By HEATHER ZIEGLER
Special to the Herald-Star
TRIADELPHIA - In response to the growing energy industries in the Tri-State Area, West Liberty University's Resource Corp. kicked off a new coal and natural gas industry initiative known as the Institute for Energy and Commerce on Tuesday at the university's Highlands Center.
NITIATIVE KICKED OFF — West Liberty University President Robin Capehart, right, is shown with Chris Hamilton, senior vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association, center, and Jim Shaffer, vice president for grants management at WLU. — Heather Ziegler
During a news conference at the center, WLU President Robin Capehart said the initiative is in response to the "rapidly changing economic world in which we live."
Capehart said the program will continue to fulfill the university's role in two ways: Providing a quality educational experience and serving as a resource for the community, the region and the state by producing research, programs and initiatives that will "advance the knowledge base and contribute to the economic needs" of the area.
He said everyone is aware of the coal industry's long history in the local area and its impact on the state of West Virginia, as well as the recent phenomenal growth of the natural gas industry in the local region. With students seeking future jobs in those fields and the industries seeking trained workers, Capehart said the initiative will work to provide the information to satisfy the needs of both.
"The continuing growth of the coal industry and the rapid growth of the natural gas industry have created both questions and opportunities," Capehart said. "The ever-increasing need to pursue energy independence as a nation requires careful deliberation and a vigorous discussion of the issues surrounding the energy industry - as well as the intellectual preparation of individuals, who can meet the critical need for leadership in the future."
He added the institute will take a leadership role in conducting timely and thoughtful research on issues surrounding the role of the energy industry in the economic future of the state and country.
That may result in specific new educational programs at the university geared toward jobs in management, safety, engineering and other opportunities available in the energy fields.
Capehart compared this latest effort to last year's Institute for Innovation in Education, which has become a leader in research and analysis in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade and higher education.
For this new endeavor, researchers will include seasoned members of the faculty as well as a panel of researchers from colleges and universities around the country and individuals from other research organizations.
The Institute for Energy and Commerce will operate out of West Liberty's Highlands' location and will be organized and operated by the WLU Research Corp. under the direction of Jim Shaffer, vice president for grants management at WLU. Also Michael Hicks, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research and a professor of economics in the Miller College of Business at Ball State University, has agreed to serve as a visiting scholar and a distinguished research fellow.
Chris Hamilton, senior vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association, will take a leadership role and serve as chairman of the Institute's Industry Council.
"A lot of good things are going on in the energy field, and West Liberty's reach extends not only in West Virginia but into Ohio and Pennsylvania as a formidable, loosely structured energy alliance," Hamilton said.
"It's fitting that West Liberty takes on the leadership role."
In 2007, WLU completed a health care study that resulted in a physician's assistant curriculum being introduced at the university. In its second year, Capehart said the program has been well received by students.
Capehart believes a similar success can be achieved after researching and collecting data, holding public forums and establish funding for resulting new programs at the university.