“Fairmont State was wonderful for me,” said Dr. Jude Black, President of the Appalachian Life Enrichment Counseling Center in Fairmont. “It was big enough that I could get lost in, but small enough that I could stay grounded when I needed to.”
Dr. Black, 1990 graduate of the College of Liberal Arts with a degree in Criminal Justice, presented career advice and career optimization to students in psychology courses and the Student Veterans Organization. She credits Fairmont State as the birthplace of her independence and confidence as an entrepreneur of a prominent local business.
“I loved the foundation that I got through Fairmont State. It’s where learning clicked for me,” said Black. “I really had to learn how to apply myself and that helped me with a lot of my business decisions. I never knew I could fail because it wasn’t something I considered.”
Dr. Mitch Sokolosky, a 1988 graduate with a degree in Biology from the College of Science and Technology and the Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, presented biology and healthcare management to students in biology courses and the Tri-Beta Biology Honors Association. He attributes the experiences he had as a Falcon in shaping his career in emergency medicine.
“I took an emergency medical technician elective. It wasn’t required for my degree, but it allowed me the opportunity to volunteer in a local ambulance service and later become a paramedic in Fairmont,” said Sokoloksy. “Fairmont State is the reason I became an emergency physician.”
Bill Black, 1989 graduate of the College of Liberal Arts and Vice President of Operations at Appalachian Life Enrichment Counseling Center, presented leadership lessons and career advice to students in the National Security and Intelligence program, the Student Government Association and the Student Veterans Organization.
Danijel Velicki, 2000 graduate of the College of Business and Aviation and Founder and CEO of Sqwire, a company which conducts financial wellness courses, presented on financial literacy and business leadership with the men’s basketball team and students in business ethics courses.
Ryan Weld, 2003 graduate of the College of Liberal Arts with a degree in Political Science and West Virginia State Senate Majority Whip, presented leadership lessons and career advice to students in the National Security and Intelligence program and the Student Government Association. Weld, a former member of the Men’s Swimming team also took time to meet with members of the current Men’s and Women’s Swimming teams to share experiences from his time as a student athlete.
Gerard Schmidt, 1971 graduate of the College of Liberal Arts with a degree in Psychology and Chief Operations Officer of Valley Healthcare System, an institution designed to treat patients facing addiction, mental illness, and disabilities, presented leadership lessons and shared advice on mental health nursing to students in the Nursing program.
Robert Hawkins, 1970 graduate with a Bachelor of Arts Degree and Retired Director of Faculty Professional Education at Defense Acquisition University, presented to students on the value of a degree in education. He also gave his presentation “Elements of Change: How Learning is Being Redefined” to faculty in the College of Education Health and Human Performance.
Roberta Stronsider, 1967 graduate of the College of Education, Health, and Human Performance and Professor Emerita in Special Education at Towson University and Co-Director of the Institute on Executive Functioning, presented to education faculty and students on accelerating students’ executive growth the utilizing explicit instruction of metacognitive strategies.
“It’s difficult to express how much we appreciate the investment of each of these alumni making time to come back and pour into our students. The value that they provided with their years of insight and experience has been incalculable,” said Tim Liebrecht, Director of Development. “We are so proud to be able to help connect alumni back to our current students and faculty and we look forward to more of these events in the future.”
The Smith's children, Sherry Brown, Sherry's husband Dave Brown, Sue Post, and Eugene “Bob” Smith, chose to establish the Fellows Program after recognizing the unique needs of first generation college students.
“We are incredibly grateful for the generosity of the Smith family,” said Fairmont State University Interim President Dianna Phillips. “As a family with three first-generation college graduates, they have a deep understanding of the profound impacts of higher education. They also have a keen understanding of the unique challenges faced by first-generation students and their needs while transitioning to life on a college campus. These gifts will allow us to continue to provide critical services to our campus community, specifically our first-generation students, while serving our mission to provide a transformative education.”
The first class of fellows were named during the summer of 2022 and were provided the opportunity for an immersive orientation experience. Fellows spent a week at Fairmont State learning about the academic resources available to them through the University and learning to navigate the campus.
Meals, lodging and all activities are provided at no cost to students participating in the Datha and Gene Smith summer program. Following their summer immersion experience, fellows will continue to receive weekly academic and coaching support from peer mentors. As this pilot program evolves, it will serve as a powerful recruiting and retention tool for the University.
In addition to the launch of the Summer Bridge program, the existing Learning Enrichment and Academic Development (LEAD) Center – a tutoring and testing center – has been renamed the Datha & Gene Smith Center. In years past, the Smiths have also established a need-based scholarship and provided support for the Frank and Jane Gabor Folklife Center facility.
Datha and Gene Smith, both native West Virginians, spent most of their lives in Marion County, West Virginia before retiring to Florida. Their children and five of their grandchildren attended Fairmont State.