ELKINS - With an eye toward the future, his wife, Lisa, by his side and a call for collaboration among the campus and greater communities to continue Davis & Elkins College’s journey, Chris A. Wood took the oath of office as the College’s 15th president. The lower level of Myles Center for the Arts Harper-McNeeley Auditorium was filled to near capacity for the Thursday afternoon ceremony.
Among those in attendance were Wood’s mother, father in-law, siblings and scores of other relatives, the Wood’s daughters, former D&E presidents Dr. G. Thomas Mann and Dr. Michael Mihalyo, representatives from higher education, community members, students, faculty, staff and members of the Board of Trustees. Wood’s message of sharing his vision and gratitude encompassed them all.
“Since August 1, I have come to know the people of D&E, the history of this institution, the uniqueness of this College, and began to glimpse the opportunities for the future,” Wood told the crowd. “You welcomed Lisa, Lacey, Lexi and me, and invited us to become a part of this community. Now, our journeys are joined together, and I am grateful for your welcome and embrace.”
Wood chose “The Journey” as the theme for the inauguration, borrowing the phrase from his father, the late Rev. Dr. F. Emerson Wood, who always signed notes to his son with the words “The journey continues …. .” As Davis & Elkins students begin their journey of transformation, Wood said he hopes they find their true purpose in life.
“Vocation is that which brings meaning to one’s life,” Wood explained. “I am increasingly convinced that actively seeking one’s vocation in life, particularly when vocation is married with career, is the key to meaning and success. My hope and dream … my prayer for our students, is that they will seek out and discover, with God’s help, their vocation.”
Wood’s own vocation, he said, is what drives his leadership style, one he describes as a collaborator and a consensus builder.
“I will repeat to you today what I told the faculty at our first gathering in August,” Wood said. “I will share information with you as I am able, I will solicit your input, and I will tell you why I have made the decisions I have made. We might not always agree, but we will begin to build the necessary trust and respect to move this College forward. After eight months among you, I do hope and trust that you know I am a person of my word.”
In his address, Wood shared eight points of observations, hopes and a partial response to how D&E will strategically move forward to become a stronger and even more vital institution.
“Beginning in late summer 2017, the College will begin an extensive bottom up process of strategic planning,” Wood said, adding that everyone within the College will be invited and encouraged to participate. “The implementation of this strategic plan will drive our 2020 decennial accreditation visit from the Higher Learning Commission.”
Secure the Future
“We have 15 months to successfully complete our 10-year $100 million ‘Secure the Future’ campaign which has now surpassed 80 percent of goal,” Wood said. “With extreme gratitude to our trustee and D&E parent, Jim McDonnell, we have a $25 million challenge that will match all gifts to the campaign, both cash and estate gifts, as we head down the stretch. Every person within the sound of my voice needs to make a gift to this transformative effort as we enter a public phase beginning this summer. Now is the time to consider leaving D&E in your estate plans.”
Continued Fiscal Health
“The fiscal health of D&E is strong. As of December 2016, the College has no external nor internal debt. President Buck Smith and the Board of Trustees deserve great credit for making the difficult decisions that have restored financial viability to D&E. I pledge to maintain that fiscal health and keep the College compliant with federal regulations.”
“We have pruned some academic programs, and will continue to do so as necessary for the health of the organization,” Wood said. “However, we are now in position to add new programs to meet needs and to increase enrollment.”
Wood explained that the nursing faculty has been asked to begin planning for the addition of a four-year Bachelor of Science in nursing to be added to the present associate degree and the online RN to BSN program.
Existing programs in Hospitality Management and Adventure Recreation are being retooled, he said, and moved under the Division of Business and Entrepreneurship to become majors in Hospitality and Tourism Management and Outdoor Recreation Management.
Additionally, the Division of Fine and Performing Arts has been renamed the Division of Creative Arts.
Plans for initial master’s degree programs will begin in areas such as health care, business, education and psychology.
“Psychology is listed as a response to the horrendous issues within our state around addictions and substance abuse,” Wood said. “We will be open and explore master’s programs that are seated, online and hybrid.”
Wood said athletics are expanding strategically under the leadership of Director of Athletics Jamie Joss. Beginning in the 2017-2018 academic year, acrobatics and tumbling will be added to the roster of offerings.
Also, beginning in the fall semester plans are set to strengthen campus activities and engage with the greater Elkins and Randolph County community, under the leadership of Vice President for Student Affairs Scott Goddard. The projects also will fall to the leadership of a new Benfield-Vick Chaplain.
“I am actively pursuing funding that will enable our part-time Benfield-Vick Chaplain to become full time and pick up the portfolio of a newly created director of student and community engagement,” Wood said. “This new chaplain will also be working alongside Dr. Bryan Wagoner, the director of the Morrison-Novakovic Center for Faith and Public Policy, to expand the offerings of this new and exciting initiative to our campus community and the larger community. With gratitude to David Morrison and Phebe Novakovic, prominent national leaders will be coming to Elkins, and our students will travel to Washington to engage decision makers.”
In addition, Goddard and Lisa Wood will work toward a grassroots movement of female students to restore sororities on campus with a focus on service and philanthropy.
“Beginning with local chapters, which may eventually become national chapters, the establishment of these new fledgling groups has begun,” Wood said. “I am supporting the establishment of an advisory council of Greek alumni to counsel and assist with fundraising.”
Partnerships within the community are essential for moving D&E forward, Wood explained adding that he has shared with business leaders in Elkins his core belief that the stronger D&E can become the better for the city of Elkins and Randolph County.
“The stronger Elkins becomes the better for D&E as we work to attract new students as well as faculty and staff that will call this community home,” Wood said. “In particular, I want to express my appreciation to Davis Medical Center for the spirit of cooperation and partnership as we work together to mutually benefit both of our organizations.”
Deferred maintenance is a significant issue and one that will continue, Wood said.
“With fresh eyes, I am looking at simple improvements that are targeted at what prospective students and parents see as they make that all important first impression,” Wood said. “In addition to the small improvements, there are significant projects that must be undertaken as well.”
Among the projects are a new HVAC system for Graceland, a new roof for the Boiler House Theatre, relocation of the athletic offices to the second floor of The McDonnell Center, replacement or renovation of Jennings Randolph Hall and repairs to Eshleman Science Center.
The D&E Way
“I have heard some on campus use an expression that over the coming years I am committed to redefining,” Wood said of the common phrase “the D&E way.” “We have an opportunity to make the D&E way spectacular. The D&E way should involve excellence, pride and a work ethic second to none. The D&E way is how we transform lives.”
Additional remarks were presented by the higher education community, Davis & Elkins College Board of Trustees, alumni, West Virginia Presbytery, elected officials, students, faculty and staff. The ceremony included musical selections from the Davis & Elkins College Concert Choir and Appalachian Ensemble.
Prior to his inaugural address, Wood was introduced by Dr. William N. “Bill” Johnston, former Wesley College president and former vice president for development at D&E. A response was be given by Wood’s brother, the Rev. Dr. Gerald E. Wood, pastor of Beverly Hills United Methodist Church in Huntington, W.Va., and former vice president for college advancement at Davis & Elkins.
Major sponsorship of Inauguration Week was provided by March-Westin. The inaugural stage was sponsored by JoJo’s Floral and Bridal. A reception sponsored by Beander's, Tammy's at the Delmonte Market, Aaron’s and U.S. Foods, Inc. followed in Myles Center for the Arts. The ceremony and reception were also the site for the Elkins-Randolph County Chamber of Commerce March After Hours event.
A post-inauguration Moonlight Madness for students was hosted at Nuttall Field with a pizza party and games with the Coca-Cola Refresh Crew. The event was sponsored by Mr. and Mrs. John C. Allen, Domino's Pizza and KI.
Prior to coming to D&E, Wood was vice president for advancement at Wesley College in Dover, Del. He also has worked as vice president for advancement at the University of Mount Olive in Mount Olive, N.C., executive director of Mission West Virginia Inc., and, as an ordained United Methodist pastor, served congregations in Illinois and Maryland.
Wood, his wife, Lisa, and their two daughters, Lacey and Lexi, along with their miniature schnauzer puppies, Hallie and Henry, reside at Hearthstone.
Related to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Davis & Elkins College is located in Elkins, 2 hours east of Charleston, 3 hours south of Pittsburgh and 4 hours west of Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit the College website at www.dewv.edu or call 304-637-1243.
Photo Caption: With his wife, Lisa, by his side, Chris A. Wood takes the oath of office as Davis & Elkins College’s 15th president from Board of Trustees Chair June Myles, as his brother, the Rev. Dr. Gerald E. Wood, looks on.