Staying power: First Ascent welcomes Marshall graduates

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Three Marshall University graduates recently joined the First Ascent West Virginia program. First Ascent, a joint initiative between Marshall University and West Virginia University, is open to recent graduates interested in pursuing hybrid or remote work while staying close to home.

Katie Fields

Katie Fields is a 2021 marketing graduate from nearby Coal Grove, Ohio, and is currently working as a product marketing manager for the Hip Eagle Boutique in Huntington. She is also studying to get her real estate license in West Virginia.

“I love the Huntington area so much and I see a lot of potential and I just want to be a part of that movement, like bringing people here and finding businesses to fill in the unoccupied spaces around downtown that have a lot of potential,” Katie said.

Katie is new to the First Ascent program and said she is excited to get started.

“I’m looking forward to the shared office space opening,” Katie said. “I find myself more productive in public settings, and I think it might be just the energy of the atmosphere kind of motivating me to get more work done.”

Jessica Stidham serves as the assistant director of innovation at the Brad and Alys Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative and is tasked with expanding the First Ascent program.

“The growth we are seeing in the Huntington area is outstanding, and the Marshall University graduates that have chosen this community to live, work, and play are redefining what’s possible in West Virginia,” Jessica said. “While First Ascent provides essential tools and support for recent grads, it’s our program members who are moving the needle in their communities and inspiring positive change. They are forging a new path and building dynamic connections through their dedication and engagement in the Huntington area.”

Recent graduate Ajia Toth, who earned her Bachelor of Science in Computer and Information Technology in December 2023, credits the First Ascent program for helping her transition seamlessly into her career.

Designed to support young professionals, the program has already provided Ajia with mentorship and valuable networking opportunities. Her journey emphasizes how First Ascent fosters professional growth and community connection.

“It’s helped me to keep a sense of purpose after college, one that helped me to pursue long-term goals in my professional life,” Ajia said.

Jasper Ball is involved in the First Ascent program and  is a 2023 geography graduate and works for FIVCO Area Development District as a Water Management Coordinator and works as a realtor for eXp Realty.

Members of the First Ascent program choose to live, work and play in one of six West Virginia communities: the Eastern Panhandle, Greater Elkins, the Greenbrier Valley, the Huntington area, the Morgantown area or the New River Gorge.

For more information or to apply, visit

“It’s helped me to keep a sense of purpose after college, one that helped me to pursue long-term goals in my professional life.”- AIJA TOTH

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