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West Virginia University at Parkersburg to host conference on underserved students

Photo Provided Educational leaders from around the country will be at West Virginia University at Parkersburg this week for the National Institutes for Historically-Underserved Students.

PARKERSBURG — National educational leaders will be at West Virginia University at Parkersburg for the second meeting of the National Institutes for Historically Underserved Students on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

The conference will bring attention to the challenges underserved students face.

“Historically underserved is not meant as a label,” said WVU-P President Chris Gilmer, organizer of the event. “It is meant as a statement of empowerment, each of us accepting, even celebrating, the uniqueness of our birth and our defining characteristics while at the same time asserting that education is a right of every person willing to work hard for it.”

Gilmer helped found the organization two years ago.

A declaration on the rights of historically underserved students was ratified when the organization was formed.

Photo Provided Educational leaders from around the country will be at West Virginia University at Parkersburg this week for the National Institutes for Historically-Underserved Students.

It included what many groups have faced in getting a good education, including minorities, former military, the first college students in their families and others who feel they have a right to a good education regardless of where they live or how they live their lives.

“Since then, colleges across the country have been requesting copies of this to use in their diversity and inclusion programs,” Gilmer said. “Our goal with this second think-tank is to transform it from a movement to giving it some form as a national academic center which will be housed here at WVU-Parkersburg.”

The original declaration will be on display throughout the event.

About 40 educational leaders throughout the country will attend the event, including representatives from WVU-P.

“It should be the most distinguished group of higher education leaders that have ever been assembled in Parkersburg, W.Va.,” Gilmer said. “They will be interacting with our students, faculty, staff and community for a couple of days to heighten awareness around this issue.”

They will be going over the declaration, its goals and ways to meet those goals.

Among the educational leaders participating in the think tank are Constance Slaughter-Harvey, a pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement who desegregated the University of Mississippi School of Law; Deb Daiek, president of the National Association for Developmental Education; Kevin Christian, who leads diversity efforts at the American Association of Community Colleges; Lonie Haynes, vice president of diversity and inclusion at Highmark Health; Rosalyn Nichols, lead pastor for Freedom’s Chapel Christian Church in Memphis; Sarah Armstrong Tucker, chancellor, West Virginia Council on Technical and Community Colleges; and university and college presidents. A group of student ambassadors from WVU-P will also take part in the event.

Nichols, a graduate of LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis, an historically African American college, said many schools educate students in a variety of career paths and professions, but do not keep alumni engaged with the schools after they graduate. Many communities also do not fully realize the benefits these colleges bring to their areas in the people they educate and the jobs they can fill.

“It is a gift to the community and needs to be supported,” she said.

Nichols will be doing the invocation at the beginning of the conference and it will be about faith and experience.

“It will be a prayer that speaks to the role and value of these institutions and the role faith played in their creation and sustaining them,” she said.

This will be the first time Nichols has participated with the Institutes and is looking forward to gaining “insight and wisdom” from all of the other participants. She likes the idea of promoting diversity even as such ideas are not popular in a lot of parts of the country. Many of these schools serve students who don’t have many options to get an education.

“For many, it is not about choice, it is a necessity,” Nichols said.

The conference’s public events kick off at 9 a.m. Friday in the college theater. A town hall open to the public will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at the college theater.

An exhibition of the documentary art exhibition “A Peace of My Mind” by John Noltner, featuring stories of peace from across the country, will be on display at WVU-P and a presentation will be made at the town hall meeting. The attendees will have private work sessions throughout the afternoon.

At 4 p.m., the event will be reopened when the college will celebrate the inauguration of Gilmer as president of the university in the Campus Multi-Purpose Room. This event will also feature a reading by poet Aaron Abeyta and a solo performance by tenor Matthew Valverde.

At 8:30 a.m. Saturday at the Blennerhassett Hotel, a panel of historically underserved students will be discussing their experiences. These include a veteran, a non-traditional student, a second-grade student and her mother who will talk about issues of race, a transgender student and her mother who will talk about their experiences.

The veteran and the non-traditional student are from WVU-P. The others are coming in from out-of-state.

Gilmer has repeatedly said no university money is going toward the event. The participants are donating their time and some will have travel and other related expenses that will be covered by the WVU-Parkersburg Foundation through private donations.

Many students in Appalachia fall in the category of historically underserved. The conference will help illustrate the challenges they face.

“This is a way to distinguish WVU-Parkersburg as part of the national conversation and a leader on national trends of inclusion in higher education in relevance to our community,” Gilmer said. “We hope the public will take advantage and come out and interact with this group.”

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