Inspiring West Virginians

West Virginia Public Broadcasting proudly presents the 2016 Inspiring West Virginians radio documentary December 21 at 8pm, with encores on Dec. 30 and Jan. 2 at 1pm. 

This year's one-hour program completes the very popular 7-year series.

Inspiring West Virginians tells the stories of West Virginians who are exceptional leaders in science and business. We visit them where they are, learn about what they do, hear stories of their childhoods and the influence of a West Virginia upbringing.  Added to that are the perspectives of friends, relatives and colleagues.  

Coming from small towns or modest means, they’ve all overcome hardships and hurdles on their way to the top of their fields.

These individuals credit their Mountain State upbringing and the values they were taught here as factors in their achievements. In return, they’re giving back to their home state in various ways.

Don't miss listening to these Inspiring West Virginians in the Dec. 21, 2016, 8pm broadcast!

Dan Carder, Emissions Engineer

Dan's is a “David & Goliath” story – about how the 46 year old West Virginia engineer led a small team at West Virginia University that discovered the world’s largest vehicle manufacturer, Volkswagen, had a cheating device on their diesel vehicles.  It’s one of the biggest scandals in automobile history.  Carder, a WVU graduate and mechanical engineer, runs the Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines and Emissions (known as CAFEE) at West Virginia University.  The Center developed the world's first mobile on-board emission testing system, which led to detecting VW’s effort to intentionally deceive its customers.  Dan Carder grew up in Mineral Wells, in Wood County, tinkering with cars and engines.  We visit his childhood home and meet his mother.  In Morgantown, we discover first-hand how the CAFEE research and testing facilities are continuing to make a difference on a world stage. In fact, Carder was named to TIME’s 2016 list of the world’s 100 most influential people.   We’ll also hear from WVU President Gordon Gee on the impact that Carder’s work has had on the university, the state and the nation.

Emissions Engineer Dan Carder of Mineral Wells, WV is named to TIME's 2016 list of World's 100 Most Influential People.
Credit Jean Snedegar

Justin Ellis, Astrophysicist

One of the fastest growing fields in astrophysics is gravitational waves – those ripples in space first predicted by Albert Einstein back in 1915.   A hundred years later, in September 2015, they were first detected by ultra-sensitive lasers. But others are searching with pulsars. Once detected, gravitational waves will lead to a revolution in astrophysics and astronomy – rather than looking at the universe, scientists will also be listening to it.  Among the small team of scientists worldwide looking for gravitational waves using pulsars is Justin Ellis, 30, from Jefferson County, WV.  He’s an unlikely science star.  Until Ellis went to college, his main interest in life was racing dirt bikes, which he did ALL the time, and won numerous Motocross competitions. Then in his freshmen year of college at Shepherd University he had a science professor who inspired him, who completely changed Justin’s life and direction.   Ten years later, Ellis won one of the world’s most prestigious fellowships in science – NASA’s Einstein Fellowship.   Justin shows us around NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and takes us to the Mission Control Room, from where many of the world’s satellites are managed.  We also go to nearby Caltech, where he works with a small team of colleagues, who call him “brilliant” and “Sherlock Holmes-like” in his determination to find the solution to a very difficult problem.  Justin also takes us to his family home in rural Jefferson County, WV to meet his parents.  And finally, we meet the professor at Shepherd University who sparked Justin’s interest in science, Jason Best.

30-year-old astrophysicist Justin Ellis of Jefferson County, WV is recipient of one of the most prestigious fellowships in science - NASA's Einstein Fellowship.
Credit Jean Snedegar

Ken Allman, Entrepreneur

This is the story of an entrepreneur who brought his business back to West Virginia, and in the process, is transforming his hometown, and inspiring the whole state.  In 1995 – when the internet was still in its infancy – Ken Allman, a young man from Hinton, WV, started an online business in his one-bedroom apartment in St Louis, Missouri.  The business was designed to become a link between physicians looking for a new position, and hospitals and other facilities looking for medical staff.  Four years later, Allman, now 54, moved the headquarters of his growing business back to his hometown in Summers County, and soon after was employing more than 20 local people.  Today PracticeLink, still headquartered in Hinton, is the nation’s largest online physician job bank, a vital link in recruiting thousands of doctors to hospitals, medical groups, healthcare systems, academic institutions, government agencies and the military.  But Allman didn’t stop there.  In order to serve the needs of his growing business, he and a team of people in Hinton began restoring nearby historic buildings - an inn and guesthouse, a restaurant, a movie theater that could double as a venue for conferences, and more.  Today that company, MountainPlex Properties, manages 20 buildings in Historic Hinton, and its efforts have sparked a rebirth of this railroad town.  We meet Ken Allman in his PracticeLink headquarters in Hinton, visit some of the buildings that have been restored to their former glory, and meet his mother, sister and childhood friends along the way. 

Businessman Ken Allman operates the nation's largest business of its kind - in his hometown of Hinton, WV.
Credit Jean Snedegar


Producer/Host Jean Snedegar of Elkins has profiled more than 2 dozen of these innovators from West Virginia throughout the course of the series, beginning in 2010. She's traveled from Washington State to Washington, D.C., down country roads in McDowell County to a farm in Berkeley County.

“West Virginia has produced an amazing array of world-class scientists, engineers and business people, and their stories are part of the rich tapestry of this state,” said Snedegar. “I hope their journeys inspire people from all walks of life, but especially students who may say to themselves, ‘If that person can do it, so can I!’”


- In December 2014, we featured four incredibly inspirational leaders in the Season 5 one-hour radio documentary. Click the player below to listen to the program. 

This West Virginia Public Broadcasting radio series is produced and presented by Jean Snedegar, an independent producer based in Elkins, and Suzanne Higgins, Executive Producer for West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

The series is made possible by the generous support of the Myles Family Foundation – inspiring West Virginians to soar.

Jean Snedegar

Keren Brown Wilson of War, WV says it all started with her mom, Jessie.  At just age 55, Jessie had a stoke that confined her to nursing homes for the next decade.

Jean Snedegar

Rod Van Meter strolls the halls at Duke University in Durham, N.C., knowing his very satisfying year here as a visiting professor on Fellowship is wrapping up.

Soon he’ll be returning to Keio University in Japan, and Shonan Fujisawa campus, about an hour southwest of Tokyo near the coast.

Forty-nine year old Van Meter of Williamson, WV is one of just a few thousand scientists and engineers in the world working on the future of Information Technology – quantum computers and networks. 

Jean Snedegar

She’s so beautiful that after retiring as a global executive for IBM, she was pursued by the Wilhelmina Modeling Agency as a mature model, appearing in numerous ads for national commercials.

But today Marilyn Johnson is one of the most high profile African-American businesswomen in the country.  She’s CEO of one of the most prestigious women’s organizations in the world – the International Women’s Forum headquartered in Washington, DC.

Inspiring West Virginians tells the stories of West Virginians who are exceptional leaders in science and business. We visit them where they are, learn about what they do, hear stories of their childhoods and the influence of a West Virginia upbringing.  Added to that are the perspectives of friends, relatives and colleagues.  

Coming from small towns or modest means, they’ve all overcome hardships and hurdles on their way to the top of their fields.

Jean Snedegar

He’s got a beautiful voice. 

In fact, he was once a member of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus - the house chorus for the Boston Symphony Orchestra – and he currently sings with the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh. 

Inspiring West Virginians is West Virginia Public Broadcasting's radio documentary series featuring the personal stories of West Virginians who have made significant contributions in science, technology, engineering, mathematics or business.

Jean Snedegar

Jake Harriman is a Preston County farm boy who grew up to become a leader in the fight against one of the world’s biggest problems:  extreme poverty. 

Harriman is one of three leaders in science and business profiled in the public radio documentary Inspiring West Virginians.

Jean Snedegar

Patrice Harris, MD, a native of Bluefield, WV,  is one of the nation’s leading psychiatrists.

Harris and 3 other leaders in science and business are featured in the public radio broadcast of Inspiring West Virginians.

Harris is currently the District Health Director for Fulton County, Georgia, which includes the city of Atlanta, and is responsible for more than a million patients.

Jean Snedegar

During his distinguished career, theoretical physicist and cosmologist Adrian Melott has been a pioneer in two completely different fields of space science – and he credits his focus and curiosity in large part to his grandfather who read a lot about science, and his father, a machinist who allowed him “free reign” in a chemistry lab in the family basement.

Not many pharmacists do cutting edge research in developing new drugs, and how drugs affect different patients differently.

But 53-year-old clinical pharmacologist Bill Petros of Wheeling, WV studies how cancer drugs react differently from one patient to the next.

For more than a decade Bill Petros led his own research lab at Duke University Cancer Center, one of the top cancer research centers in the United States. 

Then he got a call from West Virginia University, and was thrilled to return home.

Ellen Mosley-Thompson and Lonnie Thompson
Ellen Mosley-Thompson

Follow two of the world's leading paleoclimatologists to the top of the world and both poles!

Using ice cores they drill themselves, Marshall graduates Lonnie Thompson, from Gassaway, and Ellen Mosley-Thompson, from Charleston, study the history of climate at the Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State University.  Lonnie was the first scientist in the world to drill ice cores on glaciers in tropical regions.  And he has spent more time above 20,000 feet than anyone in history.

Caroline and Holmes Morton
Jean Snedegar

Travel to Amish country to hear about one of the most unusual medical clinics in the United States -- the Clinic for Special Children in Strasburg, Pennsylvania, founded by Dr. D. Holmes Morton, of Fayetteville, and his wife, Caroline, from Beckley.  Here doctors and scientists diagnose and treat rare genetic disorders in children from Old Order Amish and Mennonite communities.

Sylvia Mathews Burwell
Jean Snedegar

Meet Hinton-native Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the new Secretary of Health and Human Services in Washington.  Previously she was the Director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Burwell is the past President of Global Development at the Bill & Linda Gates Foundation in Seattle, the world's largest charitable organization. At the Foundation Mathews Burwell was responsible for giving away $750 billion a year to help some of the world's poorest people have access to better agricultural techniques, financial services and clean water and sanitation.

Brad Smith, CEO of Intuit
Brad Smith

Hear why co-workers of Brad Smith, President & CEO of the global financial software giant, Intuit, say he's the best ambassador West Virginia could ever have.

With Marshall memorabilia in abundance in his office, this Wayne County native boldly declares that everyone in the company knows about his alma mater, Marshall University, and his hometown, Kenova, West Virginia.

M.I.T. professor John Ochsendorf
Jean Snedegar

Elkins-native John Ochsendorf, 36, is a professor of structural engineering and architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  At 26 – eight years after he graduated from Elkins High School – he became one of the youngest professors ever appointed at the world’s top technical university.

Dr. Geoffrey Cousins
Jean Snedegar

Dr. Geoffrey Cousins, 42, is one of West Virginia’s most innovative heart surgeons and a pioneer of robotic-assisted heart surgery in the United States.  He lives with his wife and four children in Charleston and practices cardio-thoracic surgery at the Charleston Area Medical Center. 

Verna Gibson, first woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company
Jean Snedegar

Verna LeMasters Gibson, a native of Elkview in Kanawha County, broke the ultimate corporate “glass ceiling” in 1985 when she became the first woman CEO to earn the top spot at a Fortune 500 company, The Limited Stores.  She ran The Limited for six years and during that time it became the nation’s first billion dollar specialty retailing chain. 

Mark Williams, "Mr. Fuel Cell"
Jean Snedegar

Randolph County native Mark Williams is a visionary engineer and scientist who was the first person to see the commercial potential of fuel cells to run everything from heart pacemakers to power plants. 

Judy Sheppard, a dynamic West Virginia entrepreneur
Jean Snedegar

  Judy Sheppard is currently West Virginia’s most honored businesswoman and entrepreneur.  In 2011 she was named the state’s Small Business Person of the Year as well as Distinguished West Virginian of the Year.  Sheppard is founder, president and CEO of Professional Services of America, Inc, a multi-million dollar business based in Parkersburg.   With more than 200 employees, PSA, as it’s known, provides services for some of America’s largest corporations – DuPont, GE, Pepsico, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Mylan Pharmaceuticals and others – as well as 32 government agencies.

Dr. Lewis Cantley opened up entirely new fields in cell biology and cancer treatment.
Jean Snedegar

Back in 1985 Dr. Lewis Cantley, a native of Big Chimney in Kanawha County, discovered an enzyme called PI3-Kinase.  At the time his scientific colleagues thought he couldn’t be right.  How could a chemist discover something so fundamental to biology?