PARKERSBURG - Students and officials with West Virginia University at Parkersburg say outgoing President Marie Foster Gnage will be a tough act to follow.
Gnage announced March 10 she would she would not renew her contract with the university after June 30, bringing an end to 10 years of service with the institution. Gnage became the first female and the first African-American president of WVU-P on July 1, 2004. She is the second-longest serving president for WVU-P.
Officials said Gnage will be remembered for her work in expanding not only programs but also the college's footprint in the Mid-Ohio Valley.
"I was co-chair of the search committee when we brought Marie in, so I've known her for a little while," said Joe Campbell, a member of and former chairman of the WVU-P Board of Governors. "She's overseen the expansion of programs, not only academic, but also workforce and community development programs. She's helped develop and expand the campus as well as adding new facilities, and she has upgraded technology throughout the college."
Under Gnage, WVU-P expanded its main campus with additions of the Applied Technology Center and the Center for Early Learning and added the Downtown Center in Parkersburg; increased the number of bachelor degree programs from two to 12, and increased enrollment numbers to their highest level ever.
Campbell said all of these things were achieved during a time when budgets were extremely tight.
"This was all during a time when we still have one of the lowest per capita state allocations in history," he said. "Our tuition remains among the lowest in the state and in the country. While many colleges in the state are struggling, WVU-P is on sound financial footing, and I think that has a lot to do with her fiscal management."
Anthony Underwood, vice president for student services at WVU-P, said Gnage's presence on the national scene brought more attention and opportunities for the local college. Gnage has served on several national higher education committees and has won national recognition for her work in education.
"It is rare that you have a president so positively engaged on the national scene," he said. "That has allowed her to gain access to people and programs we might not have otherwise not have had, and allowed her to bring those things back to this campus to improve services to the students and the community."
Underwood also said Gnage's dedication to improving the main campus, including its technology, has made the college more both more attractive and more effective in meeting the needs of students and programs.
"It is really a quantum leap from where it used to be in terms of technology and programs," Underwood said. "We have a lot of things other schools wish they had."
Tyler Ohrn, president of WVU-P's Student Government Association, said Gnage made an effort to reach out to students and involve them in development of the campus and its programs.
"She was always very good at including the students in decisions and making sure we had a voice," he said.
Ohrn said he hopes the next president of WVU-P will have similar qualities.
"We need someone who is outgoing with the students and someone that can work with the community to help WVU-P continue to grow," he said. "We need someone with very good management skills and a clear vision of the future."
The board of governors has an interim president in mind who can take over at the end of June. The person, who has not been officially announced yet, is from within the school, said board Chairman Gerard El Chaar. The board will have to receive the approval of the state Community and Technical College Council in Charleston before the appointment can officially be made.
The board will soon begin the nationwide search for the next president for WVU-P. A search committee, made up of staff, faculty, students, alumni, people from the community and others, will soon be appointed.
Campbell said he believes the board will seek a candidate with experience, leadership qualities and a vision for WVU-P. The new president will come in just as the college begins to work on both it's master facilities plan and strategic plan.
"It will be good to have the next person intimately involved with those actions," Campbell said. "This person has to be a leader, and we've been fortunate for the last 10 years. Marie provided that for us, and we will expect nothing less from the next person."
Officials said they are planning both public and private events to thank Gnage for her service. Specifics for those events have not yet been announced.