By Charles Boothe
September 1, 2022 - Bluefield State University’s engineering program received a big boost Thursday night at a fundraising event at Fincastle with Gov. Jim Justice a guest speaker.
“This is a great event to support our engineering program,” said Keith Olsen, BSU’s Chief of Staff. “We were approached by the people with Pocahontas Land Corporation. They recognized the importance of our program and they wanted to do something that focuses on the engineers that work in the mining industry.”
That is when the fundraising dinner to support the Pocahontas Land Coal Producers Endowed Professorship idea came up and Justice agreed to be part of it.
Gov. Jim Justice signs a football to be auctioned off at Wednesday night’s Bluefield State University event at Fincastle in Bluefield, Va.
Photo: Jessica Nuzzo
“You are embarking on something that is really neat,” Justice told the packed ballroom at Fincastle. “This great school was flat on its back. This great community of Bluefield and Bluefield, Va. was flat on its back … “
But no one gave up, he said of the years following the decline of the coal industry.
“You have done it and you are continuing to do it every day.”
Justice said most people in the room owed something to the coal industry and it was great to see the support being given to Bluefield State’s engineering program, with proceeds going to scholarships and an endowment for a professorship.
“This school is on fire,” he said of BSU. “Good things are happening because of you. You should be so, so proud of yourselves.”
Justice said that as a school and as a community people “hung in there when things were really tough.”
“I am so proud of Rob (BSU President Robin Capehart) and all that has been accomplished,” he said. “It’s off the charts.”
Justice called BSU an “incredible” school that is doing something to bring engineers into the mining industry, and it’s a good time to do that.
“I believe we have a real live future in front of us,” he said of the coal industry. “People who don’t understand at all want you (the industry) dead … they don’t understand how much you are needed. They just want you gone.”
But “you still have the juice,” he said. “You still have the power and you have got to exert it now.”
“We are very excited about the turnout tonight, the show of support for Bluefield State,” Capehart said, praising the many coal industry officials who attended. “They are all interested in our engineering program and in providing financial support.”
Chris Hamilton, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, was also in attendance.
“We are really excited about this,” he said. “ A lot of our member companies are excited about it.”
Hamilton said that under Capehart the university “has grown in a short period of time” and residents like Bill Cole have stepped up to help the university and community grow.
“There is a lot of positive energy here in the general community, the business community,” he said. “This program epitomizes their support for the industry and for the community… We are really proud to work with them.”
Hamilton said the Coal Association is in with the program “100 percent and we are prepared to provide resources and technical advice, whatever is needed to make the engineering program successful.”
Now is a great time for the coal industry, he added, with high quality met (metallurgical) coal in demand.
“These (met coal) reserves are going to be here for a long time,” he said, and Bluefield State can provide the needed engineers in every capacity as coal will boost West Virginia’s economy “for many decades to come.”
“It is an extremely exciting time,” said Charlie Cole, a member of BSU’s Board of Governors. “There is so much promising energy going on in the community right now and a lot of that has to do with Bluefield State. Good things are happening…”
Cole said BSU has a renewed focus on the quality of education as well as sports and has seen an increased enrollment.
“It is so exciting to be in Bluefield right now and a lot of things going on the city and at Bluefield State,” he said. “This is an exciting time … The best is yet to come.”
Mike Blackburn, vice president of Pocahontas Land Corporation, said the company was looking for something to get involved with in Bluefield and looked at several things worthy of support.
But they chose Bluefield State and its mining engineering program, wanting to “enhance the program.”
“This is an inaugural kickoff to what we hope will be an annual event,” he said. “We are glad to be part of Bluefield State and the people have been tremendous to work with. They have given us all a lot to be excited about.”
Olsen also said the money raised will help to hire some adjunct professors and add nine to 12 more credit hours to the program to work toward full certification in civil engineering.