Throughout the last four years, senior women’s basketball player Jess Harlee
was under the bright lights at the WVU Coliseum. This Saturday, the spotlight will once again shine down on Harlee at the Coliseum, not for her basketball accomplishments though, but for her accomplishments in the classroom. In Saturday’s graduation ceremony, Harlee will carry the flag representing WVU’s Industrial and Management Systems Engineering program as a Student Marshal chosen by the department chair.
“Being the Marshal on Saturday is such an honor and it shows all the hard work I’ve done,” Harlee explained. “I’m proud for my parents—to show them that they raised me right. They always have told me to strive to be the best and never settle. It showed me that my parents are right and I want to instill the same principles in my kids one day—never settle for less than their best.”
The values her parents, James and Mary, have instilled in her shined through in the classroom upon entering college. She quickly earned recognition as a sophomore named WVU’s Industrial Engineering Student of the Year, an award she went on to earn both her junior and senior years.
Graduating with one of the highest possible honors—Summa Cum Laude, and with a 3.93 grade point average, Harlee leaves West Virginia with a wealth of honors added to her name. The Bel Air, Md., native was the recipient of WVU’s Ken Gray Leadership Award, the Foundation’s Outstanding Senior and the 2014 Order of Augusta. She earned national attention as a junior, named the 2013 Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar of the Year by Diverse: Issues in Higher Education Magazine and was named the Big 12 Conference Scholar-Athlete of the Year as a senior. Harlee was a constant on the President’s List with a 4.0 GPA and regularly earned a spot on the Garrett Ford Academic and Big 12 Commissioner’s Honor Rolls.
Saturday is not the end, however, but the start to a new chapter. Following graduation, Harlee has secured a position with Conner’s Group in Pittsburgh.
“I’m looking forward to traveling with my job,” Harlee said. “There are different clients and we go and analyze their processes and see what changes need to be made, then implement those changes. It’s basically process improvement in retail and distribution centers. For example, in a grocery store, I might go in and plan the warehouse based off what makes sense on the store’s floor. It’s a lot of layouts and working to make things as efficient as they can be.”
With her start date set at the end of July and her passion for travel and seeing what the world has to offer, Harlee has made some other plans before entering the workforce.
“As scary as it is to be done with this chapter, because it’s been a lot of fun, it’s just so exciting to go into a new chapter and see everything there is out there,” Harlee explained. “When you’re in Morgantown, you’re encompassed in this place and all you see is gold and blue, but once you get out you’ll see everything the world has.”
With the past she has—going above and beyond in anything she takes on—it comes as no surprise that Harlee would take the idea of seeing what the world has to offer and hit the ground running. She and her friend Allison Tyree
, a women’s track athlete at WVU and fellow industrial engineering grad, have decided to go out into the world from June 2 to July 2.
“We are going with a group called EF College Break and we start in London and go to Dublin, Wales, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, Lucerne, Florence, Nice, Barcelona and the trip ends there, but Alli and I are going to fly to Zurich, Switzerland and stay five days with her friend there,” Harlee said.
Harlee is no stranger to traveling the U.S. as she has been a part of the Big East Conference and Big 12 Conference in her time as a student-athlete. The Mountaineers also had the opportunity to get out of the continental U.S. as they had competition in the U.S. Virgin Islands and in France and Italy, but Harlee sees this experience as a different one.
“I’m looking forward to going to all these different places. We went a lot of places with basketball, but it wasn’t the same. I’m excited to see all these different places, try all the different foods and I think I’m a lot more open minded than I was two years ago, so I think I’ll enjoy it more,” Harlee said. “I’ll meet new people in the group since we’ll be spending 25 days together and I’m also looking forward to getting away. I’ve never really had my own time since the three weeks I had after I graduated high school. I won’t have to worry about running to a gym or practice or anything like that. I’ll have my own schedule.”
Although she looks forward to getting away into adulthood and controlling her very own time, Harlee will also admit she loved the last four years she spent with the Mountaineers, on WVU’s campus and in the community.
“I just want to say thank you to all the people here,” Harlee said with a smile. “The academic staff, Erin Brady and Stephanie White, have helped so much, the coaching staff have helped guide us through the years and all the other staff members have been so supportive. I’ve definitely enjoyed my time here and I love all the people I’ve met, and plan to come back to see everyone.”
Last but never least, Harlee had one more group to thank for all of their support over the years—Mountaineer Nation.
“I also have to thank the fans for coming to all of our games and supporting us because they really were another family that loved us just like we were their own kids,” Harlee said. “I didn’t realize it as much until I got older and saw how appreciative of us the fans are. My junior year was when I started to notice the same faces at every game and at every event we have. I just have to say thank you to everybody and that West Virginia is now my home—once a Mountaineer, always a Mountaineer.”
The support Harlee has received in her time at WVU has helped lead her to having the world at her fingertips, and it is now up to her to go out and continue to achieve—and ‘never settle for less than her best.’