The Morrill Act of 1862 set aside 30,000 acres of federal land grants in every state for the establishment of practical higher education institutions in agriculture and engineering. To stake their claim to West Virginia’s share, the six students who enrolled in WVU’s inaugural class started a garden outside Woodburn Hall (former home of the Woodburn Female Seminary and first building on the new campus,) which quickly grew over with weeds because students were too focused on their classical and liberal arts studies. The school made a lot of progress in its early years: the first women enrolled in 1889 and the school newspaper, The Daily Athenaeum, began publication in 1887 as simply the Athenaeum.
The school grew slowly, balancing core liberal arts offerings with more career-oriented training in fields like agriculture, journalism, and law. After World War II, a flood of young men taking advantage of the G.I. Bill’s university subsidies swelled WVU’s enrollment, and classes ran nearly ‘round the clock, six days a week, to keep up with demand. The Brown V. Board of Education decision divided schools in the North and South on the subject of racial co-education, but WVU decided to stick with its Northern neighbors. It admitted the first African-American students in the 1950s. Over the next few decades, WVU added several satellite campuses, expanded undergraduate and graduate opportunities and schools, and finished the Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) system in 1979. Title IX opened WVU’s athletics program fully to women, and both men’s and women’s teams began to build up their national bragging rights.
The Morgantown campus comprises three different sub-campuses: Downtown, Evansdale, and Health Sciences. Downtown, formerly the school’s main campus, borders the Monongahela River and contains most central campus buildings, including the student center, Mountainlair, major administrative offices, academic buildings and labs, and a few dorms. The Evansdale campus was constructed mid-century to give the growing student body room to spread out and primarily houses dorms and residential colleges, in addition to the stadium and athletic fields. Further north, the Health Sciences campus contains all of WVU’s medical facilities, hospitals, and learning centers, including the Ruby Memorial Hospital, Chestnut Ridge Hospital, Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute, WVU Center on Aging, and WVU Children’s Hospital.
Architecturally, WVU is a far-flung mix of Federal, Collegiate Gothic, Neoclassical, and Victorian styles, although most contain the red-brick pattern, giving the buildings a little visual unity. All three campuses are connected by the Personal Rapid Transit (PRT), a unique light-rail system that allows riders to select their destination and then directs them to a car based on their choice. While the PRT hasn’t been replicated on any other campuses because of its high winter-maintenance costs, it has won numerous awards for commuter engineering.
Morgantown is a big town—-for West Virginia. The resources associated with the university are part of what keeps Morgantown going, including all of the state’s major hospitals, educational facilities, nearby airports, and the population of students, faculty, and staff, many of whom choose to live off-campus and commute from further out. Anyone expecting a city with New York—-or even Pittsburgh’s—-hustle and bustle will be disappointed, but students looking for a nice dinner out with the parents, a bar with cheap pitchers of beer, or any of their favorite retail shops will find what they need in downtown Morgantown. The town is linked to the school by the PRT, and a number of buses and shuttles also help carry townies to college and vice versa. While residents may eventually grow weary of the rowdy weekend bar traffic, relations are generally fairly amicable—-after all, Morgantown is dominated by a major state university.
Because of the school's sheer size and the diversity of student interests and lifestyles, many WVU traditions center around the one thing everyone can care about—-Mountaineer athletics. “Country Roads,” the John Denver tune in praise of “almost heaven, West Virginia,” seems tailor-made to the pride Mountaineers feel for their state. WVU has adopted it as an unofficial theme song and has performed it before every football game since 1972. For the dedication of Mountaineer Field in 1980, John Denver performed the song live for the crowd. During the song’s pre-game routine, the marching band, The Pride of West Virginia, creates an on-field outline of the shape of West Virginia—-which isn’t easy, considering how much the borders twist and turn.
Football fans have an elaborate set of cheers to mark good football moves for the Mountaineers, including the “First Down Cheer,” “Fight Mountaineers” song, and call-and-response “Let’s Go Mountaineers” chants. The “gold rush” is an attempt by WVU fans to psych out opponents by filling stands and bleachers quickly all dressed in Mountaineer gold. And the Backyard Brawl, which pits WVU against mortal enemies at the University of Pittsburgh, is a campus-wide affair. If WVU wins, students celebrate by burning couches.
The basketball team began its own tradition in 1955 when it rolled out a blue-and-gold carpet for team members to walk on while approaching the basketball court. Players then proceeded to warm up with a special blue-and-gold basketball. The tradition was discontinued for a time but enjoyed a mid-70’s comeback, and the carpet is still rolled out before home games at the WVU Coliseum to this day.
Beyond Mountaineers sports, there are a few student body-wide traditions to mark the WVU calendar. FallFest is held soon after students return for the beginning of the new year. Hosted at the students center, the Mountainlair, the all-night concert features national touring acts like Kanye West and Fuel, as well as food, entertainment, and a chance to catch up with classmates. Mountaineer Week, another fall event, changes its activities from year to year to celebrate West Virginia and WVU pride for the school and WV communities. Awards are presented for Mr. and Ms. Mountaineer, as well as Most Loyal West Virginian, Alumni Mountaineers, and Most Loyal Faculty. "Mountaineer Idol" has been recently added to the lineup of more traditional Appalachian festivities, including fiddle contests, square dances, and clogging exhibitions. Students compete in the “PRT Cram,” where they try to fit the largest number of kids into a single PRT car (capacity 20). The current record, set in 2000, is 97.
Don Knotts (1948) is an American TV star who played Barney Fife in The Andy Griffith Show.
Chuck Howley (1958) is a WVU All-American and Dallas Cowboys linebacker who won Super Bowl MVP honors during Super Bowl V.
John Chambers (1971) is the chairman and CEO of Cisco Systems (he also received his J.D. from WVU in 1974).
Charles M. Vest (1963) is a president emeritus of MIT.
Becky Cain (1969) is a former president of the League of Women Voters.
Joe Manchin (1970) is the current West Virginia governor (at least nine other WV governors have graduated from WVU with either an undergraduate or graduate degree).
Patsy Ramsey (1978) is a former Miss West Virginia and mother of murdered child beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey.
Jon McBride (attended from 1960-1964) is a pioneering NASA astronaut.
Maybe it’s just those tough country kids, or maybe it’s the isolated locale, but Mountaineer athletics are a major point of pride for the school and state. Varsity teams regularly rank at the top of Division I and Big East Conference play, and although football and men’s basketball constantly pack fans in, most teams enjoy a degree of success and student following. In 2007, WVU was the only university in the country to send teams to the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments in addition to winning a BCS bowl game.
The program got its start in 1891, when WVU football players squared off in a cow pasture against a team from Washington & Jefferson College. Since then, WVU athletics have expanded to include almost all major varsity sports (17 in total) for men and women, and each has enjoyed success over their individual histories. Recent winners include football (which won the 2008 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and has appeared in 27 bowl games since its inception), women’s cross-country and soccer (each of which captured 2007 Big East Championships), men’s basketball (2007 NIT champions), and women’s basketball (which made it to the second round of the 2007 NCAA tournament.) It also fields its own co-ed varsity rifle team, and the coach was the sole member of the 2008 British Olympic rifle squad.
Since West Virginia has no professional athletics teams of its own, it has adopted the Mountaineers as its state team. Games are weekend-long affairs, with students and WV residents lining up for tickets and tailgates, rain or shine, win or lose. For students not up to carrying the weight of the state on their shoulders (or who weren’t big-money athletic recruits), WVU also offers a number of intramural and club sports, including biking, triathlon, dodgeball, crew teams, lacrosse, snowboarding, rugby, and bowling.
WVU has one of the best-known forensic science programs in the country and even has its own “crime house,” where students can learn how to find and handle clues and evidence.
For the PRT’s first run, then-President Richard Nixon’s daughter, Tricia, rode in one of the five demo cars. Today, the PRT has about 70 cars and serves approximately 16,000 passengers every day.
Georgeann Wells, a player for the Lady Mountaineers basketball team, was the first women to dunk successfully in college play.
The official school mascot, the Mountaineer, is portrayed by a different student every year. In order to be considered for the role, students have to maintain at least a 2.5 GPA, complete an essay about why they want to be the Mountaineer, go through a rigorous interview process, and then raise the most cheers out of WVU fans at a home basketball game. The Mountaineer gets a scholarship and a custom-made buckskin suit, coonskin hat, and a period rifle and powder horn (with instructions). There has been one woman Mountaineer thus far.
According to Brittany Zwick ’08, “At West Virginia University, mostly underclassmen live on campus. As freshmen, living in dorms is the experience of a lifetime that you never want to leave but simultaneously can’t wait to leave.
"One of the main dorms on campus is known as “Towers.” Towers consist of four of the main freshman dorms, which are Braxton Tower, Bennett Tower, Brooke Tower, and Lyon Tower. All of the towers are interconnected by the first floor, which is great for meeting people. There are three different places to eat in Towers. The main dining area is called The Evansdale Café. There is also the Brew and Gold Café and the Lyons Den. In Towers, you will most likely have a roommate, and you will definitely have a communal bathroom. Towers is a great place to live your freshman year, because it is where the majority of the freshman to live, and they are experiencing the same things as you. Also, it’s close to the PRT station and the WVU Rec Center. There’s a nearby bus to take you downtown on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights that runs until 3 AM.
"Two other main dorms on Campus are Boreman (North and South) and Arnold Apartments. These two dorms are located on the main campus and are within walking distance of downtown nightlife. Many people live here because of its convenient central location. Many freshmen live in Boreman as well, and Arnold is more of a mixed atmosphere. The upside to living in Arnold is that there is a dining hall and fitness facility located in the building, and many of the rooms have their own bathrooms and a kitchenette. Boreman also has a dining hall located on the premises. All of the dorms also have washers and dryers to make laundry duty more convenient because, yes, since Mom isn’t around anymore, you have to do your own laundry.
"If you are an upperclassman looking for on campus housing, College Park is the place to look, because rooms resemble real apartments. Each apartment has a washer and dryer, kitchen, and a furnished living room. The bedrooms are furnished with a double bed, desk and dresser. The amenities are the best part about living here. There is a fitness area, swimming pool, and free parking. The downside to living at College Park, however, is the distance from the downtown campus. There is a shuttle, but traffic can sometimes be a pain, and the PRT is not always the most reliable. If you are a student whose classes are on the Evansdale or Health Sciences campuses, this can be incredibly convenient for you.”