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It Starts at STATE

They say it's all about the journey, and every journey has a beginning. A start. 

A local performer with aspirations of the Broadway stage. A former 4-Her now teaching kids the same lessons she learned as a child. An adult learner returning to the classroom after years away from the region. These are just a few of the ongoing journeys that have begun right here at West Virginia State University. With It Starts at STATE, we are sharing the journeys of Yellow Jackets of all ages. Current students, graduates, faculty, staff, even young people and senior citizens participating in our Extension Service programs have all started parts of their journey at WVSU. These are their stories.
Jordan Bright, WVSU 4-H Volunteer
Jordan Bright, 14, has long been a part of the WVSU family - literally. Both her parents are STATE graduates, and her father, Doug, has worked as a lab manager with the Biology Department for years. While her journey with WVSU began with simply visiting her dad at his office, the innovative Jordan didn’t stop there. By volunteering with WVSU's 4-H program, Jordan is on her way to creating and implementing her very own 4-H STEM camp for girls.

Matt Browning, Class of 2004
While many were at home binge-watching “Tiger King,” “Cheer” or “The Mandalorian” during the COVID-induced stay-at-home era of 2020, West Virginia State University (WVSU) alumnus Matt Browning was binging a TV show from a different era.

Bonnie Dunn, Class of 1972, WVSU Extension Specialist
Bonnie Dunn's five-decade journey with WVSU began as a wide-eyed freshman in 1966. More than 30 years later, she returned as an extension specialist and helped create a statewide program that is providing much-needed education and resources to grandparents raising their grandchildren.

Cedrick Farmer, Class of 2019
Cedrick Farmer's path toward the stage started at age 5, when he first sang publicly. A Yellow Jacket "legacy" and Mr. State, he is making his voice heard all over campus. "I'm being provided great opportunities, from performing for my fellow students to legendary alums like Katherine Johnson." He recently appeared in acclaimed productions of "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Little Mermaid."

Bryson French, Class of 2022
Bryson French is as nimble with a baseball bat as he is with a violin bow. The sophomore accounting major is maintaining a balancing act of classwork, music, and athletics on his journey to someday opening his own accounting firm.

Oddai Gharib, Class of 2020
A native of Jordan, Oddai Gharib began his journey at State in 2016 as an international student learning to speak English, while simultaneously working toward a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. Now, he is a fluent English speaker scheduled to graduate in the spring of 2020, with plans to become a cardiac surgeon.

Jason Gibson, Class of 2022
Jason Gibson’s start toward a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration is a true beginning in many senses of the word. “I come from a relatively low-income family. Neither my parents nor my grandparents finished high school. To be the first to pursue a bachelor’s degree is pretty cool. I kind of defied the odds there.”

Jeremiyah Hairston, Class of 2020
Jeremiyah Hairston's STATE journey has taken him from the athletic field to Capitol Hill. A summer internship with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation is the latest milestone on his pathway toward becoming a civil rights lawyer. His ultimate goal is to help the poor and minorities find justice in the legal system.

Rachel Hicks, Class of 2016
Rachel Hicks is happy to tell her STATE story, and not only because she is quite the storyteller. The English major and Class of 2016 graduate knew that West Virginia State University was the place for her the minute she stepped foot on campus.

Sam Holdren, Classes of 2001 and 2002, and Stephen Hanson
Two West Virginia State University (WVSU) alumni already know what happens in the final episodes of season four of Netflix’s popular “Stranger Things.” In fact, Sam Holdren of South Charleston, West Virginia, and Stephen Hanson of Given, West Virginia, have known since last summer when the show finished filming in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where they now live.

Gordon Lane Jr., Entrepreneur
Gordon Lane Jr.’s start toward launching a business out of WVSU’s Economic Development Center in Charleston began with a simple enough need. “I was looking for a place to work that wasn’t my house. It can be hard to take a side project seriously if you are not in a serious environment, and the EDC allowed me a serious space to pursue this opportunity.” He has moved from simply co-working at the EDC to renting an office full-time with plans to expand his business.

Robert Lilly, Class of 2019
Graduate student and adjunct instructor Robert Lilly has been making comics for more than 30 years, perfecting his craft and having fun while doing so. Now, he is sharing his expertise by teaching a class at STATE about graphic narrative, while also working to complete a master's degree in media studies.

Timothy Little, Class of 2023
Timothy Little’s journey toward owning his own production company began almost as soon as he arrived on the State campus in the fall of 2019. Shortly after the semester began, he found himself shooting and editing promotional videos for the men’s basketball team.

Edgar Lopez-Torres, Class of 2019
Edgar Lopez-Torres’ start toward a chemistry degree began simply by taking a science class at STATE - a decision that led to a change in major and a stack of accolades. Named a 2018 Competitive Scholar by the White House Initiative on HBCUs, Edgar cites WVSU’s small class sizes and caring professors as keys to his success. “The experiences I’ve had and people I’ve met and learned from would not have happened for me at a bigger school.” 

Hannah Mazon, Class of 2020
Hannah Mazon’s start toward a biology degree began with an entirely different goal in mind. The hopeful veterinarian was eyeing other schools when a tour of WVSU changed her path. “I fell in love with campus, so I enrolled and planned to transfer after freshman year. Once I got into the classroom, however, I enjoyed it even more than I thought I would, so I stayed.” She’s since discovered a love of research and is spending summers working to limit the spread of bacteria on cattle farms.

James Shamblin, Class of 2017
James Shamblin's career with the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra started when he interned with the organization while earning his degree in music education at STATE. The accomplished musician and Class of 2017 graduate is now blending his passion for education with a burgeoning career in arts administration.

Jeff Thomas, Class of 2005
It hasn’t been a straight path for Jeff Thomas to get his big break in Hollywood. With his name in the credits as a writer for a new TV drama on The CW about an HBCU, his career is coming full circle since his time at West Virginia State University (WVSU).

Frank Walker Jr., Class of 1998
Frank Walker Jr.'s start toward a thriving career as an attorney began on WVSU's Judicial Conduct Board. "I started to realize I knew how to look at things objectively and see both sides of an argument. After that, I knew I wanted to go to law school." He's now a member of the National Top 100 Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Bruce Whitten, Class of 2019
Bruce Whitten's start toward a degree in Community Health Education began when he returned to West Virginia after years away. "I hadn't intended on going back to school. At STATE, I'm finding an oasis of diversity that I'd become used to in a larger city." He's already putting his education to work as a volunteer, shaping a healthier and more inclusive West Virginia.

Angelica Willis, Class of 2019
Angelica Willis' start toward a documentary film career began in WVSU's production studio. "I want to give people voices who don't feel like they have one. I'm connecting with professors who make me better at what I want to do." She's currently writing and directing a film about Hurricane Maria's effects on her family's native Puerto Rico.

Where will your story start? 

More IT Starts at State stories coming soon! 

Did your own story start at STATE? Want to potentially be featured on this page? Please contact us.
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