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The Columns

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The Student News Site of Fairmont State University

The Columns

The Student News Site of Fairmont State University

The Columns

Presidential Press: The Importance of College Engagement


I want to start by thanking the staff of The Columns for allowing me some space to share my thoughts with the students, faculty, and staff of Fairmont State University. I cannot overstate the importance of student journalism and I appreciate their dedication to keeping our students informed. I look forward to seeing their reach grow and to hearing how the administration at Fairmont State can support them.

For those of you who haven’t met me, let me take a moment to introduce myself. I am a first-generation college student and when I went to college I thought I would be writing for a newspaper as my career – writing a regular piece for The Columns allows me to check off that box!

During my first year in college, I found the debate team and the rest was history. I coached debate for 25 years and eventually accepted a position as a faculty member and Director of Debate at James Madison University. For 11 years at JMU, I coached debate and taught before making the move to the President’s Office as the Chief of Staff. I served in that capacity for six years and during that time I learned that I loved the ability to highlight the work of others on campus and help them make connections.

I also learned that I wanted to find a way to do that work on a broader scale as a university president. I saw firsthand the power of a president’s words in letting people know that their work mattered and that they had support from the highest level. On May 10th of this year, I learned that I was selected to serve as the next president of Fairmont State University. To be completely honest, it felt like a dream (and still does some days). Being your president is a tremendous honor and a responsibility I do not take lightly.

I started as president at Fairmont State on July 1st and over the past four months I have gotten to know many of the dedicated members of the Fairmont State community. During these meetings one thing is perfectly clear – I am surrounded by people who love this place and want to see it succeed. There are faculty, staff,  alumni, and community members who know what Fairmont State can be and are committed to working every day to make sure we don’t waste the opportunity in front of us.

Each month I will share my thoughts with you about how I think we can make those dreams a reality. For this first piece, I wanted to share some of the remarks I made to the first-year class at the open convocation. Here is a version of that edited and with the benefit of three months of hindsight.

College is a wonderful time and Fairmont State University is a wonderful place to be. The fact that you are here shows that you are committed to making the most of the opportunities in front of you. As students, you have ideas about what you want to accomplish, but I wanted to talk to you about my ideal vision for your student experience.

At Fairmont State University, you are challenged in ways you have never been challenged before. You encounter new concepts and new ways of learning. You share this campus with people with opinions that differ from your own. And you are faced daily with situations that you have to navigate that are nothing you have experienced. You are challenged daily to step up and forge your own path.

You on not on this journey alone! You will also be supported like you have never been supported before. Look around this campus. Every place you look you see a support structure that is committed to your success. Committed to making sure that you learn, flourish, and find joy in what you do.

The faculty of Fairmont State University are here to help you navigate each new academic challenge, new concepts, new ways of learning and exploration of ideas that you have not even begun to think about. They are here for you every day and are some of your biggest advocates.

In addition to the faculty, there is a small army of staff who support you in ways you may never see. The great part about universities is that they are built intentionally to make sure that when you need that extra helping hand there is someone there to pick you up, push you along, and cheer you on. There are hundreds of people here, including me, who are dedicated to making sure that you not only make it through college, but that you thrive and lead meaningful lives.

Finally, you are part of a community of fellow students. You make friendships in college that last a lifetime, fellow students that will forever change the way you view the world and a friendly face when you need it the most. When you leave here as graduates you will join a cast (I just learned recently that the collective name for a group of Falcons) of Fairmont State Falcons around the country who are there to welcome you with open arms.

College is a place where you can grow and we are built to make sure you have what you need to be successful. However, you need to commit to giving everything you have while you are here. College is what you get out of it. You will never have freedom to explore new things like you will during your time at Fairmont State University. Don’t waste this chance. Show up – every single day ready to discover something new.

Take a class that you are curious about just because. Join a student group that interests you. There are opportunities all around you to discover something that you didn’t even know you were interested in. For our first-year students, the whole world is ahead of you, and for those of you who only have a few weeks until graduation make sure you find some time to show up and try something new in your final weeks.

But you’re not just showing up for yourself. You are showing up for each other. Go to the performing arts, a sporting event, or a student academic presentation. Show up even if you think you don’t like the opera, or football, or science. Show up because you might find joy in learning something new. Show up because it is uplifting to watch someone who is skilled at their craft doing something that truly brings them happiness.

Support others because they are your friends, classmates, and community members. I will be there with you so show up and we will celebrate each other together. Commit to being here and being present when you are.

We are building programming across campus every day and we need you there to make that programming meaningful. Many of you have already seen new programmatic offerings and there are many more on the way. And I will let you in on a secret – the more events you engage in the more we are going to offer. So, if you have enjoyed Up All Night on a Saturday night, or hot dogs on the Quad with the Fairmont State Alumni Association or game night in the library then keep showing up and we will invest in the resources necessary to make them happen.

Before I end, I want to talk about how the world sees college students today. I spend a lot of time reading articles about how college students today are not willing to work hard, don’t want to engage, or are just going to sit in their rooms on their phones. People doubt you and say the college student of today is somehow inferior to previous generations.

I DON’T BUY IT. You wouldn’t be here unless you were ready to pursue something really special. I know that you have the ability, desire, and energy to do great things. I don’t care one bit what the people who don’t know you and aren’t invested in you think about what kind of a student you are going to be. You are capable of greatness and if you show up and work hard then the people on this campus are going to help you get there.

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