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Area educators discuss challenges facing their institutions

EDUCATION TALK — Among those participating in Feb. 4’s discussion were, from left, Jeff Strader, vice president and chief financial officer at Wheeling University; Justin Zimmerman, headmaster of Linsly School; Tamara Nichols Rodenberg, Bethany College president; Elizabeth Hofreuter-Landini, head of school at Wheeling Country Day; moderator Tate Blanchard; Jason Koegler, vice president of institutional advancement at West Liberty University; Leah Stout, director of special education for Ohio County Schools; Mary Ann Deschaine, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Wheeling and Charleston; and Daniel Mosser, president of West Virginia Northern Community College.

WHEELING — Bethany College President Tamara Nichols Rodenberg joined education leaders from the Wheeling area Feb. 4 for a panel discussion on challenges facing institutions of learning in the area.

Jeff Strader, vice president and chief financial officer at Wheeling University; Justin Zimmerman, headmaster of Linsly School; Elizabeth Hofreuter-Landini, head of school at Wheeling Country Day; Jason Koegler, vice president of institutional advancement at West Liberty University; Leah Stout, director of special education for Ohio County Schools; Mary Ann Deschaine, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Wheeling and Charleston; and Daniel Mosser, president of West Virginia Northern Community College completed the panel.

The importance of training and retaining talent and the importance of marketable skills dominated much of the discussion.

Part of achieving that, Rodenberg said, comes with attracting students who want to be in the area. Bethany, for example, is capitalizing on its rural, 1,400-acre campus by focusing its attention on such programs as biology and environmental science.

She noted the importance of recent partnerships with Ducks Unlimited and the Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh.

The educators acknowledged that technology has resulted in great strides in education, but they also lamented how handheld technology has shifted the social skills of current students.

Rodenberg described college as a chance to define oneself and to stand on one’s own. However, she said, technology has changed that dynamic.

“Because of the device in our hand, people are able to stay in their previous communities,” Rodenberg said. “The forward movement gets truncated.”

Students need to learn from both successes and failures, she added, likening life to ice skating and the importance of picking oneself up after a fall.

Higher education is also adapting beyond the idea of a traditional college student being between 18 and 23 and recognizing changing community needs.

Koegler of West Liberty said education was not long ago the most popular major on his campus, but recently it was surpassed by the sciences.

Likewise, Mosser of West Virginia Northern acknowledged the need to offer certifications, such as in the tech field, to make students more marketable. He said the college also offers petrochemical and welding programs to train workers for the gas and oil industry.

The leaders also touched on the importance of collaborative efforts among the institutions, such as the agreement announced by Bethany, Wheeling and West Liberty in December that allows students to take one class each semester at one of the other institutions at no additional cost while still receiving credit at their home institution.

The local economy and declining population have also presented challenges, the leaders said.

For example, the closing of Ohio Valley Medical Center displaced several nursing students at West Liberty who now must drive to Pittsburgh, Koegler said.

Mental health is one of the biggest challenges facing students of all ages today, and the leaders advocated a “whole student” approach to teaching help address those needs.

Also, the arrival of gas and oil in West Virginia has made for a transient workforce rather than creating jobs in the local community, the leaders said. Stout, of Ohio County Schools, said that has also created a transient student body in the K-12 system.

The leaders acknowledged the importance of having elected officials advocate for hiring local workers.

The Wheeling Chamber of Commerce hosted the panel at Wheeling University. Members of this year’s Leadership Wheeling were among those in attendance. Tate Blanchard served as the panel moderator.

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