The West Virginia University Institute of Technology, known as ‘‘Tech’’ to generations of students and alumni, is located in Montgomery, 26 miles southeast of Charleston. The college evolved from the Montgomery Preparatory School, a state institution established in 1895 to prepare students for West Virginia University.
The preparatory school was created in Montgomery because of the city’s growing population, which was the result of the coal boom in surrounding Fayette and Kanawha counties; the lack of high schools in southern West Virginia; and the political influence of Thomas P. Davies, a Montgomery citizen and a leading Republican. Classes began on January 4, 1897. The work of the institution was directed by Principal Josiah Keely (1897–1907).
The need for the Montgomery Preparatory School diminished before World War I as more high schools were established. Renamed the West Virginia Trades School in 1917, the institution hoped to prosper in vocational education. The transformation was unsuccessful, however, and the school quickly returned to its earlier preparatory work.
New life was given to the institution in 1921 with its designation as the New River State School, a junior college. The name was chosen in an effort to tie the institution to the New River area, upstream from Montgomery which itself lies on the banks of the Kanawha River. Under President Cyrus H. Martin (1921–33), the new junior college grew steadily during the 1920s, particularly as a result of its course work for elementary school teachers. During that decade and in the early 1930s, the New River State School bought land for expansion and the construction of new buildings. It awarded its first baccalaureate degree in 1929. Two years later, in 1931, the institution officially became a four-year college, New River State College. A major change was made in the curriculum with the elimination of elementary teacher education in 1934.
In 1941, the Montgomery school was renamed the West Virginia Institute of Technology. Headed by President Edwin S. Maclin (1933–45), Tech expected to become a leader in technology. The war years took their toll, with most of its male students entering the military. After the war, West Virginia Tech benefited from the GI Bill. During the presidency of M. J. Horsch (1945–53), large numbers of veterans filled the classrooms and dormitories. During the 1950s, enrollment steadily increased. By 1960, 1,000 students were enrolled at Tech. Although engineering had emerged as its primary mission, the Montgomery school remained multi-purpose in nature.
Led by President William B. Axtell (1953–61), West Virginia Tech made a number of important advances during the 1950s. Most significant was accreditation by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools in 1956. Also, the president established the College of Engineering, directed by Leonard C. Nelson.
Tech grew dramatically during the 1960s, its enrollment climbing to nearly 2,500 at decade’s end. Under President Leonard C. Nelson (1961–86), the school continued to upgrade its academic programs and the quality of its faculty. The campus underwent dramatic changes during the 1960s and early 1970s, including the addition of a new library, engineering building, student center, community and technical building, physical education building, and two student residence halls. But enrollment again declined during the 1970s and 1980s. Fewer high school graduates in the state and a declining population in Fayette and Kanawha counties were the major causes. Under President Robert C. Gillespie (1986–92), the college struggled with the twin issues of falling enrollment and tighter budgets.
Hoping to strengthen the school, President John P. Carrier (1992–99) supported the merger of West Virginia Tech with West Virginia University. The West Virginia University Institute of Technology was established on July 1, 1996, a largely career-oriented institution, emphasizing engineering, technology, nursing, and the sciences.
The school celebrated its centennial as Carrier’s service drew toward its close. Tech has nurtured outstanding scholars and teachers, including West Virginia historian Otis Rice; English professors L. T. Crocker and Roscoe Vining; the historian and political scientist John Matheny; deans David Kraybill and Reed Davis; and others. The school remembers Registrar Annie L. Castle, and coaches Steve Harrick, Hugh Bosely and Neal Baisi. Successful alumni include the late judge K. K. Hall, corporate presidents Dennis Bone and W. Henry Harmon, and others.
With the retirement of Carrier in January 1999, Karen LaRoe became the WVU regional vice president and campus president at Montgomery. She was succeeded by Charles Bayless in 2005. In 2004 legislation Tech lost its community college component, which remained on the campus under separate administration. WVU Tech was more fully integrated into West Virginia University July 1, 2007 when it became a division of WVU and its administrative functions were merged with those of the University. The campus leader was re-titled “provost.” The community and technical college was totally separated in 2009 and renamed Bridgemont Community and Technical College. WVU Tech continues to offer baccalaureate programs in a number of disciplines and is especially known for its engineering degrees. Headcount enrollment at WVU Tech in fall 2009 was 1,244.
This Article was written by Ronald R. Alexander
Last Revised on October 08, 2010
Alexander, Ronald R. West Virginia Tech. Charleston: Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, 1992.
West Virginia Tech Catalog. 1971-72.
Prudich, Joseph. "History of West Virginia Institute of Technology." M.A. thesis, West Virginia University, 1951.