HUNTINGTON - In its second year, Generation West Virginia's Impact Fellowship program is more than doubling in size.
"Eleven host companies from across the state have partnered with Generation West Virginia to offer yearlong fellowship opportunities to 17 Impact Fellows," said Natalie Roper, executive director of Generation West Virginia, during a press conference Wednesday on the second-floor atrium of the Arthur Weisberg Family Applied Engineering Complex at Marshall University.
In 2017, nearly 200 people from West Virginia and around the world applied for the first year of the program's seven positions with five host companies.
For the past two years, Generation West Virginia's Impact Fellowship program has aimed to build a talent pipeline, attracting and retaining young people by connecting them with innovating companies across the Mountain State.
This year, host companies in the program include Core10, Alpha Technologies, Mylan, Highland Hospital, WesBanco, Mills Group, The Thrasher Group, PracticeLink, Quality Insights, Buzz Food Service and EntreEd.
"We had one Impact Fellow with us last year, and it was such a positive experience for us that we are back again this year," said Gene Coulson, national executive director with EntreEd.
EntreEd is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to kindergarten through 12th-grade entrepreneurship education.
"We are engaged in a new project collaborating with seven community colleges in the coalfields region to assist local K-12 schools in becoming America's Entrepreneurial Schools by delivering entrepreneurship education to every student in the school building within one school year," Coulson said.
Ryan Hess with the Mills Group said it's his company's first year in the program.
"We are a growing company, looking to add staff, and are very optimistic about Generation West Virginia and its Impact Fellowship program to help us add two employees," Hess said.
The Mills Group is a West Virginia architecture, planning and preservation firm that has a team of architects, designers, planners and historians who work to improve communities through timeless and inspired design, according to Hess.
"This program has connected Core10 with talented employees that support our company's growth in West Virginia," said Lee Farabaugh, COO of Core10.
Core10 is a U.S.-based software development company that creates financial technology solutions for many companies. They have an office in Huntington, and Farabaugh said the five Impact Fellows will be based in Huntington.
Last year Huntington-based Core10 hired two fellows - Jacob Howell and Veronica St. Clair - in the first year of the program.
"This fellowship has granted me a wealth of opportunity and solid experience in the tech field half an hour from my home in the same city I went to college," said Howell, who worked as a web developer at Core10.
A native of Hurricane, West Virginia, Howell studied computer information technology with a focus in game development at Marshall University.
"Before I learned of the Impact WV Fellowship program, I was pretty sure I was going to have to move to somewhere like California to find a job in this field," he said.
Roper said during the course of the fellowship year, Impact Fellows work four days a week for their host company and spend each Friday volunteering at local nonprofit organizations around the state.
"Through the Impact Fellowship's unique work week model, the program is both connecting young people with jobs they need to succeed and encouraging a population of change makers and doers in West Virginia," she said.
Roper said by the end of the program's first year, the 2017 Impact Fellows had donated more than 2,000 hours of community service.
"They are helping to enrich the communities they call home and expanding the reach and capacity of local nonprofits to create meaningful change," she said.
Roper says West Virginia loses too many young people to pursue job opportunities outside of the state, which has created a shortage of young professionals.
"Companies struggle to find qualified candidates with the skills they need, and young people struggle to find good, quality jobs to allow them to stay in the Mountain State," she said. "Generation West Virginia's Impact Fellowship program works to solve this problem."
Roper says the goal of the program is threefold, which is to connect young talent to innovative West Virginia companies, empower young talent to be a part of the solution in West Virginia, and by doing so, highlight the true potential and opportunity that West Virginia has to offer.
"West Virginia's future depends on its ability to attract the next generation of leaders to the Mountain State," she said. "We have no doubt that this program will continue to grow - connecting more companies with young talent across the state and connecting young people with jobs that allow them to stay in West Virginia after graduation."
The press conference marked the launch of the application period for year two of the program.
Prospective applicants can learn more about the Impact Fellowship and apply online at WeImpactWV.org. The deadline for applications is March 18.
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Photo credit: Lori Wolfe/The Herald-Dispatch