Inspiring West Virginians
Series 2 – 2011 Series 1 - 2010
In our second series of profiles of West Virginians who have distinguished themselves in the sciences and in business, we hear from Mark Williams, the world’s leading proponent of solid oxide fuel cells; from Verna Gibson, the first woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company; from Dr Geoffrey Cousins, a pioneer of robotic heart surgery; and finally, John Ochsendorf a structural engineer who helped design the 2009 World Building of the Year. You can hear their stories in an hour-long program on Thursday, June 16, at 9 pm. Shorter versions of each story will be broadcast on West Virginia Morning beginning Monday, June 13, 2011.
Produced by Jean Snedegar. Senior Producer for WV Public Broadcasting – Suzanne Higgins. Executive producer – John Hingsbergen. Funded by The Myles Family Foundation – Inspiring West Virginians to soar.
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Mark Williams – “Mr Fuel Cell”
Randolph County native Mark Williams is a visionary engineer and scientist who was the first person to see the commercial potential of fuel cells to run everything from heart pacemakers to power plants. Every fuel cell in commercial production today can – in some way or other – be traced back to Mark Williams. Working with the Department of Energy and private companies, the 58-year-old conceptualized and patented some of the most efficient energy conversion systems ever conceived, and he has worked tirelessly to introduce fuel cell research and development programs across the United State and the world. He is also an adjunct professor at three universities, including West Virginia University. At the National Energy Technology Laboratory in Morgantown – the world center for solid oxide fuel cell research – Dr Williams is affectionately known as “Mr Fuel Cell”. Mark Williams grew up in the tiny Tygart Valley community of Mill Creek, the fifth of six sons.
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Verna Gibson – She Broke the Glass Ceiling
Verna LeMasters Gibson, a native of Elkview in Kanawha County, broke the ultimate corporate “glass ceiling” in 1985 when she became the first woman CEO to earn the top spot at a Fortune 500 company, The Limited Stores. She ran The Limited for six years and during that time it became the nation’s first billion dollar specialty retailing chain. Today, at 68, Gibson is a director of Chico’s FAS, a fashion retailing company, where twice in the last five years she has been brought in to turn failing divisions around (and she succeeded). She is also the Chairman of the Board of Governors at Marshall University, her alma mater. Verna and her husband Jim now live part-time in Huntington, where they both serve the university and students in various ways.
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Geoffrey Cousins – Heart Pioneer
Dr Geoffrey Cousins, 42, is one of West Virginia’s most innovative heart surgeons and a pioneer of robotic-assisted heart surgery in the United States. He lives with his wife and four children in Charleston and practices cardio-thoracic surgery at the Charleston Area Medical Center. The youngest of 11 children of a McDowell County coal miner, Cousins grew up in a close-knit African-American community. Due to his father’s on-going health problems, he traveled with his parents to hospitals and doctors’ offices across southern West Virginia, seeking help that didn’t materialize. At a young age Cousins decided that one day he would help others in a way that his father was not helped. After his father’s retirement, the family moved to Detroit, but Geoffrey Cousins never forgot his dream. After finishing his education and medical training, he returned to his beloved West Virginia to provide cutting-edge heart surgery to the state’s residents, especially those who are underserved.
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John Ochsendorf – The Accidental Professor
Elkins-native John Ochsendorf, 36, is a professor of structural engineering and architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. At 26 – eight years after he graduated from Elkins High School – he became one of the youngest professors ever appointed at the world’s top technical university. Ochsendorf has uniquely combined his interests in engineering, archeology and architectural history to become the world’s leading authority on ancient building structures – masonry arches, domes and vaulted ceilings in Gothic cathedrals and rope suspension bridges in the former Inca Empire. Using some of these ancient building principles he has helped design a number of award-winning energy-efficient structures using local materials, including a museum in South Africa, which was named the “World Building of the Year” in 2009. John Ochsendorf is a 2008 MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellow and a regular speaker at the National Youth Science Camp in Pocahontas County.
Listen to John's Story
Underwriting provided by the Myles Family Foundation