A group of people who think Virginia's Eastern Shore would be a great spot to locate a four-year university is taking steps to make the dream a reality.
The recently created nonprofit University of the Eastern Shore of Virginia Foundation is one step in that direction, according to Terry Malarkey, foundation president.
"I love the idea of 'Silicon Shore,'" said Malarkey, referring to the idea that university students could bring an influx of new revenue and talent to the Eastern Shore of Virginia — and some of them likely would stay in the region, starting businesses and becoming part of the community.
The group also established bylaws and created a website, www.eshoreu.org.
The foundation board of directors in addition to Malarkey includes Kristine Marcy, treasurer; Ed Murdy, secretary; Kathy Boyd; Steve Boyd; Maureen Dooley; Parker Dooley; Karen Gravelle; Laura Mays; and Janet Rochester.
The project got its start over coffee at the Crossroads Coffee Shop in Onley.
"Last December, I was at a breakfast with a number of guys — it's a fortnightly breakfast," said Malarkey, 74, a Londoner and retired electronic engineer who came to the United States in 1999.
It was soon after Ralph Northam, a native of the Eastern Shore of Virginia, was elected governor.
"Somebody asked the question, 'What could we ask the governor for, for the Eastern Shore of Virginia?'" he said.
His idea, a four-university on the Shore, got support from about half the group.
"So I thought, well, half's not bad for an initial idea," Malarkey said.
He went home and used Google to research Virginia colleges and universities located in small towns.
"There are about two dozen colleges in small towns in Virginia. Then I happened upon the University of Virginia's College at Wise," Malarkey said.
He delved further into the public institution, including talking with the president of its foundation and with a man involved in the school administration in its early days.
Wise County and the Eastern Shore have some things in common, including both being rural areas.
"They have a ROTC, they have an arena, they have a marching band, they have up to 2,000 students, over 100 faculty, 30 or 40 different courses, " Malarkey said.
UVa-Wise, originally called Clinch Valley College of the University of Virginia, was founded in the 1950s with a $10,000 grant from the General Assembly.
The school opened in 1954 in two buildings on a county farm property with 109 full-time students, two-thirds of whom were Korean War veterans, according to the university website.
Malarkey's next step was to draft an open letter, proposing a four-year university on the Eastern Shore, to Northam and other elected officials, including Sen. Lynwood Lewis, Delegate Rob Bloxom and county officials.
"Such an institution would be tremendous boost to the Shore: Well-paid jobs, new blood, enhanced cultural activities, rising real estate values, spin-off businesses, with an influx of people and money from Virginia, and other states and countries," he wrote, adding, "If Wise can, why not us?"
He read the letter aloud at another group he attends, Drinking Liberally — people there were enthusiastic, and some even wrote checks to support the endeavor.
He soon after started taking the necessary steps to create a nonprofit foundation.
Additionally, the foundation now has a logo, designed by Scott Callander of Bloxom. "Our aim is to aim high; thus we have a rocket and a bird," Malarkey said.
A four-year institution would provide educational advantages for students from the Eastern Shore, as well as other benefits Malarkey outlined in the letter, according to the group.
Concerns about a four-year institution competing with Eastern Shore Community College are unwarranted, Malarkey said.
"The two forms of higher education serve very different purposes. Not everyone needs nor wants a four-year degree, and the option to transfer would be open to ESCC students who wish to complete their undergraduate studies right here on the Shore," he said.
The foundation's function is to research, promote, plan for and assist in the creation of a university on the Eastern Shore.
Once one is established, the foundation will become the charitable and support arm of the university, according to a brochure the organization published.
The proposed university will focus on STEM-H — Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Health, Malarkey said, noting there is no nationally renowned engineering school within easy access of the region.
NASA Wallops Flight Facility and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on the Eastern Shore, along with the shipbuilding industry in nearby Hampton Roads, make STEM-H a logical focus, according to the group.
"We have NASA Wallops Flight Facility and (the) space port and extensive shipbuilding, but there is no focused, heavy-duty engineering school in Hampton Roads. There is also recognition by the political class of a need for more STEM-H to spur economic development," according to the foundation website.
The institution's location could be determined by a land donation, as have other public institutions in the past, such as the original hospital in Nassawadox, according to Malarkey.
What the foundation needs now is publicity and buy-in from others for the concept, he said.
He cited as inspiration a quotation attributed to Mark Twain: "The secret of getting ahead is getting started."
The foundation also is on Facebook.