Dear WVU Faculty:
Last week, I had the pleasure of joining our colleagues for a celebration of the 2018-2019 Benedum Distinguished Scholars. This year, Associate Provost for Faculty Development and Culture Melissa Latimer revamped the event and launched a new showcase format in which the scholars presented five-minute Ignite-style presentations about their work, followed by a moderated Q&A session. The entire evening served as a wonderful reminder of why we are here and our ultimate purpose as faculty in higher education.
There were a few specific themes that emerged through the discussion with the scholars – and their words echoed many of my own sentiments and those I see spoken and lived throughout our fine university.
WVU is a special place to work.
While many of us come here for the opportunity to make a difference in our field, what ultimately keeps us here is the caring and supportive community that we have built together — a place that encourages creativity and innovation and where we celebrate either others’ successes and collaborate rather than compete.
Each of this year’s Benedum Distinguished Scholars is an academic star who could shine at any institution. But they have chosen to build their careers and create their legacies here because West Virginia Unversity feels like home. When asked to name his favorite word related to research or anything in the academy, Davis College economist Dr. Peter Schaeffer said “friendships.” He says that supportive relationships with his colleagues have sustained and inspired him over his long career, but he has felt that collegiality especially at WVU.
We are driven by purpose.
Not all campuses can claim that their faculty are driven less by ambition than by a powerful sense of purpose and mission. But we can, and our Benedum Distinguished Scholars are ideal representatives. When asked to share their proudest moments, these decorated researchers didn’t tout their own achievements but instead spoke of the impact on others and sharing their “aha” moments with students.
Astrophysicist Dr. Duncan Lorimer, whose research has literally pushed the boundaries of time and space, spoke about how much he enjoys watching his graduate students succeed in their own work. French professor Dr. Janice Spleth said she isn’t just teaching her students to be academics – she’s “preparing students for life.”
We are committed to the love of learning.
No matter the field – whether in STEM, Social Behavioral Sciences or the Humanities – WVU faculty are dedicated to the pursuit, sharing and application of knowledge. Each of our Benedum Scholars has advanced their discipline in meaningful ways, from developing possible treatments for Alzheimer’s patients, to identifying new patterns of human migration, to helping pioneer the field of Africana Studies.
In their presentations and the discussion that followed, each of our Benedum Scholars shared their research process and how they tackled particular challenges that led to their breakthrough moments. But what I found even more inspiring was hearing them describe with great emotion the joy they feel when making a discovery. Dr. Bernie Schreurs described it as a “magic” moment – when a scholar’s hard work has paid off and the mystery reveals itself.
It’s no doubt that higher education is facing a number of significant challenges. We have shared with you the EAB forecast for declining high school enrollments and the impact that may have on our own bottom line. We also recently shared our budget forecast, which shows that the University is operating on a tight margin with not much fat to trim.
But while it’s important to be grounded in reality and understand the landscape in which we operate, we should never lose sight of the reasons we’re here and what drives us to do our best work. It is the pure joy of discovery, the pursuit of knowledge as an end to itself, and the ability to pass on that joy and pursuit to the next generation of scholars. Thanks in large part to the education and inspiration our faculty provide, our graduates will make discoveries, blaze new trails and have their own “aha” moments — moments that may change the world.
As we dig in to another semester, I hope you are all reminded of why you’re here and find both inspiration and comfort in that purpose. Thank you to our 2018-2019 Benedum Distinguished Scholars – Duncan Lorimer, Peter Schaeffer, Bernard Schreurs and Janice Spleth – for reminding me.