Chris Schulz Published

Marshall, WVU Program Aims To Keep Graduates In State

Sunlight streams through white clouds into a forested valley between rolling hills. In the foreground a rocky outcropping can be seen.
The Potomac Highlands
WVU Photo/Alyssa Reeves

Modeled after Ascend WV, the two year First Ascent program aims to keep recent graduates in the state. It is a collaboration of both Marshall University and West Virginia University (WVU).

Participants must have recently graduated from one of the two universities and have a remote or hybrid job. They will receive incentives such as access to free co-working space and outdoor recreation equipment, success coaches and professional mentorships and more.

Marshall President Brad Smith and WVU President Gordon Gee announced the initiative at the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce Business Summit Wednesday. Their presentation estimated keeping 1,000 students in the state after graduation will have a $317 million economic impact and will also create more than 900 additional jobs.

Gee said next to energy exports, the state’s biggest export in recent years has been young talent.

“We simply have to make certain that now what we do is we keep our talent here,” he said.

Applicants to First Ascent will be able to choose from five communities: Morgantown Area, Huntington Area, Eastern Panhandle, New River Gorge, Greater Elkins and Greenbrier Valley.

Gee said the effort is part of his and Smith’s “United Universities” approach.

“Between the two of us, we’re the largest employers in the state, we have the most economic value in the state, we drive almost everything that happens here with our colleagues in the legislature, the governor and others,” Gee said. “We make certain that we have a common agenda, a common bond and a common purpose. I think it is working very well, and I can tell you, that will make a real difference for West Virginia.”

Smith said in the meeting the next generation is looking to them to help them see that their future is in the state with meaningful job opportunities. 

“Let’s get creative and innovative and remove the barriers so that our sons and daughters can stay here in this state, stand on the shoulders of the giants who sit in this room and continue to build the great state of West Virginia” he said.

In a press release, WVU said seed funding for the First Ascent pilot program originated from WVU Provost Maryanne Reed’s Innovation Summit and a subsequent award was provided by the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Build Back Better Regional Challenge Grant to Coalfield Development and WVU.