By LACIE PIERSON
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — The difference a year has made for Marshall University President Jerome “Jerry” Gilbert is impressive.
Today marks the first anniversary of Gilbert officially taking the helm of Marshall. In that 12-month span, he has put roots in Huntington to support local neighborhoods; led the way for the university’s enrollment, research and faculty pay increases; and shared Marshall’s resources in the fight against the substance abuse epidemic in Huntington.
When he came to Huntington in January 2016, Gilbert came alone, as his wife, Leigh, finished out the school year in her job with the Starkville, Mississippi, school district.
“I would sum it up as sort of a marathon,” Gilbert, 62, said last week. “There were a lot of things to get familiar with in a short period of time. Because my wife was still in Mississippi, I had more time to put into things because I wasn’t constrained by having someone I would want to talk to or go home to. I spent a lot of time doing things at a higher level of involvement. Not to say I won’t be engaged in future years, but that first year was a different approach because I wanted to learn a lot very quickly.”
What Gilbert learned led him to create two things – a multi-point plan including his goals for Marshall and a specific plan for the university to be more involved in helping Huntington and West Virginia residents address substance abuse issues.
In October, Gilbert announced officials with Marshall’s Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine would conduct a national search for a director and professor of addiction sciences, with Gilbert saying his ultimate goal is to create a Center of Excellence in Addiction Sciences.
Gilbert said he knew there was a substance abuse problem in Huntington before moving to the city, but he didn’t realize the breadth of the issue until he became a resident.
“I didn’t realize how big a problem it was and how pervasive it was in the community and how it was impacting so many people,” Gilbert said. “I knew it was something I need to include in my job, to try to get Marshall involved in addressing an issue I think is one of the premier issues in the community.”
Gilbert said he and university officials have set foundations for the points of his plan for the university, which focuses on increasing enrollment and retention; supporting student success; expanding the university’s marketing strategies; bolstering the university’s research portfolio; increasing fundraising; taking a bigger role in economic development and community outreach; having more open lines of communication throughout the university; and increasing faculty salaries.
Most notably, the university used $2 million from its reserve funding for Fiscal Year 2017 to hire more people in Marshall’s Recruitment Office, and Gilbert said applications to Marshall substantially increased from the 2015-16 academic year to the current 2016-17 year.
He said he anticipated an enrollment increase of at least 100 to 200 students for the fall 2017 semester.
Gilbert has said he wants Marshall to have 15,000 students by the fall 2020 semester.
“It’s not necessarily what I would want, but I think it’s a good first step in moving the needle,” Gilbert said. “I would love to see between 300 and 500 new students here next year, but it takes some time to get the momentum going.”
Marshall already has garnered $2 million more in research funding this year than it did in the previous year, Gilbert said, and he’s eager to put more emphasis on undergraduate research and creative discovery.
“It’s not just the sciences,” Gilbert said. “It can be any area of liberal arts or performing arts where students are involved in the creative process, where they’re doing something to create new knowledge or creating a performance or another piece of art.”
Gilbert also said he wants to make sure Marshall is paying its faculty competitive salaries to attract and keep the best and brightest in Huntington.
“It’s something I think about often, and it continues to be front and center as we look at budgetary plans for the university,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert said he had the impression the communication between Old Main and the rest of the university was lacking, and he hopes he strengthened and opened those lines in the past year.
“I want people to realize I’m committed to trying to get information out and being open and sharing information with the campus,” Gilbert said. “I try to interface with faculty and students as much as possible. It takes some work, but I’m committed to getting to know faculty, staff and students better.”
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