smiling after receiving the ceremonial check from Appalachian Power President Charles Patton on Thursday.
The check presentation came after a regular meeting of the university Board of Governors.
The money allows State to create a program aimed at encouraging high school students and underclassmen to pursue science, technology, education, agriculture and math.
State plans to roll out the Full STEAM Ahead Program in the fall. It involves marketing the benefits of such studies to students before they come to college, as well as engaging freshman and sophomore students in research opportunities.
Typically younger science and math students spend more time in the lecture hall than in the lab, said Tom Guetzloff, faculty representative on the university board of governors and a chemistry professor. Starting earlier would benefit both the school and students, he explained.
"It's really, really huge, research, in understanding those broad concepts in class and then you actually see it in the lab. It's so invigorating," Guetzloff said.
The rest of the money will go toward a new faculty research position, specifically created to focus on integrated undergraduate research opportunities in the bioenergy and bioremediation fields.
With more marketing, more opportunities for research and an expert to facilitate that research, Hemphill is confident students will be more likely to complete their degrees in these fields.Keeping students from one year to the next has been a big problem for State.
When Hemphill took the reins in July, only 55 percent of freshmen returned for their sophomore year and fewer than a quarter were graduating within six years.
Both Hemphill and Guetzloff emphasized the impact that earlier exposure to research could have on convincing students to complete their degrees.
"Our faculty will share with you that students who engage in hands-on research are more likely to maintain enrollment and graduate from the university," Hemphill said. "It's one of the reasons this is so important."
The gift also represents a significant stride in another area where State has struggled recently: fundraising. When Hemphill started, no administrative position was specifically geared toward fundraising. Hemphill hired Pat Schumann to take over as vice president of university advancement by the end of August.