WVUP anticipates enrollment increase

Gilmer debuts ‘Open Your Heart’ theme

Singer/songwriter Luke Sadecky performs a cover of Madonna’s “Open Your Heart” during a kickoff event Monday for faculty and staff at West Virginia University at Parkersburg. WVUP President Chris Gilmer chose the theme to encourage the college’s employees to support students in a variety of ways and to coincide with Project O.P.E.N., which aims to remove obstacles for all students pursuing higher education. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

PARKERSBURG — When West Virginia University at Parkersburg starts the fall semester on Aug. 19, it will likely do so with more students than it had a year ago.

“For the first time in seven years, we’re going to be up in enrollment,” college President Chris Gilmer said during a state-of-the-college address Monday.

Gilmer spoke to faculty and staff in the school’s multipurpose room during a kickoff event for the fall semester.

Enrollment is still open, but Gilmer said that as of Monday afternoon, WVUP was just two students shy of last year’s head count, “which is excellent for this stage in the semester.

“There are quite a number of students who have not registered yet,” he said.

West Virginia University at Parkersburg President Chris Gilmer delivers a state-of-the-college address Monday in WVUP’s multipurpose room as part of a fall semester kickoff for faculty and staff. Classes begin Aug. 19. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

Gilmer credited the projected rise in both total enrollment and full-time equivalency (total credit hours divided by 15, which is considered a full load) to multiple factors, including a renewed emphasis on relationships with surrounding school districts, inviting more students and families onto campus and increasing participation in early enrollment, through which high school students take classes for college credit.

“We’re converting quite a few of them to full-time (WVUP) students after they graduate,” Gilmer said.

Gilmer touched on a variety of topics, including the addition of the Ntivia Service Desk Academy, which gives computer and information technology students the chance to earn money while working as interns on campus for the Washington, D.C.-based tech company. He described it as a sort of “extended job interview” that could lead to students finding employment with the company once they graduate.

“I want as many of our students as possible … to have the opportunity to participate in experiential learning,” Gilmer said.

He noted strategic communications students have been heavily involved with the marketing of the college, and he’s looking at other ways to provide real-world work experience on campus to those in a variety of academic programs.

The college’s contract with its previous food service provider ended, so the school will be running its own cafeteria, Gilmer said. “Ricky’s Cafe,” named after the school’s Riverhawk mascot, will open Monday and offer breakfast and lunch every day the school is open, he said. The local Chick-Fil-A franchise will be serving lunch as well.

As with his introductory event last year, Gilmer began the morning with a musical theme, an acoustic cover of Madonna’s “Open Your Heart,” performed by Ravenswood native Luke Sadecky, a recording artist with Mon Hills Records. He asked those in attendance to consider the song’s romantic lyrics from the perspective of a student pursuing the support of the institution.

“We are people with open hearts,” he said. “I’ve seen the beauty of your open hearts since I’ve been here and what they can do, what we can do together.”

It also ties in with an initiative called Project O.P.E.N., which stands for Opening Pathways to Equity Now. It will encompass programming for students, faculty, staff and the community, Gilmer said, but beyond that, the aim is for a cultural shift for the school to make sure everyone “gets a fair shake.”

Whether it’s race, gender, socioeconomic status, religion, military experience, being a first-time college student or something else, there are a variety of factors that can impact a student. Gilmer said the goal isn’t to give anybody a “free ride” or push them ahead but to “make sure that nobody starts from behind.”

Faculty and staff were also asked to contribute to a toy drive for the Children’s Listening Place, which aids children who are victims of child abuse, including conducting forensic interviews.

“Toys are magic,” said Linda Dotson, a WVUP administrative associate who serves on the organization’s board of directors. “And these children who come to the Children’s Listening Place are definitely in need of a little magic.”