Inspiring West Virginians

West Virginia Public Broadcasting proudly presented its sixth program in the Inspiring West Virginians radio documentary series Monday, December 28, with an encore presentation Thursday, Dec. 31.

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.

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!’”

Featured in the 2015 broadcast:

Keren Brown Wilson, 66, an entrepreneur and world pioneer of the assisted living movement. Wilson is a McDowell County native and coal miner’s daughter. After becoming a professor of gerontology at Portland State University, she opened the first assisted living facility in Portland, then developed assisted living facilities throughout the United States.  

Keren Brown Wilson of McDowell County, founder of assisted living model of elder care.
Credit Jean Snedegar

Keren Brown Wilson now heads a foundation – named after her mother, Jessie F Richardson – aimed at providing better care for under-served elders in the United States and abroad. 

Rod Van Meter, 49, from Mingo County, a computer engineer who works at the forefront of the next generation of computing worldwide.  A quantum computer and network architect, Van Meter recently published the world’s first book on Quantum Networking, the basis for the future of the internet.  

Rod Van Meter of Mingo County is a quantum computer network architect.
Credit Jean Snedegar

Rod Van Meter is also an associate professor at Keio University’s Shonan Fujisawa Campus in the city of Fujisawa, Japan. 

Brian Anderson, 37, the Director of West Virginia University’s Energy Institute.  The Roane County native is a world authority in geothermal energy and gas hydrates, a champion of sustainable energy, and a tireless advocate for making West Virginia’s fossil energy resources – coal, oil and gas – both productive and environmentally sustainable. 

Brian Anderson of Roane County is a world authority on geothermal energy and gas hydrates.
Credit Jean Snedegar

In 2013 Brian Anderson was the winner of the President’s Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the only person from West Virginia to receive that honor. 

Marilyn Johnson, 62, leads the International Women’s Forum in Washington, DC, an organization of more than 6000 top women leaders around the world.  A native of Kanawha Valley, Marilyn spent 35 years as an executive for IBM – rising to Vice-President of Market Development – making her one of the top African-American female leaders in the IT industry. 

Marilyn Johnson, a native of Kanawha County, also serves on the boards of numerous organizations, including the National Council of Negro Women in Washington, DC. 
Credit Jean Snedegar

A graduate of Marshall University, Marilyn Johnson led a group responsible for developing IBM’s strategy for, and marketing to, businesses owned or operated by Asians, Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, and women around the world. 

Executive Producer Suzanne Higgins of West Virginia Public Broadcasting is Senior Producer for Inspiring West Virginians.

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


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

This West Virginia Public 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?