Investing in the future: Harvard grad students discover West Virginia

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WHEELING, W.Va. (WTRF) – Why West Virginia? A question posed by state officials and one of the foremost leading research institutions in the world- Harvard University.

Together, the state and University are working to change the narrative of West Virginia.

On Monday, 7News attended a panel hosted by local leaders for 20 Harvard MBA students.

Harvard business school students have spent the last few days traveling to several cities, interacting with various different sectors, across the Mountain State.

Students told 7News first hand that West Virginians have a sense of place and purpose. And that yes, there are struggles and stereotypes, but there is also inspiration, and hopefully, that will be brought to the conversation.

Success in business is not confined to major cities and what truly makes entrepreneurs successful may be gleaned only in small communities.

West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner told 7News, “Harvard has an interest in reaching out to rural America and as you can tell these students are coming from not only the United States but all over the world.”

At their last stop in Wheeling, the Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce and its local business leader members, hosted at Orrick, had an open dialogue with Harvard’s MBAs.

Kelly Cullen, the GOC Director of Orrick in Wheeling, said, “I’m excited to have them come and visit us here at Orrick and in Wheeling to learn more about the exciting and innovative work. I don’t think people appreciate all of the great things and the great employees that are here in West Virginia.”

The Executive Director of the Wheeling Ohio County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Frank O’Brien, shared with 7News, “I’m going to tell them about the Capitol Theatre and how it closed and right now it’s generating over $5 million in economic impact every single year.”

The importance of industry in America and the inspiration to continue to build the backbone of this country through creating jobs is just a sliver of what these students learned.

Two MBA students discussed their personal experiences traveling to the Mountain State.

Siddarth Shrikanth, a dual degree at Harvard and Stanford, expressed, “It’s easy to talk about what we need to switch and get rid of coal and move to renewables but that means we have to take care of the people left behind in that transition and make sure in the interim you do provide good high-quality jobs because everywhere I’ve gone in West Virginia I’ve heard people don’t want handouts and they want to take care of themselves.”

Harvard MBA student, Reggie Smith, told 7News, “It’s about the community, it’s about resilience, it’s hard work, it’s family, it’s faith, it’s the flag. A dynamic community that has gone through hard times but is looking at so many different ways to have a resurgence and I believe that the people of West Virginia will have that resurgence.”

One of our own, Barnesville native Joe Stenger, spent 13 years as an Air Force fighter pilot and is now pursuing his next chapter at Harvard. He said never in a million years did he dream that he would be back in Wheeling with a group of Harvard classmates of his own.

“Until you’ve traveled there I don’t think you can appreciate all that West Virginia, Wheeling, Ohio, the Ohio Valley has to offer and I think that the students that had the opportunity to see how wonderful the people are and how beautiful the area is are walking away with a really positive experience I’m really excited to see the opportunities West Virginia could have for them after their degree.”

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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