Many catalysts responsible for success at WV State - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Many catalysts responsible for success at WV State

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In addition to growing enrollment numbers and the implementation and expansion of new and existing programs, the Agricultural and Environmental Research Station is another growing component of West Virginia State University.

In the 1950s, WVSU lost its land grant status because of a decision of the West Virginia Board of Education, but regained it in 2001 by an act of Congress.

Research encompasses the food and agricultural sciences, which has spread out to environmental issues and a broader range.

"It's basically food, agriculture and the environment," interim assistant vice president of research and public service Robert Barney said. "It used to be just agriculture when agriculture was the primary industry, but now we've got to appeal to all people. So, WVU is a land grant institution."

Through the renewal of the land-grant status, which former WVSU President Hazo Carter worked to regain, Barney said millions of dollars have been funneled back into the university and the state.

With the regaining of land-grant status, Barney said a grants and contract office was created as well as the ability to sponsor programs. The ability to hire more faculty that could write more grants and publish papers also was made available.

"It starts building on itself," Barney said.

Since WVSU is fairly new in reentering its land-grant status, Barney said it is growing and expounds on the many programs available and the growth opportunities the program has afforded.

"We've got an agricultural program, ‘How to Raise Fish for Food,'" Barney said. "We have a large plant genomics program where we have people looking at molecular genetics and how to find certain biomarker genes to see if there's a gene that may allow something to be bigger or withstand freezes or resist disease. Things like that." 

"We're using molecular techniques for food crops, and also for potential bio-energy crops that can be grown on marginal land like mine sites. That's one of our own thrusts is to try to develop things that can be used for energy to grow on areas that you can't really do anything else with to reclaim those areas." 

A multi-million dollar proposal to the National Science Foundation to create a bio-energy center is in process, as well as acquiring more lab space. Currently, labs are being leased at the West Virginia Regional Technology Park in South Charleston because of a  lack of space. One of the goals is to get a new research facility on campus. Barney said it probably would be attached to Hamlin Hall.

Now, students have the option of obtaining a master's in biotechnology through the graduate program.

Until now, Barney said WVSU hasn't been considered a research institution and that designation belonged to West Virginia University and Marshall University. Therefore, WVSU wasn't required to report on research.  

Barney said the long-term goal is to have more people and faculty across campus doing research and to get more release time for teachers to do research.

"Now that we've built up a research infrastructure, when we're trying to hire other faculty in other departments, it's like what research component could you bring whether it's in sociology or whatever other areas," Barney said.

Barney said doing research and being up-to-date in the latest techniques and theories makes for a better teacher.

Students also have the opportunity to get involved through the research rookie program provided by acquiring an American Electric Power grant. Freshman and sophomores are recruited and paid approximately $1,500 a semester and approximately $500 in supply money to conduct research.

Not only does the program offer students always-appreciated cash but a chance to have a support system during a time of transition.

"When you come to campus you don't know anything, you don't know anybody, you're away from home, all those thing," Barney said. "If you can get into a lab where there's kind of a core group of faculty and a graduate student, there's a support group there, you learn techniques … that doesn't necessarily mean you're going to be a scientist in that area."

Recruiting more students to be in the research program is a win-win for everyone, Barney said. 

"If there's some employment/research opportunities, that's just another thing they could get here," he said. "That doesn't mean you couldn't get it other places, but now that we have that, it should help us. Ten years ago we didn't have that. So that's something that's got to help in recruitment.

"We're helping as recruiting and retention too. If (the students) are in a lab, there's other students and a professor they see on a regular basis. They've got a relationship with somebody," Barney said.

"We want to be known as a research institution. We want to be a player in the state."