WEST LIBERTY - West Liberty University celebrated its 175-year history Friday, and looked to the future as officials announced a new physician's assistant master's program starts there this summer.
It was March 30, 1837, when the Legislature of the Commonwealth of Virginia approved the charter for what was first called West Liberty Academy. WLU is now considered the oldest institution of higher learning in West Virginia - which didn't become a state until 1863.
Recent years have seen WLU looking for ways to respond to the growing need for health care in the state, said WLU President Robin Capehart. In 2010, the school began setting the course to develop a master's program for students wanting to become physician's assistants.
Allan Bedashi, chairman and program director for the new physicians assistant program at West Liberty University, shows the classroom labs to be used by students in the program. Physicians assistant classes begin July 2. -- Joselyn King
Last week, the program received its final accreditation for the program from the federal Higher Learning Commission. WLU will start to accept applications for the program this week. The first classes in the 24-month continuous program are set to start July 2.
"We wanted to have a program that would serve as a signature program for an institution who has - with great determination and great vigor - set a course that will transform itself from a good college to a great university," Capehart said. "Today is truly a historic day. It's not only a day where we can celebrate our past. It's a day when we can celebrate our future."
WLU will be the only state-funded institution in West Virginia that offers a physician's assistant master's program, noted Allan Bedashi, chairman and program director for the new program.
"It should affect our basic sciences programs as a whole, as there should be an increase in student interest in the sciences" resulting from the new program, he said.
The keynote speaker for Founder's Day events at WLU Friday was West Virginia Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Glen Dale, a 1977 graduate of WLU.
"Not only did my West Liberty experience teach me to succeed, it taught me not be afraid to try and fail," Kessler said during the program at WLU's Interfaith Chapel.
He spoke of his unsuccessful 2011 run for governor, which led to his later becoming senate president and the "No. 2" official in the state.
"Down the road, maybe I'll look again to being No. 1," Kessler said. "You can be whatever you want - it just takes time and commitment."