West Virginia University Potomac State College Alumnus Ken Ward Jr. (Class of 1987) was recognized this spring by the Alumni Association and the College with the inscription of his name on the Duke Anthony Whitmore/Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Academic Achievement Wall.
Ward is a native of Piedmont, W.Va., grew up in Keyser, W.Va., graduated from Keyser High School in 1985 and earned his degree from WVU in 1990.
“I have been remarkably fortunate to have a very large village of mentors and supporters. I am standing on a lot of shoulders to get where I am today, and many of those shoulders belong to people I met, and people who taught me at Potomac State College,” Ward said.
Adding, “Even back in 1985, Dr. Tony Whitmore was the one person who thought I was going to end up as a journalist. He made me work, think and stretch my mind, then gave me more guidance when heading off to Morgantown.”
Ward, who has served as an investigative and environmental reporter with The Charleston Gazette for nearly 30 years, has accumulated a long list of accomplishments and accolades during his time as a reporter.
He is a three-time winner of the Scripps Howard Foundation’s Edward J. Meeman Award for Environmental Reporting, and in 2000 received the Livingston Award for Young Journalists, for reporting on the environmental damage caused by mountaintop removal coal mining. Then in 2006, while funded by an Alicia Patterson Fellowship, he was awarded an Investigative Reporters and Editors Medal for his work investigating coal mining deaths.
In 2018, Ward received a MacArthur Fellowship for revealing the human and environmental toll of natural resource extraction in West Virginia and for spurring greater accountability among private stakeholders.
After receiving a call from another PSC alumnus, Henry Lewis Gates, Jr., about the MacArthur Fellowship, Ward was surprised to learn that he and Gates not only had the same hometown, but the same mentor from Potomac State – just 37 years apart.
Ward also discovered another mentorship connection with Gates via Dick Tofel, president of ProPublica, a nonprofit journalism organization with whom Ward serves as a Distinguished Local Reporting Fellow.
Ward is a co-founder and editor of Mountain State Spotlight, a new nonprofit newsroom serving West Virginians and based in Charleston.
Although Ward currently resides in Charleston with his wife, Legal Aid Attorney Elizabeth Wehner, their son Thomas, and their cat, Henry, he offered these words during the induction ceremony, “…know that in my heart I am never far from home. It’s a huge honor to receive this award named for two men who have influenced me and who I have such a strong connection with through Potomac State.”