Longtime WVU Extension specialist, faculty member honored for service

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A faculty member and Extension specialist whose work has improved the quality of life for thousands of West Virginians of all ages has been honored by West Virginia University for service to the community and state.

Richard L. Fleisher

Associate Professor Richard L. Fleisher is the recipient of this year’s Ethel and Gerry Heebink Award for Distinguished State Service.

With a WVU career that spans three decades, Fleisher is described by colleagues as “an extraordinary professional and individual.”

His previous roles at the University’s Extension Service include director of the West Virginia Council of International Programs (1985-98), special assistant to the associate vice president (1985-87) and division leader of the Division for Continuing Education (1979-85).

Outreach

Fleisher’s outreach — which focuses on youth development, social justice and global education — has taken him to every corner of the state. He is co-principal investigator of the West Virginia Children, Youth and Families at Risk Afterschool Project, an initiative that brings information and strategies in nontraditional ways to those who can offer services to this population.

Service

Fleisher’s service — particularly in the areas of poverty, the Hispanic child and family and integrating international student into the community — have made a difference for people in West Virginia, especially those less fortunate, said Victoria Dillon, retired school principal and longtime colleague.

As president of the board of the Mark Dillon Endowment, Fleisher helped with the education of many children in the coalfields of West Virginia.

Hispanic communities

And in response to the growing Hispanic communities in the state, he founded and helped nurture the CHISPA program, a unique, Spanish-language immersion experience offering students a taste of Spanish culture and opportunities to practice their foreign language skills.

Fleisher has also helped integrate international students into West Virginia culture through organizations such as International 4-H Youth Exchange and Community Educational Outreach Service.

He served as chair of the WVU Cultural Attaches Committee for Latin America and the WVU Mexico Area Study Group, and has been a member of the WVU Office of International Programs Advisory Committee, Morgantown-Guanajuato Sister Cities Planning Committee and West Virginia International Higher Education Commission.

Fleisher’s work is so highly regarded, he was chosen to speak before the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on the importance of supporting international exchange a number of years ago.

He has received numerous honors for his efforts.

Leadership positions

Fleisher’s leadership positions at the WVU Extension Service have included co-leader of the Global Education Team and member of the Social Justice Team.

In addition, he has been a member of the board of directors of the West Virginia Alliance for Sustainable Families and part of a statewide group pushing for creation of a State Earned Income Tax Credit to supplement the federal EITC.

Educational camps

Working through Extension, Fleisher developed a series of multicultural educational camps that grew from weekend to week-long events. He designed and taught programs that fostered understanding and appreciation of diversity and different cultures.

Over a period of 12 years, he was responsible for about 20 camps, reaching more than 2,000 youth.

Much of Fleisher’s work has been done beyond the traditional classroom setting. He has conducted distance learning and extended learning classes and workshops for educators in Berkeley, Hardy, Jefferson, Marion, Mineral, Ohio and Wyoming counties, among many others.

He regularly offers nontraditional classes to social work students, nurses, medical students, teachers, social agency employees and other groups.

Fleisher earned his bachelor’s degree in speech communication from the State University of New York at Buffalo and his master’s degree in speech communication from the University of Illinois.

He completed additional graduate work in speech communication at the universities of Illinois and Pittsburgh and in education administration at WVU.

Fleisher was recognized for his service at WVU’s Commencement Honors Convocation.

Award

The late David Heebink created the Heebink Awards in memory of his parents Ethel, a longtime WVU English professor, and Gerry, an Extension dairyman in the Davis College of Agriculture, Forestry and Consumer Sciences from 1935-56.

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