Fairmont State president tells Rotary Club university must 'start showing up' for local community

Nov. 2—FAIRMONT — The newest member of the Rotary Club of South Fairmont might be a familiar face for Marion County residents. That's because he currently serves as president of the area's flagship four-year college, Fairmont State University.

Mike Davis was officially welcomed as a member of the Rotary Club during the group's weekly meeting early Wednesday morning. The Rotary Club is a local chapter of a national nonprofit organization, which aims to support communities through charity, outreach and engagement.

Those values fit into Davis's vision for the future of Fairmont State. After being welcomed to the organization, Davis spoke to his fellow members about the first four months of his tenure, and opportunities for engaging with the local community in the years ahead.

To begin, Davis updated attendees on recent developments on Fairmont State's campus that he hopes bode well for the future of the university as a whole.

Specifically, this included mention of a new pipeline for Fairmont State juniors to apply to medical programs at the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine, and a $2.2 million grant that the university received from the U.S. Department of Education for student success initiatives.

Students at Fairmont State have a full slate of events ahead, too, according to Davis. That includes a student staging of "Rocky Horror Picture Show" beginning this weekend, and a Christmas gift drive being hosted by the school's Student Government Association.

But Fairmont State is making a concerted effort to loop the local community into its programming and initiatives on a deeper level, Davis said. Historically, Davis said he does not think that level of community engagement has "always been there."

"I don't think we always knew how to do it. And I still don't think we know how to do it," he said. "But we're going to figure it out, and part of that is we're going to start showing up."

Currently, Fairmont State is developing a community engagement page for its website to make news of arts and culture and academic programs more accessible to Marion County residents.

"We're a public university. We have to be a public resource," Davis said. "I don't see a lot of our community members on campus."

"We really have to do a lot of work to let people know that the campus is open to them," he said. "That the campus is available when they want to do events, or when they want to just come, walk around. It can't just be the place to come get your Chick-fil-A."

Beyond keeping the surrounding community clued into exciting events on campus, Davis suggested that hosting programming specifically for members of the local community, such as family movie nights or overnight campus visits, could make people feel more connected to their hometown university.

In addition to helping community members stay engaged with what's happening on campus, Davis said he hopes this will get Fairmont-area youth excited about attending college one day, and hopefully applying to Fairmont State.

"We have everything in place to be the best regional university in the state of West Virginia. I think we should be the No. 1 choice for anybody who doesn't want a big school experience," he said. "I look at how many students apply, and that's clearly not the case."

Davis told attendees that the university hopes to develop a new capital investment master plan in the near future to identify and fund development projects that will make Fairmont State an even stronger university. The school's administration is still in the planning phase of such a plan, but hopes to have more updates soon.

After the meeting, Davis told the Times West Virginian he is excited to be a member of the Rotary Club, and that he hopes it will help him get more involved in the local community. Across town, his wife has joined as a member of the Rotary Club of Fairmont.

"I think it's a really important way to get involved in our community and make sure people see us out there," Davis said. "Tapping into what's going on, hearing the announcements, and then just being present when other people are sharing their successes and the things they're excited about is really important."

Rotary Club President Dale Dzielski said he and fellow members of the Rotary Club are glad to have Davis join their ranks.

"We're excited to have him here today to present his vision and outlook for Fairmont State, which is extremely positive," Dzielski said. "His enthusiasm for dreaming about the future is exciting, and I just look forward to many good things."

Nick Fantasia, who previously served as president of the Rotary Club, said that Davis joining the organization "shows his commitment to engagement in the community."

Dixie Yann, a member of the Rotary Club, said she is impressed with Davis's first four months and how he forges connections with those around him, whether they are on or off campus.

"When Mike came, he was a breath of fresh air," Yann said. "He's not going to stand there and talk to us. He's a good listener, and he has listened to everybody."

And, for Yann, that is a sentiment that has been expressed around town, too.

"Every group I've been in, every person I've talked to said, 'Mike doesn't just talk at you. He listens and participates,'" she said.

"You always say, 'Let's dream a little bit,'" she said to Davis. "Thank you for being a dreamer."

Reach Jack Walker by email at jwalker@timeswv.com.