Davis & Elkins College
This vibrant liberal arts college is part of what makes Elkins a picture perfect small town.
When you walk around the campus of Davis & Elkins College in the summer, you’ll hear people strumming guitars on the veranda of Halliehurst or you’ll see artists carrying canvases and paintbrushes to the gazebo. But in the fall, the campus is bustling with students. “Academically, this is a place where there is a legitimate and intentional blending of liberal arts and professional arts,” says President Buck Smith. “The best preparation for making a living is a foundation in the liberal arts that prepares you for making a life. And that’s what we do at D&E."
When Buck—everyone calls him “Buck”—came out of retirement after serving as president of Bethany College to accept the position as president of Davis & Elkins, he ushered in a new sense of enthusiasm and purpose. It is easy to see why. An energetic and passionate leader, he has a knack for igniting excitement and inspiring students and employees to live a purposeful life. The team he has created at D&E has tripled enrollment in one year. “When I accepted the job, one of the first people I called was Kevin Wilson. I had worked with him at Bethany College when I was president there. He joined us at D&E, and he has lit a fire. His whole admissions team is amazing.”
The stats speak for themselves: in fall 2009, D&E welcomed its largest entering freshman class in more than 60 years. “We have a personal approach to recruitment,” says Vice President for Enrollment Management and Chief Operating Officer Kevin Wilson. “And that personal attention is carried throughout the student’s entire educational experience.”
The newly instituted Highland Scholar Program is receiving rave reviews. Highland Scholars are students graduating with a 2.5 or better GPA from high schools in the immediate seven-county area, and they are able to attend D&E at the same cost as tuition and fees at West Virginia University. “This means every Highland Scholar will receive an annual scholarship of nearly $15,000,” explains Wilson.
Buck is proud of the Highland Scholar Program, which has garnered national attention for its uniqueness. “Last year 16 students came here from local high schools. In 2009, the number was 91. There are parts of West Virginia that are economically depressed. Many folks have not had the opportunity to get a college education. We are giving them the option,” he says. “Our goal at D&E is to help people discover possibilities and then empower them.”
Buck’s “out-of-the-box”-type thinking is reinvigorating the 105-year-old institution. “Davis & Elkins is one of West Virginia’s best-kept secrets,” Buck says. “But it’s time that the secret got out. We are doing some amazing things here.”
One of the best-kept secrets on D&E’s picturesque campus is tucked away on the third floor of Halliehurst. Known as the Darby Collection, it is an incredible collection of American, European, Inuit, and Native American artifacts dating back to the Stone Age, donated to the school by H.M. Darby, a local builder. Only a small portion of the treasures is on display. According to the Smithsonian, the collection’s more than 200 Spanish, French, English, and American powder horns, dating from the early 1600s, is one of the finest in the East Coast.
Also located on the campus are several architectural masterpieces. The campus itself was once the summer estates of U.S. Senators Henry Davis and Stephen Elkins. Graceland, Davis’ magnificent home, is now part of The Robert C. Byrd Center for Hospitality and Tourism and serves as an on-campus inn and training ground for students of the hospitality management program. The exquisite Halliehurst mansion is constructed of native hardwoods and stone and was patterned after a castle in the Rhineland admired by Elkins’ wife, Hallie, on their honeymoon. The upstairs now houses the administrative offices of the college. Across from Halliehurst, the icehouse is a cylindrical stone structure built in the late 1800s by Senator Elkins as a place to store ice in the summer. It was refurbished in 1969 and is now a campus pub and coffee house. And one of the most unique repurposing projects on campus is the broiler house theater. What used to provide steam heat for the campus is now an adaptable space for campus theater productions and concerts.