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AEP donates $300,000 to West Virginia State University

INSTITUTE, W.Va. -- American Electric Power has donated $300,000 to West Virginia State University to establish a program that's designed to get more young people interested in energy, science and math.

The funding will benefit the establishment of a WVSU AEP Foundation Full STEAM (Science, Technology, Education, Agriculture and Mathematics) Ahead Program, which is slated to be up and running by the next school year.

The program will work to increase awareness of the STEAM fields throughout elementary and high schools in West Virginia, in addition to creating new internships and research opportunities for underclassmen at State.

The donation also will support a new faculty research position dedicated to bio-energy.

"When you think about what's going on in this state in terms of energy, this is an important step in terms of our research agenda," WVSU President Brian Hemphill said. "Students who engage in hands-on research are more likely to maintain enrollment and graduate, and that's one of the reasons this is so important. This gift will improve student retention and prepare them to enter the work force."

Charles Patton, president and chief operating officer of AEP subsidiary Appalachian Power, presented Hemphill with a check after a routine Board of Governors meeting Thursday. Plans for the program were announced in November 2012, but the donor of the $300,000 remained anonymous until Thursday afternoon.

"This emphasizes the education of young people, particularly in the sciences, and that is something AEP supports," Patton said. "In addition, there are elements of energy research and, of course, as a global energy company, we are very much committed to that."

Patton said AEP also recognizes WVSU for its importance to the local community and the state.

"We see West Virginia State University as a major economic factor in the Kanawha Valley," he said. "I believe WVSU can and will continue to be a really bright spot in this economy, and it is essential to the long-term viability of this community."

The donation is the latest in a string of big gifts to support programs at WVSU.

In October, an anonymous donor provided $1 million to the university to build a new athletic complex and to support several scholarships.

With WVSU about halfway through its fiscal year, $1.8 million in gifts and pledges has been donated to the school, according to a university spokeswoman. That's more than double the total donated by this time last year, with the number of donors increasing from about 200 to more than 450.

Hemphill said that by allowing more opportunities for undergraduates, including freshman and sophomores, through the program, students will be more motivated to continue their education.

Right now, 55 percent of first-time freshmen at WVSU return for their sophomore year. Of those, 24.5 percent earn their bachelor's degree within six years.

"This will truly allow us to engage students in meaningful hands-on research with our faculty," Hemphill said. "One of the things that is pretty clear is that, on college campuses, research is designed to engage graduate students. We're doing something really special here."

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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