New WVU-P president Gilmer is settling in

PARKERSBURG – The new president at West Virginia University at Parkersburg understands the value community colleges have as he got his start at one.

President Chris Gilmer has been on the job for a few weeks. He succeeds former President Fletcher Lamkin, who left last fall, and interim President Jane Milley, who recently left the university.

Gilmer, a native of Mississippi, comes to WVU-P from Alcorn State University in Vicksburg, Miss., where he served as the executive director of the Vicksburg campus for a number of years. He was the vice president for academic affairs at Adams State University in Alamosa, Colo., from July 2016 to February 2017. He has also done consulting work for almost 12 years with Innovative Behavioral Services Inc. and had his own consulting firm, Chris Gilmer and Associates Consulting. from 2000 to 2016.

“I was a first generation college student from a rural Mississippi farming family,” he said.

He has lived and worked most of his life in rural Mississippi in the Historically Black College and University System there. Adams State University was also Colorado’s oldest federally designated Hispanic-Serving Institution.

“I have a special place in my heart for historically ‘underserved’ students,” Gilmer said. “I define that word very large and broad.

“I am from a rural place and I wanted to come to a rural place. I am very much a country boy at heart.”

Like Mississippi, there are still a lot of first generation students in West Virginia.

“There is a special place for me for those students who have to work a little harder to get to college, maybe the first in their family to get to college,” Gilmer said.

It can be traditional students; working adults who have to juggle responsibilities with parenting and work; former military service people; and students who are academically underprepared.

“What I have done throughout my life is tell them that ‘I’m not special in any way. If I can do it, you can do it,'” he said.

Gilmer graduated from East Central Community College in Decatur, Miss., in 1985 with an Associate Degree, Liberal Arts and Sciences, General Studies and Humanities. He went on to the University of Southern Mississippi where he graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree for English in 1987. He went on to Mississippi College where he got his Master’s Degree in English in 1989. He received his Doctor of Philosophy in English from the University of Southern Mississippi in 1994.

“I believe strongly in the mission of the community college system,” he said. “If there had not been one a short distance from my home, I probably would not have had the confidence or the fiscal resources to go out and begin my educational journey.”

Gilmer felt his experiences could help benefit WVU-P.

“I wanted to come to a place where I thought the person I am and the experiences I have had along the way would be useful,” he said. “I wanted to come to a place where I would be a good fit for the institution and the community and where the community and the institution would be a good fit for me.”

During the interview process with the Board of Governors as well as interacting with a variety of people from around the campus, he felt a connection.

“Our purposes and our stories were similar and that the path we could go down together would be in service to our students,” Gilmer said. “I have had a diverse career.

“I like to do a lot of different things. With the different skill sets that I have learned along the way will serve our community well as president of the college.”

Gilmer has been familiarizing himself with the community and its employment needs. He is meeting with business leaders and company officials to talk about their employment needs which will be followed up with research and data.

“I am making every effort to put myself out in the community to meet the people who own this college,” he said. “I am making myself entirely available to the internal constituents of the college, the students, faculty, staff and alumni.

“Many people have taken me up on that offer to come by and introduce themselves.”

A community college needs to be responsive to the workforce development needs of its community, Gilmer said. He is listening to people right now, seeing where the needs are and what might be done to address them.

“I told the board that a new president needs to come with a lot of ideas, but no preconceived notions,” he said. “That is how I have come.”

He commented on the excellent fiscal shape the college was in and how WVU-P’s enrollment numbers were a lot better than many institutions.

“I think this place has set up a new president to succeed and give that person all of the tools they need for success,” he said. “I feel fortunate in that regard.”

He has a three-tiered plan for the university.

“I want the institution to be student focused, community focused and employee focused,” he said. “No institution is better than the employees that make up the family that serves its clients and our clients are students so I want us to create a workplace where everyone is content and happy to the degree that is possible and supportive of a common mission.

“So far, that is already the culture of this place.”

He wants the area to think of WVU-P as the university of this area, the seven county service area it serves and beyond.

“There should not be an institution who cares more about Wood or Jackson County more than WVU-P does,” Gilmer said. “It is my commitment that we are going to really put students at the center of everything we do.”

Many people working in a college setting are working with the best interests of students in mind, but students are so often left out of the planning and the decision making, he said.

“They are going to be the ones most impacted by what it is that we do,” Gilmer said. “I am committed to being very student focused.

“I want to look for ways to tell our story and be recognized statewide and nationally for the good work we are doing here.”

He has met with the new Wood County Schools Superintendent Will Hosaflook to discuss the possibility of having more joint programs and applying for specific grants together to help students in the area.

Gilmer has had success over his career with acquiring federal grants and foundation grants.

“I don’t think one should chase money just for the sake of chasing money,” he said. “One should only go after things that are core to the mission and purpose of the institution.

“We are going to be much more competitive for the grant funding that is out there to bring more opportunities into the community and more opportunities for our students.”

One of the signature programs Gilmer is going to bring to WVU-P is the National Institutes for Historically Underserved Students.

“It is a national think tank,” he said. “It brings educational leaders from across the country together to look for ways we can be supportive of the students across all different populations.

“This is a group of people who come together periodically to come up with solutions to leveling the playing field in higher education. As I have found a new home here, we will be convening that group here in November.”

Before the university makes any major programming decisions which would impact the institution and the community for a long time Gilmer wants to listen more thoughtfully to the community.

“I want to move as fast as we reasonably can and move as slowly and thoughtfully as we need to to make sure the major voices in those decisions are reflected,” he said.