M.Ed. 2004 | Kanawha County Board of Education
Boone County, West Virginia, native, public school teacher, and WVU alumna Denise Workman has seen firsthand the difference an education makes. That’s why she’s so committed to helping students continue their studies beyond their high school walls.
And as president of Boone County’s WVU alumni chapter—Boone County Alumni and Friends—Workman, who earned her bachelor’s degree in K–8 education from West Virginia State University in 1989 and her master’s degree in special education for the gifted from WVU in 2004, is positioned to do just that.
“Our group socializes, networks, and hosts game-watching events and bus trips, like most other WVU alumni chapters,” says Workman. “But our focus is mainly on the students and providing opportunities for them to get what we all were lucky enough to find with an education from West Virginia University.”
To make those opportunities reality, Boone County Alumni and Friends works hard to raise money for its scholarship fund. In total, the chapter has raised more than $800,000. Just this past year, it awarded 33 high school seniors from Boone County scholarships to attend WVU.
For Workman and her husband, Todd Mount, a lawyer at Shaffer & Shaffer who was the alumni chapter’s president before Denise took charge, nothing compares to creating life-changing possibilities for Mountain State youth.
“As an educator, as an alumnus, as a member of this community, I think providing opportunity, making a dream come true, and encouraging education are all rewarding, fulfilling, and necessary in today’s world,” says Workman. “It is tough in the coalfields of West Virginia, and we want our students to have any possible advantage to graduate from WVU and create the life they want for themselves.”
B.S. 1991 | Astrodyne TDI
When Bill Gray (center) and his wife, Jennifer, both WVU alumni, moved to Colorado in 1997, they longed for the camaraderie of fellow Mountaineers. They decided to take matters into their own hands and formed the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the WVU Alumni Association, which Bill leads to this day.
“It is a labor of love and a way to give back,” says Gray, who earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from WVU in 1991 and his master’s degree in engineering management from the University of Colorado in 2004.
One of the most notable ways that the Grays and the Rocky Mountain Chapter give back is through a scholarship fund that helps a high school senior from Colorado attend WVU. In addition, Bill spends much of his time traveling to college fairs at local high schools, where he shares with students the many benefits that go hand in hand with being a Mountaineer.
“We have a fantastic story to tell about WVU,” says Gray. “Talking to students who are making their choice for the future helps bring me closer to the university that is so far away from where I live, and nothing makes me happier than bragging on WVU and helping bring in top-level students from around the country.”
Gray, who is vice president of Global Sales at electrical and electronic manufacturing company Astrodyne TDI, says he wholeheartedly believes in the mission of the university because of the impact it has had on his own life and career.
“WVU gave me a solid engineering foundation and instilled in me the West Virginia work ethic that has enabled me to excel in every role that I have undertaken,” he says. “I have had the opportunity to work, travel, and live all over the world, and WVU helped launch me on that journey.”
B.S. 2002; J.D., MBA 2007 | Google
For those who were born and raised in West Virginia, a sense of Mountaineer identity is almost innate. But those who have traveled across oceans to get here often come to call Morgantown and WVU home, too.
“I spent the formative years of my stay in America in Morgantown,” says Ola Adekunle, who came to the United States from Nigeria in 1998. “WVU played a big role in shaping who I am and how I view the world, so I want to put WVU on the map. I bleed blue and gold, I really do.”
Adekunle earned his B.S. in computer engineering from WVU in 2002, then law and business degrees in 2007. After leaving Morgantown and moving on to jobs in Virginia and Texas, Adekunle committed himself to helping with recruiting efforts, volunteering his time to share with prospective students the opportunities and possibilities that WVU can provide.
A patent counsel on Google’s Patent Strategy Team in Mountain View, California, since 2017, Adekunle is still finding ways to give back. This past June, he directed the first-ever Google Legal Summer Institute, which was developed to help underrepresented law students gain valuable training through Google along with real-world experience with some of the top law firms in the country.
Upon launching the program, Adekunle immediately reached out to his alma mater and encouraged rising second-year law students to apply. Of the 28 students from across the country who were selected, two hailed from WVU.
“Charity begins at home,” Adekunle says. “There were a lot of people at WVU who helped me in different ways along my path to Google, and I’m at a point now where I want to reach back and help others, too.”
B.S. 2008 | Weatherford
Ten years ago, with a brand new mechanical engineering degree from WVU to her name, Heather Dishman found herself presented with a job opportunity she couldn’t pass up—but it meant leaving behind the college town she loved and relocating to the unfamiliar flatlands of Houston, Texas.
“I graduated in May of 2008, flew down to Houston in July, and I’ve been here ever since,” says Dishman, who works as a project engineer for the global energy company Weatherford International.
Luckily for Dishman, a Cumberland, Maryland, native, she quickly found a network of fellow Mountaineers with whom she could share her love of all things Morgantown.
“One of the first things I did when I moved here was get in touch with the alumni association,” she says. “I engaged with the local alumni chapter, and that really helped me settle into Houston.”
Appreciative of how her fellow alumni helped her adjust to her new home, Dishman became actively involved with the chapter. These days, she and her husband, Chris, a 2003 graduate of WVU’s School of Journalism, are co-presidents of the Lone Star Chapter of the WVU Alumni Association, bringing together transplanted Mountaineers and WVU fans to enjoy watch parties, tailgates, community service activities, and even an annual pepperoni roll contest.
Not only does Dishman focus much of her energy on connecting alumni, but she also devotes her time to representing WVU at college fairs held by high schools in the Houston area and leads the charge on awarding an annual scholarship that helps send a local senior to WVU.
“I want to give others the chance to have the opportunities I had,” she says. “It’s neat to be able to be 1,200 miles from Morgantown, telling them about a place I love, and watching them get excited about it, too.”
For Dishman, it’s all about giving back to the place that changed her life.
“WVU gave me so much,” she says. “It made me who I am today.”
B.S. 2004 | Nalco Water
When Brian West recounts his memories as an industrial engineering student at WVU’s Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources in the early 2000s, he’s quick to point out that they wouldn’t be complete without mention of one his most influential professors: Jack Byrd.
“One of the things I love about him is that he took a lot of pride in making sure he had relationships with all alumni so that they’d come back to their alma mater and find opportunities for students and try to help them with job placements,” recalls West, who graduated in 2004. “When I was a student in his class, I said, ‘Someday, I’m going to get with a company and work my way up to where I, too, can have an influence on recruiting.”
West, a Wheeling native, now lives in Frederick, Maryland, where he works as a district sales manager for Nalco Water, an Ecolab company and a global provider of water management solutions and expertise. In the past five years, he has placed 23 WVU engineering graduates within his company.
“They’re working in all kinds of divisions, all across North America, doing all kinds of different jobs,” West says.
Twice a year, West makes the trip to Morgantown to network with soon-to-be and recent graduates at the Statler College of Engineering’s Career Fair, identifying students whose goals and abilities align with Ecolab’s vision. He coaches many of them through the interview process and takes time to mentor them and check up on them once they’ve been placed and started their careers. He also works to bring other companies to WVU’s campus to match students with employment opportunities.
“I realized how important that was to me and how it helped me get my start, and I wanted to pay it forward,” West says. “One of the most fulfilling things is watching them grow and prosper into future leaders at this company.”