When West Virginia recently inducted five new members into the Order of Vandalia, the highest honor for service to the university, three of those new members had strong connections to the College of Business and Economics.
Nancy McCormick DiPaolo is a finance graduate and John T. Fahey is a marketing alumnus, while Dr. Tom Witt was an instrumental and highly visible member of the faculty and staff at B&E for 42 years. DiPaolo and Fahey both served as former chairs of the WVU Alumni Association, and Witt served as associate dean for research and outreach and director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research.
And while these inductees join more than 150 recipients of this honor — names like Sen. Jay Rockefeller, Sen. Robert C. Byrd, Hazel Ruby McQuain, Sen. Jennings Randolph, John Chambers, James “Buck” Harless and Jack Fleming — they also join those with not-so-well-known names. The bottom line is that inductees shared a common love for West Virginia University and showed that through their contributions.
“I truly believe that WVU contributes to my life far more than I can ever give back,” DiPaolo said. “I’m thinking my contribution has to be my passion, although I’m frequently told that it is my energy.”
Those who know DiPaolo said she was not short on passion or energy, whether it was gathering alumni forces in Texas or across the country.
“As chair, I led our board of directors to assist the Alumni Association staff to nurture strong relationships among Mountaineers, to promote the University through the strength of alumni service and to help alumni chapters honorably represent West Virginia University in their respective communities,” she said.
“My heart has always directed me to jump in and do what needs to be done, which is not always a ‘great accomplishment.’ Two ‘beginnings’ will always be blessings to me. Locally — local for me is Houston, Texas — the source of pride would be working with a talented and dedicated alumni leadership group to ‘restart’ the WVU Alumni Association Lone Star Chapter. Just knowing that we had a hand in the development of a WVU presence in Texas is amazing to me. The second would be activity with the Alumni Association Board of Directors during the planning, building and opening of the new Erickson Alumni Center. What a privilege to have been a part of the team who, against all odds, built an incredible home for Mountaineers, while never losing focus on programming for and services to alumni.”
DiPaolo said B&E provided a great foundation for her in finance, even though it went far beyond that. She and her husband, Jed, a proud WVU agricultural engineer, have also thrown their support behind such WVU projects as B&E’s Young Professionals Network, the “One University” concept and WVU Medicine’s Children’s Music Therapy Program, to mention a few.
“Business is business, but the key to business is always based in relationships. At B&E, students worked together on many projects and learned the importance of teamwork in the classroom and throughout the University community. My family valued the importance of community service which, coupled with that learning atmosphere, helped me to develop my respect for and dedication to WVU. WVU is an amazing community. I hope that I am honoring my parents — who were both WVU graduates and my dad was a B&E grad, too — by continuing to follow their example in supporting WVU.”
Of his vast contributions to WVU, Fahey said he was grateful to give back.
“The fact that I chose to hitch my cart to WVU and give a little bit of my discretionary time and resources has been nothing short of a five-star return on investment,” he said. “WVU is such a powerful support system in my life, and I really don’t know what I would do without it.”
As chair of the WVU Alumni Association, Fahey said he felt it was his duty to “keep the family together.”
“It was a feeling that the more we could do to keep WVU people interconnecting, the more good things that would happen,” said Fahey. “I think I attempted to tear off the rear-view mirror and helped the group to become a more forward-thinking organization. While we love our traditions and memories, we simply had to become faster, bolder and more cooperative.”
For Fahey, building and rebuilding connections were his most significant accomplishments.
“The first thing that comes to mind is our continuing efforts to connect and reconnect alumni with each other and then back to the institution. I made a point to stay aware of who I had meet and tried to create some matches. For example, when I met someone like the EVP of Facebook, I remembered an entrepreneur in another state that wanted to start up a social media company and we put them together in a great relationship. When I would meet the VP of Visa, I would mention start-up banks and businesses with whom they might want to connect. The bottom line is that Mountaineers want to help Mountaineers, and I think that holds true of me.”
Fahey, a co-founder of Centra Bank which was acquired by United Bankshares in 2010-11, commended B&E on its connectivity with its external constituencies. That experience stretches back to the bank he helped build.
“When we started Centra Bank from scratch, we asked for the expertise of B&E,” he said. “We called on faculty members and alumni alike for expertise and coaching and introductions. Ironically the name ‘CENTRA BANK’ came from a focus group comprised exclusively of WVU students from B&E and the journalism school. And that was a story that ended pretty darn well.”
Witt’s expertise and drive helped build B&E up over a 42-year span. He joined the faculty as an assistant professor of economics in 1970 and became full professor in 1980. In 1985, he was named acting director of the then-WVU Bureau of Business Research, and a year later was appointed director of the renamed Bureau of Business and Economic Research. Witt also served as acting associate dean for the college from 1985 to 1986 and as associate dean for research and outreach from 1996 to 2006 and 2008-2012.
He became a go-to figure for the West Virginia Legislature and the Governor of West Virginia. He successfully wrote millions of dollars of grants and was twice recognized with an Outstanding Teacher Award at WVU. The State Journal listed him in its “Who’s Who in West Virginia Business” in 2000 and the Association for University Business and Economic Research honored him with its highest award, the Thayne Robeson Award, in 2012.
He was the pioneer for the BBER unit that today reaches out to all corners of West Virginia and beyond, and was also involved in establishing units like the entrepreneurship center, Center for Career Development, the Center for Executive Education and the Office of Communications & Marketing. The key, he said, was the people.
“The kind of people I hired had always gone on to much better jobs, and that made me happy,” Witt said. “I hired people who I knew had the capability for personal growth and development, and they outgrew what I had hired them to do. They moved upward at WVU and sometimes left to move upward elsewhere. There’s no bigger compliment than that.”
And while he always joked that economists were the kings of the “dismal science,” he was always a proponent of WVU’s role of providing financial data and economic analysis to aid in West Virginia’s economic development.
“If you can agree on the facts, then the results are pretty forthcoming,” said Witt.
“For B&E, I hoped to foster and create an environment for more engagement with state businesses. We engaged parts of the state that had had no previous interaction with WVU before we reached out to them with economic data and analysis, and eventually reached out to all 55 West Virginia counties. I’m very proud of that.”