WHEELING - West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee said America must draw upon its creativity and ingenuity if it is to maintain its place among the world's nations that are gaining in population.
Gee toured the Northern Panhandle Wednesday, beginning at the "world's largest teapot" in Chester and winding down at an alumni reception in Wheeling at Oglebay Park's Wilson Lodge.
He told those present one of the greatest challenges to America is that only 320 million people live within its borders, compared to 1.3 billion in China and 1.2 billion in India, with population increases expected in both countries.
Photo by Joselyn King/West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee, center, speaks with state Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, and Sen. Larry Edgell, D-Wetzel, prior to addressing an alumni fundraiser at Oglebay Park’s Wilson Lodge Wednesday night.
"If we just think about it in terms of sheer mass, we're going to lose," he said. "The pith of our nation is no longer our ability to outperform. ... Our ability to compete must now be to outthink."
And it falls upon colleges such as WVU to make certain everyone achieves the best of their intellectual ability, according to Gee. He said WVU is a unique institution in that it is both a research institution and a university that creates jobs.
"It is our greatest responsibility to make sure every person in the state has the opportunity to rise to their highest ability," he said.
And WVU's reach isn't limited to just the main campus in Morgantown. The university places extension faculty in every county in the state, and those employees develop ties to those communities, according to Gee.
He said he has met locally with both West Liberty University President Robin Capehart and Bethany College President Scott Miller to see how the institutions can cooperate to develop programs.
As many as 20,000 new college graduates will be needed in the state in the coming years, and Gee said he hopes WVU's college population will expand to accommodate the need.
"We hope to grow our institution from the about 30,000 students we have now to 40,000, but we have to do it in a smart way," he said. "We have to make sure the infrastructure of the city grows with us to support us.
"This university belongs to the people of the state. We will do everything we can to improve the quality of life of people in the state and improve their opportunities."