Jim Denova announced as spring commencement ceremony speaker

West Liberty University (WLU) will welcome Jim Denova as the speaker for this year’s spring commencement ceremony. This semester’s ceremony will take place in the ASRC on Saturday, May 7 at 11 a.m.

WLU President, Dr. W. Franklin Evans, will preside over the ceremony and grant Denova with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. Denova already holds a doctoral degree in social research from the University of Pittsburgh. He has campaigned for education in the state of West Virginia for several years, and just recently (2021) retired from his position as vice president of the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation.

President Evans gave his comment to West Liberty News and Media saying, “West Liberty University is honored Dr. Denova has agreed to speak to our Class of 2022. His reputation for innovation in education, and his ability to advance economic development, is undeniable. Thanks to his philanthropic skills, West Liberty University has enjoyed many advantages. Clearly, he is an exceptional leader.”

According to West Liberty’s human resources, in order to receive an honorary degree, the Honorary Degree and Recognition Committee have laid out the following criteria: The person must be a notable person- one who has gained some degree of honor either in professional or in humanitarian endeavors; a person who has a proven commitment to service; a person who has demonstrated appreciation for or accomplishments in an area of scholarship; and a person who could be a role model for students.

For years, Denova has supported West Liberty and other higher education institutions in West Virginia, especially those who are in some way related to WLU. Through his leadership, the WLU Foundation has received nearly $2.5 million in Benedum Foundation grants over a span of 10 years. These grants aim to support the College of Education and Human Performance. Their grants have allowed for the creation of the new Center for Arts & Education. According to their website, the Center “provides innovative professional development programs and resources to educators, students and others working in community and school settings.”

Denova currently serves as an independent contractor and consultant for career education reform. He has over 20 years of experience in philanthropy, previously holding roles as the executive director of the Forbes Fund and senior program officer with the Jewish Healthcare Foundation. He has also served on the boards of Philanthropy West Virginia, Grantmakers of Western Pennsylvania, the Women’s Center and Shelter, Film Pittsburgh, the Andrew Carnegie Free Library, the Remake Learning Council and the University of Pittsburgh Institute of Politics and Manchester Bidwell Corporation.

He has had several publications discussing STEAM education and the role of community colleges. He has also received several awards from the Children’s Defense Fund, Marshall University’s Harless Center for Rural Education Research and Development, the Mon Valley Initiative, Philanthropy West Virginia, Southwest Pennsylvania Partnership on Aging, Shepherd University and the National Association of Educational Service Agencies.

Last semester, WLU welcomed Attorney David Croft as the commencement speaker, and students were able to invite as many guests as they wanted during the fall ceremony. This semester, because of the size of the graduating class, students will be given five tickets to give to family members and friends to attend the event. Commencement can also be viewed on Topper Station. Doors will open for seating at 9:30 am, and a reception for graduates, guests and family members will be held in the College Union immediately following the ceremony. Parking will be available at the ASRC.