Here at Fairmont, I write a weekly column for the Times West Virginian newspaper. I offer perspective from my Interim Presidency, and frequently weave a Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading thread into the fabric. The essay/column below will appear sometime in September.
Judy and I drove to Cranberry, PA Labor Day Friday to visit our son and his family (three grands!), leaving campus here at 3:30PM. Routine wait-time at Fairmont intersections, a little traffic through Morgantown, WV, then gridlock from Canonsburg, PA north. I suppose time-of-day and holiday flow combined to clog I-79. Our leisurely (but not at all relaxing) 15 mph pace, predictable for a metropolitan area (Pittsburgh MSMA, 2017) home to 2.36 million, reminded me that we are blessed in The Friendly City to be so centrally isolated – my Fairmont descriptor, which I’ll explain.
We’re within 100 miles of Pittsburgh and its airport, shopping, entertainment, professional sports franchises, Three Rivers, and globally recognized identity as a recovered and now emergent city. A little more than three hours from Columbus, OH; under four hours to our Nation’s Capital; a bit over two hours to our state capital. Central, yes — but isolated?
You bet, and that’s a good thing! Isolated from persistent gridlock, stagnant city air, Presidential motorcades (D.C.), game day traffic, and the constant cacophony of life among the masses. Sure, we have our issues, but to a far lesser extent. Deeper, natural isolation is within easy reach. The nearby rails-to-trails; Prickett’s Fort; Valley Falls; rivers rich with fish, escape, and beauty! A little further and you’re in absolute eastern USA grandeur – my heaven-on-Earth, Dolly Sods and the high plateau region above 4,000 feet! Isolated is a wonderful attribute. Over the years, business has taken me to Los Angeles – try seeking isolation there. Forgetta-bout-it! You can have the Santa Monica Freeway. Give me our lovely Connector – from the Interstate to downtown, three minutes of splendor.
And think about our Interstate – what a Godsend to have it and its hi-tech corridor at our doorstep! The strength of a booming light industrial and technological sector right here in our rural midst. Add in our Harrison County neighbors and we have tremendous potential for increasing economic vibrancy and quality-of-life vitality. Oh yes, don’t forget our incredible higher education attributes – FSU and Pierpont – here to feed and fuel the corridor, our Friendly City, and the region!
Again, Fairmont and environs are blessed. Perhaps it takes a short-term visitor to see the obvious. I have come to conclude generally, and in every place I’ve resided, that far too few people even look, much less see what lies around us. We are blinded by familiarity; dulled by our digital devices; and distracted by routine. Fresh eyes and my imposed urgency to make a difference here at FSU force me to look, see, and feel deeply, prompting me to act – on behalf of FSU… and the community we inhabit.
My big question: are we at FSU capitalizing on what I view as strategic comparative advantages? Do we adequately incorporate these attributes into our image, brand, and identity? Are we even seeing, much less capitalizing on, the possibilities? Not when I arrived. Instead, we bemoaned declining WV high school demographics, reduced State support of higher education, and our trailing WV economic stature. I’ve said repeatedly, shed that self-fulfilling mindset. Rise above it.
Ride the wave spurred by our special advantages. Build those positives into our identity. Forge powerful reciprocal partnerships with our robust business and industry neighbors along the corridor. Attract students from outside West Virginia, the region, and the US. Jettison the lethargy of an institution staking its future on Charleston alone. Don’t await the cavalry arriving from Kanawha County to save us – it does not exist, nor will it. Our fate is in our own hands.
I intend to pass the baton to FSU’s next President, having charted a course forward, upward, and onward. We (FSU and our region) are positioned for advance… and for sustainable success. I am grateful for the chance to play some small role in securing the future.
The column ends there. I had no trouble adopting it to my Great Blue Heron Blog theme of Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading. My Interim Presidency is, in every sense, an extension of my work at Great Blue Heron. I am applying my GBH trade and model to an annual $45 million-dollar enterprise. This trial is proving wildly successful. Employing my ecosystem approach to enterprise management is working beautifully.
After my FSU term, what follows? Another interim gig in higher education, at an NGO, a business? Perhaps a series of contracts to write Forestland Legacy Stories? Maybe a third book — a compendium of these GBH Posts? This Interim Presidency has buoyed my look to what lies ahead.
I am having the time of my life — lifting a university of 4,000 future citizens, 30,000 alumni, and a major cog in the regional economy! Operating from an environmental base that aligns with my heritage… and my destiny. Life is Good!
Featured Image: Fog envelops the Monongahela River Valley several hundred feet below and south of campus. September 4, the cooler mornings with associated fog portends autumn.