The Times West Virginian

Local News

April 12, 2014

Lee finds similarities between Fairmont, Waynesburg

FAIRMONT — Before Douglas G. Lee became Waynesburg University’s 15th president, he and his wife planned on staying in Fairmont.

“My wife and I had built a house, and we were pretty much content to stay there until this opportunity came up, but we have a lot of friends still in Fairmont that we miss ... It’s a very great town, and we think about it a lot,” he said.

The family moved from Waynesburg, Pa., to Fairmont when Lee became an associate with Steptoe & Johnson, a law firm in Clarksburg, in 1990.

Their children went to school and grew up in Fairmont, and both Lee and his wife Kathryn were involved in First Presbyterian Church and other community organizations.

They lived here until 1997, when Lee had the opportunity to go to Charleston for work.

“But we missed Fairmont, and so we came back to Fairmont,” said Lee.

They returned to Marion County, happy to be involved in the community once again, and their kids graduated from Fairmont Senior High School.

The Fairmont community showed support and nurturing toward their children while they were growing up, and now Lee is able to connect that experience to the students on Waynesburg’s campus, he said.

“I really, really was moved by how much the community loved our kids,” Lee said. “When they were in elementary school, how much the teachers cared about them and the friendships they had and how the parents of their friends cared about our kids. What a loving and caring community it was ... To me, that’s a great thing to bring into higher education. When you have new young people coming on your campus every year, how do you develop that culture of caring for those young people and letting them know that they’re important and that you really are invested in their success and you want them to succeed.”

Waynesburg University is a small school with a 13:1 faculty to student ratio, Lee said. The faculty consistently ranks high among institutions in terms of their level of caring and support toward students.

The towns themselves are similar in that way, said Lee. They both have that small-town feeling, where people are friendly and everyone is neighborly no matter where they live in relation to one another.

They are also both involved with coal and natural gas production, and they are both county seats.

Lee graduated from Waynesburg University in 1981 and lived there before coming to Fairmont.

“I always stayed connected with the college,” he said. “I was on the alumni council and later on the Board of Trustees while I was practicing law.”

He got an unexpected phone call one day from the board asking if he was interested in returning to the university as executive vice president.

“I had to do a lot of thinking and praying about whether I was going to leave a job that I loved with a law firm that I loved to come back to my alma mater, but that’s the decision I ultimately made,” said Lee.

As time progressed, Lee took on more responsibility and worked directly under the president.

The Board of Trustees and the former president had discussed a plan that would provide a smooth transition between presidents years before the transition actually happened, and Lee fit the plan they came up with to ensure the university’s mission and vision remained consistent and would continue to move in the right direction, Lee said.

“Bringing me in, having been on the Board of Trustees, having been an alum and spending the four years here with the president, I was able to really get a sense of the institution and the direction it was headed,” he said.

Waynesburg’s mission as a Christian university is to educate students to make connections between their faith, learning and serving so that they can live lives of purpose for God’s glory, Lee explained.

“Initially, as part of the inauguration year, we sort of took a step back and looked at our heritage and history of Waynesburg as a way of understanding the continuity between why we were founded and who we are now,” said Lee.

Waynesburg was founded by the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, which was established as part of the Second Great Awakening. The Second Great Awakening was a Protestant revival movement in the 19th century that, among other things, created a religious and educational infrastructure and promoted Christian education.

Lee strives to give students a good foundation in education and their career path to help them understand, as a Christian, how that relates to their occupation, how their actions help others in the world and how to live a life of purpose.

As an Elder in the Presbyterian Church, Lee used his own religious beliefs to create an understanding of how he would help the university achieve this mission.

“I think it helped us to understand that at the core of any faith is how you relate to Jesus. That’s the foundation,” he said. “To me, that’s what we want our students to think about here is who is Jesus and how does that relationship that you have help you in your chosen field and in your life. What does that mean to you?”

Lee’s relationship with his religion helped him come into the position in the first place, he said.

“Although I loved what I was doing, I felt sort of a calling to this position. It was sort of a pull. I felt pulled to be here, to do this,” Lee said. “What was interesting is I really was anguishing over the decision whether to make the move to come to Waynesburg or not, but once I made the decision I had peace. So I knew it was the right decision.”

Email Chelsi Baker at cbaker@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @cbakerTWV.

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