Q: Why has Fairmont State University chosen to stay with the GPA grading system this semester while other universities have chosen to enforce the Pass/Fail grading system?
We have done quite a bit of research on the benefits of one system versus the other. The reason that we decided to stay with the letter system is because to go to professional schools, for example, they’re not taking the pass/fail system. To enter into professional schools like chiropractor school, medical school or law school it would actually hurt our students with a pass/fail grading system. In addition to that, with pass/fail students would not be able to receive academic honors. That is something that so many of our students work so very hard for. That makes a difference for being able to have academic honors. We did not wish to hurt those students.
My priority—our priority—has always been from the very beginning to protect our students. My only other concern and priority is to ensure that this pandemic does not disrupt your semester, does not disrupt your life, does not disrupt achieving your dreams.
We have created pathways that weren’t available before to ensure that our students are successful. For those students who need to graduate, we are not going to hurt them going on to graduate school. Some industries depend specifically on GPAs, that’s their weed-out. We did not want our students not to get employment because of a pass/fail grading system. We called our accrediting agencies to discern what are their recommendations and that’s how we came up with this decision.
Q: How is Fairmont State University acting as a trailblazer for higher education in West Virginia during this unprecedented scenario?
I think Fairmont State is a very unique institution for many reasons. If you want to look at the demographics, we’re very unique. First of all, 91.8% of our students come from West Virginia. We educate the most West Virginians of any institution in the state. We have students from every single county.
61% of our students are first generation, the first in their families to go to college. And very candidly, it’s one of the reasons that I came here. I’m the first in my family to go to college and my husband is the first in his family to go to college. I feel very strongly that this is my time to pass it forward. I’m very religious and I believe that God places you where He wants you at a time that He needs you most. This is my time here at Fairmont State.
We’re large enough that I—and we—can offer students anything and everything they want, but we’re small enough that you’re never a number. We’re small enough that students have the ability to reach out to me through my personal cell or email to get to me. At large institutions that’s not done. That’s why I didn’t want to go to a large institution. I wanted to make sure that when a student graduates and as they walk across that stage and into my arms, I know you as opposed to it’s the first time that I’ve seen you. At large institutions that’s all that it is, is just a handshake. I didn’t want that.
We don’t have that by design. We want to grow, we’re going to grow, and we need to grow but we are never going to have 300 kids in a classroom. Not as long as I’m sitting here as the president, because that’s not who we are. That’s not the experience that I want for you all. That’s not the experience going forward that’s going to make an impact on your lives.
That’s what’s going to continue to make us unique, the fact that we will grow—we have to, to be able to survive—but our classes will remain small. That’s why students, I believe, in West Virginia choose us; because we’re local, because we have a stellar education, because we have programs that are unique in West Virginia and the United States, and because students and parents know they have access to the administration.
We have the only Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) 141 Flight School program in West Virginia and one of the top programs in the United States. We’re trolling attention. Our National Security and Intelligence is a program that is unique to us. Our nursing school is rated number one in the state. Right now, we have over 500 applicants for that program. We’re getting ready to launch our police academy track of Criminal Justice. Students who go through criminal justice and choose the police academy track will graduate with not only a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice but with a police certificate, so they can go straight into any police department. That’s huge!
You talk about farm-to-table. It’s what we’re doing, from school-to-job. It’s a direct pathway so you are able to begin to do what you want to do, what you dream to do, what your passion drives you to do that much quicker. On the industry side, it saves the industries so much money. That’s what we do. We address the needs of the industry so that our students can have a competitive advantage. When you leave this school, you’re able to go into your chosen profession quickly.
That’s what makes us unique.
Q: What does the CARES Act mean for students at Fairmont State University?
On March 27th, Congress passed a $2 trillion emergency stimulus act which was signed into law. That act provided relief for small to medium size institutions of higher education. Fairmont State was earmarked—and is earmarked—to receive some of those funds. That announcement was made on a Monday. We were told that following Tuesday that we would receive notice as to how we may disperse these funds. All that was provided to us was a certification that we needed to execute to get the funds that stated that the funds were to be used to provide financial assistance in the form of emergency grants directly to students for expenses related to the disruption of operations due to the coronavirus, including eligible expenses like room and board. That was all the information that we got. The question to how do we disperse it, how do we attack it, how do we give a fair disbursement was not provided.
We were told to wait for the Q & A document from the Department of Education. The Q & A came on Tuesday of this week, three weeks after the fact. We have not yet received the money, which is why I started the student emergency fund, because so many of our students couldn’t put food on their table. For me, that is something that is near and dear to my heart. My grandmother raised me, and she worked two-and-a-half jobs. I worked one-and-a-half full-time jobs while going to school full-time. I can remember going hungry, because life happened and there was not enough. There was always food on the table, but just not enough. I don’t want any of our students to go hungry, and so that’s why my husband and I made the lead gift to start an emergency fund. We did that last week, so we would be able to provide students who needed food, small grants to put food on their table.
We are advising a plan to get money for room and board for students as quickly as possible. I will anticipate that within the next week to ten days our students will get their money, because I can’t continue to wait on the feds while our students are suffering. I am very grateful to Congress for the leadership in putting forth this stimulus fund. I am very grateful. I am very grateful that Fairmont State University is going to receive some funding, but we need to do something now.
Fairmont State is going to go ahead and do what we need to do. We’re doing it also through the emergency fund. The Falcon Nation stands together in times of need. Right now, we need to help our students with the bare necessities of life.
For recent information about student resources and more visit, https://www.fairmontstate.edu/coronavirus?utm_source=web&utm_medium=banner&utm_campaign=banner
Q: What additional comments would you like to share with students?
I would like to say how grateful I am for the students as well as to the faculty and staff for ensuring that we continue the operations at this institution so that when we come back, we emerge as a stronger more united institution. As a stronger, more united and cohesive family than we have ever been. I have great hope and great faith for the future.