Forest native named W. Virginia University president

By JAMES PHILLIPS,

Scott County native, Dr. Christopher Gilmer has dedicated his professional life to higher education. His hard work has led to him accepting the position of president at West Virginia University at Parkersburg.

Gilmer knew early on that he wanted to make his mark in education. It was during his youth in Forest, and Scott County, that “my parents instilled belief that I could do anything I wanted to do in life,” he says. Those lessons learned from his parents, and grandparents, are what he has used as the foundation to build his career on, and he continues to use those very principals every day.

After graduating from Forest High School in 1983, Gilmer was the first in his family to attend college when he enrolled in East Central Community College. His grandparents played a significant role in him attending college. “My grandparents sold cattle just to help pay for my tuition,” he recalls. He took that in-kind gift and continued with his education until he earned his Ph.D in English. 

While he is definitely not self-glorifying, his academic resume speaks for itself. He holds an Associate of Arts in Liberal Arts from East Central, a Master of Arts in English from Mississippi College and a Bachelor of Science and a Ph.D in English from the University of Mississippi.

Dr. Gilmer served as vice president for Academic Affairs and professor of English at Adams State University in Colorado. Additionally, he serves as volunteer vice president for academic and sponsored programs for the nonprofit Innovative Behavioral Services Inc. He founded the Research Alliance on Improving Schools in Mississippi, which is aimed at building a higher education pathway for rural students. He is also founder of the National Institutes for Historically Underserved Students.

He has also enjoyed much success within the higher education system, and assisting underprivileged children and young adults in Mississippi, and while he will miss his home state he is ready for the next challenge in his career journey.

Gilmer praises Forest, and Scott County, every chance he gets. He proclaims that it was his formative years, here at home, that taught him so many life lessons that he uses daily. “Scott County gave me my start. I have never met more unselfish, giving people in my life, and anything good I carry with me today is a gift people there gave me,” he proudly says.

Gilmer will always remember how much his family supported the ambitions of he and his younger sister, Holly Gilmer Collums. “My family sacrificed so much for me and my sister,” he says. Collums followed her brothers lead by earning her own college degree.  She now teaches first grade in Jackson. 

Even in his younger years the determination and inner-drive within Gilmer was evident. Chief Communications Officer and Director of Public Affairs at Mississippi State University Sid Salter explains, “I have known Chris since his days at Forest High School and from those early days, one could see a strong desire in him to succeed.”

While earning his master’s degree Gilmer worked as a reporter for The Scott County Times. “Sid Salter gave me a job at the Scott County Times to help me out while I was in graduate school,” he recalls. He has fond memories covering news for the local area. Salter, the former publisher and editor of  the newspaper says, “he worked for me as a reporter at The Times and was always very fair and thorough. His people skills allowed him to cover a lot of different stories successfully. Chris always treated people with respect and courtesy, regardless of their station in life.” The strong attributes that allowed Gilmer to be an effective reporter have also had a direct impact on his rise, and career path, in education.

Dr. Gilmer has great memories of his time as a reporter, but it was the calling to be an educator that truly spoke to him. His love of higher education has been the guiding light that has led him to take his new position as the president of WVU at Parkersburg. He intends to provide the leadership and guidance needed to grow the university and the institution’s programs.

Salter, for one, believes that he has earned this position through his determined work within the education system. “Dr. Gilmer has methodically climbed the ladder in higher education and it’s fitting at this point in his career that he has risen to this leadership position in a great university system in West Virginia,” Salter said.  

Salter added, “WVU at Parkersburg is larger than half the universities in Mississippi, so this is a very significant accomplishment. Chris has spent much of his time in higher education working with disadvantaged students from poor states — many of whom are first generation college students — and that experience will serve him well in his new post.” It is his deep caring for his students and total devotion to education that has always been apparent in Gilmer’s work. It was these qualities that stood out when compared to other candidates vying for the president position at WVU. This is the reason the Universities Board of Governors voted unanimously to make him their next president.

It is clear that Scott County has made a huge impact on Dr. Gilmore, and in many ways helped in shaping his future. He will always have a soft spot, and wonderful memories, of home. “Some of our happiest days where spent on my grandparent’s farm in the Damascus Community,” he says. No matter where his future takes him he will always look back and think wonderfully of Scott County. He says, “Scott County will always remain important to me”. 

Gilmer’s parents, Charles and Dott Gilmer, still reside in Scott County and currently live in Harperville. There is no doubt they, along with his late mother Peggy, are extremely proud of him. Dr. Gilmer is someone that all of Scott County can be proud to call one of their own.

Gilmer, and his husband David, will close out this chapter in their lives as they move away from Mississippi. And even though one chapter is ending they are moving into a new chapter of their lives. Dr. Gilmer looks to make the most out of this new opportunity and make West Virginia University at Parkersburg a better, and more conducive learning environment for all students just as he has throughout his entire career.