Connect with Clay

A letter from Clay Marsh, Chancellor and Executive Dean, WVU Health Sciences

Thursday, March 2, 2023

As students, teachers and clinicians learning and practicing the health sciences, we understand complex connections. Applying those same diagnostic principles beyond the health care setting, we know that performing simple act of kindness can change someone’s day. Trying new experiences can lead to self-discovery. Understanding your purpose can transform your life. And the personal connections we make along our journey each have an unknowable impact.

In February and March, we take time to observe Black History Month and Women’s History Month and reflect on the people and events of the past, their connections to the world we live in today and how we can contribute to a better future.

Throughout the past month, our Health Sciences community has provided many opportunities to learn from the past and be inspired by those who have come before us.

Last week, the School of Medicine Department of Behavioral Medicine and Psychiatry Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Executive Committee hosted Charlene Marshall for a special event to share her story of growing up as a Black woman in West Virginia. In 1991, Charlene was elected mayor of Morgantown, becoming the first African American female mayor in our state. Her daughter, Gwen Marshall, has served as an important member of our Faculty Development Program for many years and is a trailblazer in her own right. As a student at WVU, Gwen helped establish the Eta Omicron Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, paving the way for future Mountaineers.

Now, students like Ateria Walker, a nursing student who serves treasurer for Alpha Kappa Alpha, are making their mark and building an even stronger foundation for all.

Having the courage to forge a new path can transform yourself and others.

If you weren’t able to attend my well-being session on Tuesday about vulnerability, I invite you to watch a recording. Our discussion focuses on Brené Brown’s New York Times bestseller “Daring Greatly” and provides an opportunity to reflect on who you are and letting yourself be seen.

“Connection is why we're here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.”

Clay Marsh, M.D.
Chancellor and Executive Dean
WVU Health Sciences

Eta Omicron Chapter Homecoming 2003 and 2013
In 1973, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. formed the Eta Omicron Chapter at WVU with Faculty Development Program Coordinator Gwen Marshall serving as a charter member. Now, students like Ateria Walker, a senior studying nursing, are carrying on the group’s legacy and paving the way for future Mountaineers. (Photos: Homecoming 1993 and Homecoming 2013)

/ Meet Gwen Marshall and Ateria Walker

Gwen Marshall, senior program coordinator for the Health Sciences Faculty Development Program, has provided valuable connections and helped create important opportunities for our campus community and beyond. She will soon begin her much-deserved retirement and looks forward making her own schedule for reading, gardening and breaking out of her comfort zone for a trip with her mom.

Q: What is an important lesson your mother taught you growing up that you have carried throughout your life?

Gwen: My siblings and I were taught to work hard, stand up for ourselves and always work hard. When Mom made the decision to pursue a spot on Morgantown City Council and was discouraged, my thought was, "oh no," that was a mistake to try to discourage her. That would only make her more determined, and she was indeed successful. After she has was elected mayor, on her very first day on council (first order of business in July is to elect a mayor), my late Father called me in tears to say that Mom was the new Mayor.

Q: Why has it been important for you to serve as a leader for African American women at West Virginia University?

Gwen: I would not call myself a “leader,” instead an interested individual who would promote and be proud of women of color, be they student, staff or faculty. Over the years, as I have become aware of interesting or outstanding individuals, I have shared their info, especially if they might be of interest to the Health Sciences Faculty Development audience.

As for being a charter member of Eta Omicron, the WVU undergrad chapter of AKA, as an 18 year old I gradually came to understand the significance and honor of being a member thru the sorority leaders who came to Morgantown to bring my line sisters and I into the organization. I was able to meet two regional directors, one of which, the late Eva Evans, eventually became the Supreme Basileus (the leader of AKA). In addition, there were older local Sorors, primarily educators from Morgantown, Fairmont and Clarksburg, who knew my grandparents as they opened their home during segregation at WVU. These women were role models with long years of membership in Alpha Kappa Alpha who crossed at HBCU's. The pledging process was an eye opening experience for me. Soror Evans was shocked to see houses on the "side of hills" as she flew in from Michigan. I am a kid from Morgantown, so her reaction was odd to me.

Q: What advice do you give to others who would like to make a difference in their community?

Gwen: For those who want to make a contribution in some way, it is important to speak up, contribute to committees or workshops and provide your input/opinions. You never know who you might have an impact on or help.


Ateria Walker is a senior in the School of Nursing. Seeing the need to create safe, supportive spaces for her peers, she became a charter member of Minorities Association of Pre-Healthcare Students (MAPS) and now serves as the organization’s president. Additionally, Ateria is the community outreach representative for the Student Nurses’ Association, a Presidential Student Ambassador and an Honors College Ambassador. She considers her work with the student organizations, as well as Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., WVU NAACP and 100 Black Women at WVU, among her most influential experiences as a WVU student.

Q: Why did you choose to study nursing at WVU? And how do you hope to make an impact in the future?

Ateria: I chose to study nursing because I wanted to choose a career that made a difference and an impact in peoples' lives. I was always attracted to the healthcare field and did more research when I discovered nursing. I love the numerous areas of emphasis that nursing has to offer. Nurses have great communication skills and have a personal connection with their patients. They care for patients at their times of sorrow as well as are there for their patients during their times of triumph. Nurses provided 24/7 care and sometimes are all the family that patient has at certain times. I realized that nursing would allow me to provide comfort and care to those in their time of need and decided that nursing was the best fit for me.

I am a HSTA (Health Science Technology Academy) Alumni Scholar. HSTA is a high school program within West Virginia that requires you to maintain a decent GPA in high school as well as complete a science project to present at a symposium in front of the leadership board each summer. HSTA’s focus is to help those who are financially disadvantaged and come from underrepresented backgrounds attend college. HSTA also allows you to participate in summer camps at different colleges in West Virginia that focus on different aspects of activities dealing with health, science and technology. Once you complete the program, they provide you with a tuition waiver to attend one of the colleges. After completing a summer camp at WVU through HSTA, I fell in love with the WVU campus. I researched more about WVU’s nursing program and realized they had a very high first-time NCLEX pass rate as well as allow you to practice nursing skills in the STEPS Center. WVU also gives you the opportunity to complete clinical at Ruby Memorial Hospital, which is a Magnet status hospital, Level 1 Trauma Center and one of the top teaching hospitals within West Virginia. I realized that I would be able to receive a wonderful nursing education by attending WVU.

Q: Why were you interested in taking on leadership roles with Minorities Association for Pre-healthcare Students, Alpha Kappa Alpha’s Eta Omicron Chapter and the Student Nurses’ Association?

Ateria: I was interested in taking on leadership roles through WVU organizations because I am passionate about creating positive change and improvement for the WVU campus community. I am president of Minorities Association of Pre-Healthcare Students (MAPS), treasurer of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated Eta Omicron Chapter, community outreach chairperson for the Student Nurses' Association, a WVU Presidential Student Ambassador, a WVU School of Nursing Student Ambassador, a WVU Honors College Student Ambassador and a WVU HSTA Alumni Association Student Ambassador. I am also a member of the Honors College Students of Color Affinity Group.

I am very passionate about all student success. However, as a minority student, I am very motivated to create positive change within the field of healthcare and encourage more minority students to pursue degrees/career paths in healthcare. My role as a Student Ambassador allows me to promote the joys of being a Mountaineer as well as connect with minority students and families to ensure their PWI experience is less lonely. In SNA, I can help plan and create events to support the nursing student body. Through MAPS, I was able to help provide a community that offers academic resources, mentorship programs and more to minority students interested in the health sciences. Through Eta Omicron Chapter, I have been able to help plan and organize engaging events to support the Black community and overall WVU campus community. All the leadership roles I am involved in allows me to have a place to voice my concerns and ideas to improve the overall student experience at WVU.

Q: How have the connections you’ve formed during your time at WVU helped you along your journey?

Ateria: The connections I have formed during my time at WVU have helped me both professionally and personally. I have met many faculty and staff members that are willing to go above and beyond to ensure student success as well as improve the overall college experience. Those special faculty and staff members include Associate Provost Evan Widders, Dr. Gregory Epps (adviser of the HSTA Alumni Association and MAPS), Christy Barnhart (adviser of the Student Nurses’ Association), Antoinette Brooks (not a WVU faculty member but adviser of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated Eta Omicron Chapter), Associate Dean Clement (associate dean of Honors College and adviser of Honors Student of Color Affinity Group), Professor Carolyn Atkins (adviser of Presidential Student Ambassador Program) and so many others. I have had many challenges throughout my college experience; however, these individuals were always there to guide me and help me in my time of need. Through these different organizations, I have also been able to network and connect with individuals within my desired nursing profession and ask them questions regarding how they became a successful healthcare worker. Overall, I have had a wonderful undergraduate college experience at WVU. I am thankful that I decided to attend WVU, and I am forever grateful for the people who have helped make my college experience so wonderful, including excellent advisers, professors and friends I’ve met through various student organizations.