Suzanne Higgins Published

Inspiring West Virginians Finale Wraps Impressive Look at West Virginia’s Best

Inspiring West Virginians

The seventh and final season of West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Inspiring West Virginians radio series will premiere Wednesday, Dec. 21 at 8 p.m., with encore broadcasts at 1 p.m. Dec. 30 and Jan. 2.

“It’s been quite a ride,” Producer/Host Jean Snedegar said of the series, which profiles outstanding scientists, engineers and business people from the Mountain State.

This week’s program takes listeners from a town of 2,600 in southern West Virginia, to a state-of-the-art laboratory at WVU, to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. We’ll meet a rising star in astrophysics, the emissions engineer who brought Volkswagen to its knees, and an entrepreneur who moved his business back to West Virginia, transforming his hometown in the process. 

“That brings to 29 the number of people I’ve had the privilege to meet through this radio series,” said Snedegar, an independent producer from Elkins, W.Va.

Over the course of the series, Snedegar and West Virginia Public Broadcasting also produced television profiles about nine of these West Virginia natives. 

“All of these folks are known across the United States and in most cases they are global leaders in their fields – yet they were happy to be profiled for Inspiring West Virginians – partly because they want to inspire the next generation of West Virginia leaders in science, engineering and business,” Snedegar said.

Among this impressive list of Mountaineers are three physicians, three astrophysicists, two paleoclimatologists, a field biologist, a biochemist, a pharmacologist, a computer architect, a biophysicist and electrical engineer, two energy engineers, one structural engineer, a mechanical engineer, an aeronautical engineer, one mathematician, three business entrepreneurs, three social entrepreneurs and four top CEOs in software, fashion, government and IT.

“Our mission is to tell West Virginia’s stories,” said Suzanne Higgins, WVPB Executive Producer.

“Jean brought us profiles of John Nash, Brad Smith, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, Adrian Melott, Linda Powers, Homer Hickham and Lewis Cantley among others – absolute super stars in their fields, and winners of the most prestigious science and business awards.”

Higgins said with her vast experience as a broadcast journalist at the BBC, Snedegar has delivered sound-rich stories that not only reveal the intimate, personal side of each of these West Virginians, and their background and humanity, Snedegar has also explained some very complicated scientific and mathematical principals and projects in a way that is readily understandable to her radio audience.

“It’s extraordinary to be able to do all of that in a single segment,” said Higgins, who has served as senior producer of the series since its inception in 2010. “We’ve been so proud to work with Jean on this project, which will preserve these important stories for years to come.”   

The Inspiring West Virginians series is archived on West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s website,

In the newest  Inspiring West Virginians program, we hear a “David and Goliath” story – about how a West Virginia engineer, 46-year-old Dan Carder, led a small team at West Virginia University to discover one of the world’s largest vehicle manufacturers had a cheating device on their diesel vehicles. 

Inspiring West Virginians

Credit Jean Snedegar
Dan Carder is named to TIME’s 2016 list of the world’s “100 Most Influential People.”

It’s one of the biggest scandals in automobile history, resulting in a record $20 billion dollar fine for Volkswagen.

Carder was subsequently named to TIME’s 2016 list of the world’s “100 Most Influential People.”

Listeners will then travel to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., for an on-site visit with astrophysicist Justin Ellis, born and raised in Jefferson County, W.Va.

Considered absolutely brilliant by his colleagues, this 30-year-old is one of only a few scientists worldwide looking for gravitational waves using pulsars.

Inspiring West Virginians

Credit Jean Snedegar
Scientist Justin Ellis is in search of gravitational waves – ripples in the fabric of spacetime.

And he never really thought about a science career until a professor at Shepherd University inspired him.

Ellis won the very prestigious NASA Einstein Fellowship – and he’s won some very coveted Motocross competitions as well.

The last profile in the Inspiring West Virginians finale is appropriately about a small-town boy who brought his extremely successful business back to his home town, and is leading additional local economic development projects.

Ken Allman, of Hinton, left the Mountain State and started, one of the oldest and largest online physician job banks in the country, from a one-bedroom apartment in St Louis, Mo. 

A few years later, Allman decided to move the headquarters of his growing business back to his hometown in Summers County, and soon after was employing more than 20 local people. 

Inspiring West Virginians

Credit Jean Snedegar
Entrepreneur Ken Allman is back home, inspiring a revitalization in Historic Hinton.

Allman then turned his attention to transforming  downtown Hinton, a town proud of its railroad history. Together with family, colleagues and community members, Allman helped lead a restoration of numerous buildings, and has opened new businesses that cater to both locals and tourists. 

Today, Hinton’s Historic District is one of the largest national historic districts in the country.

Allman says there’s more to come.


Since 2010, Inspiring West Virginians has been made possible by the generous support of the Myles Family Foundation – inspiring West Virginians to soar.