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TAYLOR KUYKENDALL / The State Journal TAYLOR KUYKENDALL / The State Journal
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University of Charleston Grows by Being Small

By TAYLOR KUYKENDALL · tkuykendall@statejournal.com

If you've been down the Kanawha River or along its banks, the University of Charleston's campus is nearly as iconic to the city's landscape as the Capitol building itself.

Recently undergoing major expansion by adding Mountain State University's Beckley and Martinsburg campuses, the University of Charleston has quite a bit of excitement behind it and in front of it. 

"We're privileged to be an educational resource for the capital city and to be a namesake for the capital," said UC President Ed Welch. "We're fortunate we were in a position to be able to do that."

Welch said the capital city is rich with student opportunities for internships, entertainment and more. He said the environment of Charleston enriches the educational experience at UC, and the private university gives back to its community. 

"There's a spectrum of things we do," Welch said. "On the one hand we are a well-received education facility in the community that is attractive to businesses who are trying to attract people to come to Charleston. We also have our speaker program … that brings noteworthy speakers to our campus, so there are a range of educational programs at the community."

The campus of UC, Welch said, serves as a "beacon of light for the community" and is used as a venue for a variety of events such as Blues, Brews and Barbecue or Symphony Sunday.

The class sizes are smaller compared to other universities and a slightly different approach to teaching means students can study across a variety of programs, including pharmacy and business, in an engaging way. 

"The focus is on student learning, not faculty teaching," Welch said. "We want students to learn by practicing to learn by doing."

The school's philosophy is "Learning Your Way," where students get credit for prior learning, construct a learning portfolio, earn credits in internships and create individualized majors. 

Judy Atlis, university librarian, works at the university's Beckley location and said the transition so far has been seamless and was fair to former employees of Mountain State University.

"I think the expansion here as been great," Atlis said. "That has been a very smooth transition."

Welch and Atlis said the school has been proud of success so far, but it hasn't stopped driving forward on key expansions and opportunities. 

"I'm looking forward to the future," Atlis said. "I think great things are going to happen on all three campuses."

Atlis said her favorite parts of working at the university have been her co-workers and work environment. 

"I like the atmosphere. I like the kindness that has been shown to us," Atlis said. "I think everyone realizes in Charleston we had been hurting. There's been a real good feeling about this here."

The expansion in about five months added 70 new employees, 500 new students and nine programs not previously offered at the University of Charleston. At the same time, it took over two campuses and offered more than 20 of its own programs to those facilities. 

"It's unprecedented for a school to go out of business because of accreditation problems and not financial problems and for another school pick up their site. … We didn't buy them out," Welch said. "We didn't take them over. We replaced them. We're leasing the facility and offering our programs." 

Adam DeBriae, a student at UC, came to the school from northern Virginia. He said he was looking for a small school for an intimate university experience. 

"I visited here, and I was really blown away when I came here," DeBriae said. "I met with an admissions counselor on a weekend with me and her and my family. It was very individualized."

In addition to small classes, he said he was excited to see his professors had done more than spend time at the head of the classroom. 

"They have all this real world experience," he said. "They actually have that real world experience that I might be looking at down the road."

A successful student involved in numerous extracurricular activities, DeBriae attributes much of his success to the nature of UC. 

‘There's been so many things I've been exposed to here, where if I went somewhere else I might have been lost," he said. 

Ultimately, he added, it's about no regrets.

"I'm really just happy to be a student here. A lot of times you go somewhere and think ‘is this the right decision for me? Is this where I really want to be?' The whole time I've been here, I've never thought back once and wasn't happy with my decision to come here."