Dr. Marie-Foster Gnage
by Jeff Fox
Dr. Marie Foster Gnage is a happy CEO. In a world full of economic turmoil, she has been steadily leading her growing organization for nearly seven years. But she will be the first to unselfishly admit that much of the success is because of the great group of people, which surround her. As most people probably know by now, her official title is President, and the organization is West Virginia University at Parkersburg.
Sure it’s a college, but a success story is a success story, be it a multinational corporation or a thriving, community-based college. “You always see opportunities for making the college better,” Dr. Gnage said. A very simple, yet powerful statement, and one, which may hold the key to success in its tiniest word ..., see. While others may be “looking” for opportunities, it takes visionaries to actually “see” them.
Dr. Gnage recited a short, yet telling, story, about a recent visit by her husband Dr. David C. Gnage, who is Chancellor at Penn State Mont Alto. He was exercising in the WVU Parkersburg gym, when he overheard several students discussing one of their classes. The students were jokingly talking about their instructor, making sure to wildly exaggerate the instructor’s age, but in the end both students admitted that it was a great class and that the instructor was a “really cool person.” This is exactly the balance that needs to be obtained for a good learning experience. Two generations, often times more than two, coming together in a class, which they enjoy, being taught by an instructor with whom they can connect. Dr. Gnage is seeing a shift in the mind set of local students, from what was once just attending WVU Parkersburg as a lesser option, to now making the college a proud first choice of education.
This new mind set is being reinforced in Dr. Gnage's feeling that the original overall goals and visions upon arriving are slowly being reached. The making of WVU Parkersburg as the college of choice in the region was one of those goals. “I think we are getting there … we really are getting there, and we can't get there fast enough for me. I'm always looking at getting from good to great. We have to keep progressing,” Dr. Gnage said. She is quick to admit her gratitude for the faculty, staff and the students for the work that has been accomplished since her arrival in Parkersburg.
WVU Parkersburg is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year and Dr. Gnage is particularly interested in several events which will recognize business, industry and the community for the role that they have played in the success of the college. She is also very interested in events, which will bring back past alumni to celebrate their accomplishments. Another event will thank donors for their student scholarships and the help that the donors give to students as they transition into the work world.
But Dr. Gnage feels that the highlight of the anniversary will be the Founder's Day celebration, which is tentatively scheduled for mid September. “We will look at all the people that have made the college what it is. From the time it was a branch, to a center, to Parkersburg Community College, to now, we will thank the people and recognize their contributions, and share them with the students that are here now. We will let them know that you can get there, and that we are going to help you ... then we are going to say to those in business and industry; now hire them,” she added with a chuckle.
Business and the creation of opportunities are also the topic of discussion for the downtown Parkersburg campus. Dr. Gnage envisions new programs being offered at the downtown campus, which will be representative of its setting. Culinary arts and hospitality management are just a couple of the new programs that have been discussed. These programs, along with classes and seminars to benefit workers at Highmark BC/BS, Bureau of Public Debt, the banks, city and county employees, and the hospitals will help to enrich a wide range of skills. The goal is not to move any programs from the main campus, but to use the downtown campus to grow new programs and allow them to extend into downtown Parkersburg.
“Another opportunity would be an entrepreneurial center or incubator for small business,” Dr. Gnage said.
This could possibly mean a student putting their skills to use in their newly created business and having someone there to help.
As America slowly begins to heal after the tragic events in Tucson, Dr. Gnage reminisced on her time spent there serving as Assistant Vice Chancellor for Education Services at Pima Community College. She describes Tucson as a wonderful place and Pima CC as a great place to work, where she was responsible for policy making. Although the college has grown to nearly 60,000 students, Dr. Gnage remembers the mood being one of fairness for the members of the college community and those members being pretty close knit, even given the size of the college. “I have been there when there have been challenges and its not one of those ‘okay you solve the problem, address the problem from your campus or the campus from where the problem is’… it was one where collective minds looked at why do you do what you are doing and are we doing it the way that we should … I do know it has always been a really good community, from what I experienced, that the administrators that were there and the faculty and staff that were there always had the best interests of the students at heart,” Dr. Gnage said. All colleges are having conversations on students with issues, and how to ensure a fair process for the affected student and to maintain the rights of all students.
In Tucson, the process will also include healing. “And there is a lot of healing that is going to have to take place in Tucson, you think about that it happened in a matter of minutes and the thoughts are going to keep going for years and years to come,” Dr. Gnage quietly said.