Leadership West Virginia is an investment that keeps on giving.
Written by Dawn Nolan
Over the past 30 years, more than 1,400 professionals have graduated from Leadership West Virginia. “I tell people who are interested in Leadership West Virginia that for me, as a professional, it is the number one networking opportunity in the state, hands-down,” says Rob Aliff. He’s an attorney for Jackson Kelly—as welll as a former Leadership West Virginia board member and an alum of the program’s Class of 2006.
An innovative, in-person program, Leadership West Virginia prides itself on giving its participants unparalleled educational and leadership opportunities. “We know that experience is one of life’s greatest influencers, and we truly feel that it is important to give our class members, or cohorts, the experience of West Virginia so that they can truly make a difference and move the state forward,” says Executive Director Pam Farris, Class of 1998.
Each program year begins with an orientation followed by six two-day sessions held in different areas across the state over the course of seven months. The sessions are made up of three segments: an issue-based discussion, leadership training, and an activity or a tour of a business in the area. Classes also work on a group project throughout the year. “The transformation at the end of those seven months is fabulous,” Farris says. “You see these people, all that they have learned about themselves and each other and how they have learned to work together for the state.”
Each session is organized around a principal theme, such as tourism, the justice system, education, economic development, manufacturing, health care, or government. “Since this is a topics-based leadership training and development program, every year we revisit the topics that we are bringing to the classes,” Farris says. “Topics have changed over the years, because West Virginia has changed.”
Hosting sessions around the state offers class members a fresh perspective on all that West Virginia has to offer. “As someone who grew up in Roane County, Leadership West Virginia was a unique experience and an amazing opportunity because we got to see parts of the state that a lot of us didn’t even know were out there,” says Tara Martinez, chief executive officer at the West Virginia Association of Rehabilitation Facilities and a Class of 2018 alum. “It really opened my eyes to the possibilities here, and it helped me realize the potential for growth in West Virginia.”
Leadership West Virginia class sizes have grown since the program’s inception: The first class had 30 to 35 participants, and classes today average around 50. Nominations and applications are due annually in November in the highly competitive process. Candidates are chosen by a committee of members from the organization’s board of directors. Tuition is $3,300, and participants are responsible for travel costs—but scholarships are available, with priority given to minority candidates, educators, and nonprofit and government employees. This helps to cultivate a diverse and inclusive class of leaders, showcasing a variety of voices and fostering an environment of understanding and empathy.
For many, the relationships they develop during Leadership West Virginia are the most meaningful part of the experience. “The connections you make and the people that you meet, the robust network of alumni that you become a part of—I think, for people who want to expand their network or learn more about leadership and the state of West Virginia, Leadership West Virginia is the best program in the state to do that,” says Dr. Lisa Costello, assistant professor and clerkship co-director for the Department of Pediatrics at the West Virginia University School of Medicine and a Class of 2021 alum. “For me, Leadership West Virginia was a life-transforming event—my classmates became a separate family to me.”
Those relationships don’t end when the classes do. An alumni group has been established to maintain connections and continued involvement. “Once you become a Leadership West Virginia alum, you become a part of the most diverse, passionate, engaged, and brilliant leadership in West Virginia,” says Alisha Maddox, chief communications officer and co-owner of the Charleston communications firm Charles Ryan Associates, who is a Leadership Class of 2014 alum and a current board member. “This is critical to the state’s future prosperity and progress, which is why I remain committed to Leadership West Virginia nearly a decade later and urge others to consider joining us.”
Leadership West Virginia gives a great return on investment—or ROI—says Aliff. “There is not only a significant ROI for the individual, who learns more about the state, but for the company or organization that now has an employee with an invaluable set of contacts. And, ultimately, it is a positive ROI for the whole state.”