As WVU repositions itself with a more efficient and forward-thinking system, Fred King sees the Mountain State’s flagship, land-grant institution weathering future storms and, despite a changing higher ed landscape, remaining a premier research institution. Trust him, he’s done his research.

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Fred King has seen turbulent times — from budget reductions to faculty departures to program cuts — throughout his three-plus decades at West Virginia University. And as WVU repositions itself with a more efficient and forward-thinking system, he sees the Mountain State’s flagship, land-grant institution weathering future storms and, despite a changing higher ed landscape, remaining a premier research institution. Trust him, he’s done his research.

“I’ve been here 33 years and I’ve seen how we’ve grown in research. Even in times of uncertainty, research at the University persists and grows because of the hard work and commitment of our faculty, students and staff," King said.

That dedication and commitment have not wavered, the momentum and trajectory are still there for us to flourish as a research institution.”



In 2016, WVU first attained the ranking of R1, or very high research activity, by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. It has remained on the prestigious list ever since, alongside the likes of Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and Johns Hopkins. The designation is the most elite category for research-focused institutions. Obtaining the ranking is one thing. Keeping it is even harder. Carnegie evaluates more than 3,900 institutions based on a variety of factors including reach of research and teaching programs, number of doctoral degrees awarded, and how much a university spends on research. To achieve R1 status, a university must award doctoral degrees in at least 20 different areas and amass at least $43.8 million in total research expenditures.

“Research expenditures, external or total, will hit 98%; we’ll retain $208 million of $214 million,” King said. “Most of the programs that were terminated did not bring in substantial research dollars. Of the graduate programs WVU retained, we’ll still generate 161 Ph.D.s instead of 180.”

For fiscal year 2023, WVU reported a record $231 million in externally supported expenditures, which are mainly designated for research. Further, research expenditures from the federal government broke $100 million for the first time, with $107 million for FY23. The University receives research funding from a variety of sources including federal, state, industry, and private donors. Funds are usually obtained through a competitive process in which projects are evaluated for quality and impact before monies are allocated.

King doesn’t see faculty letting off the gas pedal in applying for competitive grants. The next R1 evaluation is this year, with data for that round already submitted. “I feel very confident we will remain R1 in the 2024 ranking,” King said. For the next classification, the organization will consider institutions that, on average, spend at least $50 million on research and development and produce at least 70 research doctorates. The rankings will undergo changes beyond 2024, as the American Council on Education will rate colleges and universities on societal impact. King believes WVU will score even better on that metric due to the University’s commitment to the land-grant mission and the people of West Virginia.

“Carnegie felt a need to reset the rankings,” King said. “They’ll be giving equal weight to student success and the impact an institution has on society. Because of the nature of WVU and what we do, I feel comfortable with wherever Carnegie goes in 2027. We will emerge as one of the best.

“The changes we’re going through at the University align precisely with where Carnegie sees the future of research universities in the United States. I can assure you that our academic research will only become stronger and advance what we have built over this long period of time.”


As WVU adjusts its academic offerings to better serve the needs of students, the University must focus its resources on established areas of research strength, King said. Leaders identified research areas in which WVU sets a standard. Those areas are astrophysics, neuroscience, forensics, energy and sustainability, cancer prevention and treatment, artificial intelligence and robotics. King noted the growth of the Forensic Science Program, which did not exist in 1990. WVU became the first in the nation to offer accredited bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the field, and also established one of only two Ph.D. programs in forensic science in the country.

“Recently, Tatiana Trejos, assistant professor of forensics, and a graduate student, Meghan Prusinowski, developed a one-of-a-kind method in determining how trace evidence on duct tape can help piece together a crime scene,” King said. “This provides law enforcement a valuable tool that they can use to solve violent crime cases.”

Also in forensics, King applauded Professor Glen Jackson’s work. A few years ago, Jackson’s forensic analysis freed a West Virginia man, Jason Lively, who was wrongfully accused of murder and arson. Jackson spoke about the process in an episode of “Forensic Files” and once had his published research on human remains form a storyline in “Law and Order: SVU.”

“This research is aiding investigators and the legal system, providing students hands-on research opportunities prepping them for careers in the field and freeing the innocent who are behind bars,” King said.

Elsewhere, the University has approved a new robotics engineering major to leverage the globally recognized success of existing WVU robotics-related efforts. This four-year degree program offered by the Department of Mechanical, Materials, and Aerospace will launch fall 2024. The program will be just one of less than two dozen in the United States. Students will take courses and in the mechanical, materials, and aerospace engineering and Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering.

“Robotics is interdisciplinary by nature, so this provides an option where students can get the best of both worlds,” said Jason Gross, chair of the mechanical, materials, and aerospace engineering department. “We have a track record where our students and faculty have already had success in robotics for over a decade, and we've already established a strong group of faculty in this area.”

Competing teams from the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources have made a name for themselves in robotics, taking first place at both the 2017 NASA Mars Ice Challenge and the 2019 RASC-AL Moon to Mars Ice and Prospecting Challenge. In 2023, WVU finished first of 104 teams from 15 countries in the University Rover Challenge.

Focusing on key strengths such as robotics will ultimately lead to more Ph.D.s and research dollars, King said.

“Another thing about research at the University is that we’re going to have more undergraduates engaged in research more than ever,” he added. “They’re developing skills through experiential learning. You can do all the coursework you want but if you have hands-on research experience, gaining employment in industry becomes a differentiator.”


A key ingredient to bolstering WVU’s research efforts will be through collaboration.

When King joined the chemistry department in 1990, academics largely honed in on their own disciplines.

“You could be successful doing what you were trained to do,” he said. “That’s no longer sufficient. We need to look at bringing teams together of not just STEM scientists, but scientists from social sciences, humanities and professional schools to address society’s larger problems.”

And those partnerships, combined with hands-on research experiences, groom students into more well-rounded experts ready to benefit society.

“We’ve never lost sight of the fact that the most important thing we can do is educate students.”


“In particular, undergraduate students who may be first-generation or not from a background of affluence. That's the thing that I think is very unique about WVU and makes us a great research institution. We have the ability to continue making a transformative impact on the lives of students. That’s the most important thing you can do.”