2018 State of the University Address

February 9, 2018
by Steve M. Dorman, President
Russell Auditorium


Good afternoon everyone, and thank you all for being here today as we review some of the highlights that have taken place at Georgia College this last year. I want to welcome both our Foundation and Alumni Board members who are here with us today. As you know, the Foundation Board has helped to oversee a period of amazing growth in the endowment and advancement work of Georgia College; and we thank them for their leadership. Also joining us are representatives from Georgia College’s Student Government Association. Under the leadership of President Mike Muller, SGA has had a very good year; and I am thankful for the positive role they play on our campus. It is also our honor to welcome some of our civic and community leaders who have joined us for this event: Mayor, Mary Parham-Copelan and County Commissioner Johnny Westmoreland.

As I address you today for the sixth time in this forum, I reflect back on the past year; and a number of significant achievements come to mind. And I must say, it has been a busy year!

As many of you know, last year, Governor Deal asked us to be the home for the Center for Early Language and Literacy. Of course, we were delighted to do so; and we named the center after our graduate First Lady Sandra Dunagan Deal who has done so much to promote reading throughout our state. The Literacy Center is an ambitious initiative to address the state’s acute need to strengthen the literacy skills of our youngest children. Being the host institution for this important initiative is indeed a testament to the expanding reputation of Georgia College, and I thank Governor Deal and First Lady Sandra Deal for their confidence in us.

2017 also saw the gifting of Andalusia from the Andalusia Foundation to the Georgia College Foundation. This generous gift adds to the rich heritage of Georgia College and will allow us to preserve the wonderful legacy that Flannery O’Connor left behind. This gift opens up many possibilities for what Andalusia might provide for our faculty, our students, and aspiring writers everywhere.

And, I am delighted that in the fall we kicked off the most ambitious comprehensive campaign in the history of Georgia College. Our last comprehensive campaign reached a total of $11 million dollars. As a rule of thumb, universities double the amount of their last campaign. However, we determined to reach a bit further and set an initial target of $25 million. Well, folks, it turned out that was too conservative because as we unfurled the total amount raised during the silent phase of the campaign, it came to over $20 million. Therefore, with the encouragement of our Foundation Board, we reached even further and set a $30 million target for our campaign which we will conclude on June 30, 2020. We are well on our way to reaching that record-breaking goal, and I want to thank all our donors for their generosity and affection toward Georgia College. Of course, I also want to thank Ms. Monica Delisa and her entire team for their efforts.

There were also a number of capital improvements completed last year. To accommodate the ever-increasing interest in Georgia College, we needed a new facility to conduct student tours and present the university in a way that is both professional and uniquely Georgia College. And, so, we renovated Mayfair – and made it our new Welcome Center so that Ms. Suzanne Pittman and her all-star team of admission officers, recruiters, and student ambassadors can do what they do best and bring outstanding students to Georgia College.

In addition to Mayfair, we completed renovations to Beeson and McIntosh. Beeson is now home to numerous academic programs in our College of Arts and Sciences and will also be swing space while Terrell is being renovated this year. McIntosh houses several units within Academic Affairs.

Now more than ever, it seems that we need the next generation of independent thinkers to lead in creative ways – well beyond their majors and indeed beyond the academic enterprise. Because this is so critical to our core mission, we are committed to finding better ways of communicating who we are and what we do. So, in the summer of 2015, a group of faculty supported by the Provost embarked on an important initiative to better package these rich skills and experiences in a program that ensures all our students would benefit from our liberal arts education. Their efforts culminated in the GC Journeys Program. Students will participate in a minimum of five transformative experiences. The three required experiences are: a first-year experience, career planning milestones, and a senior capstone project. Students will also have the opportunity to participate in two other transformative experiences which may include: study abroad, community-based engaged learning, undergraduate research or creative endeavors, internships, and leadership programs.

The GC Journeys Program will become our trademark way of infusing the liberal arts into the GC experience. Many thanks to all who helped envision GC Journeys and are now making it a reality. More than 150 faculty, staff, students, and community members participated in conceptualizing, creating, and refining our GC Journeys Program. If you were involved in the GC Journeys Program, please stand. I would like to recognize and thank you all.

Building Blocks of Preeminence

By now, everyone at Georgia College is familiar with the word “preeminence.” I use it a lot to describe the path we are on, and I take pride when pointing out “the signs” along the way. I see these signs everywhere I turn at Georgia College. As president, I feel it is incumbent on me to make sure I do all that I can to build a strong foundation for preeminence – building blocks so to speak – so that our faculty, staff, students, and alumni can be successful. There’s a simple formula in my mind that leads us down a path to preeminence, and it goes something like this: student success plus faculty success plus staff success will yield institutional success.

One such building block is the continuous improvement of our four-year graduation rate, which is currently over 49 percent. Georgia College continues to have the second highest four-year graduation rate in the system. I am delighted to report that our three-year moving average continues increase annually. Thanks to Provost Brown and Associate Provost Denard for their leadership and focus on student success.

Related to our Journeys program is a leadership component that is beginning to permeate multiple areas within the University. Exposing our students to leadership opportunities is an important priority for Georgia College; and we are making a deliberate effort to cultivate, identify, and expand these opportunities for our students – in the classroom, through internships, athletics, community outreach, or extracurricular activities. Thank you, Dr. Harold Mock, for heading up our leadership efforts at Georgia College.

An example of this expansion is our first sorority leadership living-learning community. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Ms. Tiffany Bayne for her essential role in bringing this to Georgia College. This new leadership program will allow second-year Panhellenic members to live in an apartment-style university residence hall while also completing a leadership development program. This program came out of our very deliberate strategy of providing unique opportunities for our students to think independently and lead creatively.

Another important foundation for preeminence involves our ability to sustainably fund our long-term needs and to diversify our sources of funding. That is why our comprehensive campaign is so critical to the success of Georgia College. A significant portion of the money we raise goes toward financial aid to assist meritorious needs-based students through scholarships like the Legacy Fund. This is also critically important so that we can continue to recruit the best and brightest students regardless of their ability to pay tuition.

As a part of this comprehensive campaign, we also recently launched the Georgia College Family Scholarship Fund. This fund was created to provide educational support for the children and grandchildren of Georgia College faculty and staff. Recently, we announced that our Foundation has generously agreed to match all donations up to $100,000. This is a great way to invest in our faculty and staff – and to make sure that we can take care of our own so that they, in turn, can focus on doing preeminent things. I hope you all will consider this opportunity to support our own employees here at Georgia College.

In an effort to meet an important need of childcare for our faculty and staff, Georgia College forged a partnership with the Baldwin County School District to create a Montessori school which began in the fall.  Staffing comes from Georgia College while the school district provides state-of-the-art facilities. In addition, pre-service teaching candidates from the College of Education at Georgia College directly benefit from this arrangement. This is a win-win scenario, and I am delighted we could be a part of this.

Recently, I was able to celebrate another example of our continued commitment to create staff success by recognizing a new Apprenticeship Program in Facilities Operations. Two of our employees, Derrieon Hickey and Bruce Clayton, recently completed a 2 ½ year program, in collaboration with Central Georgia Technical College. This training consisted of a structured academic offering coupled with competency-based field work with Georgia College mentors. In the end, Derrieon and Bruce are now certified HVAC technicians and are on the path to an even brighter occupational future. Would Derrieon and Bruce please stand? We are proud of you both. Let me also commend Mark Duclos for creating this win-win scenario for the institution – one where both staff and the institution benefit from the success created here. I am hopeful that other managers will create similar job enhancement opportunities for our outstanding staff at Georgia College as they seek to expand their skills.

To reward faculty and staff who contribute toward our path to preeminence, I am happy to announce a new initiative that further encourages preeminent success. The “Preeminence Promise Project” will be created to reward excellence through merit-based achievements. This initiative will create funding that will be added to the base salary of select faculty and staff who demonstrate preeminent work. You will hear more about this in near future through Provost Kelli Brown and Vice President Susan Allen.

Now, what conversation about institutional success would be complete without mentioning our favorite topic: Parking! I know that parking is an issue on everyone’s mind – and I want you to know it is on my mind as well. This year, we added 170 spaces to our parking inventory by paving the area behind The Depot. In the near future, we will be adding another estimated 50 spaces thanks to the purchase by our Foundation of property close to the main campus. Hopefully, there will be additional spaces as well that we can report in the near future. So, please know that we are continually trying to ease this very real problem for our campus by creating more parking spaces for all of us.

Outlook Ahead

There are many reasons to remain optimistic about Georgia College’s future. We are well on a trajectory that is as ambitious as it is exciting. Georgia College must remain adaptive, nimble, and responsive to shifts in demographics, approaches to pedagogy, use of emerging technologies, and vastly different social paradigms.= Many of the changes we expect to happen will come from generational shifts for which we must prepare.

The University System of Georgia has recognized that the future of higher education will see disruptions to our business models and the status quo. Chancellor Wrigley has created a committee that is charged with defining the many ways higher education will change and what it might look like by the year 2025. The objective is to ensure that colleges, universities, and, indeed, the entire higher education system in Georgia will continue to evolve and serve our students better.

To that end, I am commissioning a task force charged with exploring the future of higher education and how Georgia College can be better prepared. I want this group to present actionable recommendations in the context of the new normal, our new strategic plan, and with the backdrop of the many profound changes taking place in higher education.

Branding Unveil

Georgia College does particularly well in providing our students with skills to navigate life. We prepare students for a work environment that exists in the present and one that will look very different in the future. We do this by constantly challenging our students to think independently – to be well rounded and apply lessons learned from one context to another.

Unfortunately, for much of the public at large, we know that the liberal arts concept is not always fully understood or appreciated. It is incumbent upon us to do a better job unpacking the liberal arts concept and explaining it in a way that resonates with our stakeholders and is motivational for prospective students.

To better communicate our brand, we have concluded an initiative to conduct research, focus groups, and surveys to better define and identify who we are, how we are distinct, and how others perceive us. Over the last year, thousands of prospective students, current students, parents, alumni, faculty, and staff participated in this market research. What emerged was a set of descriptions, words, and phrases that we know resonate well with our target audience.

In addition to describing Georgia College as the state’s designated public liberal arts university – a position from which we will never move – we now have a set of words that we hope to use more consistently across all our marketing and branding platforms – including our website, our publications, our advertising, and across social media. After much deliberation, several words and phrases have consistently emerged; and we now have an idea that more clearly describes our core value proposition.

What are these words? What might this slogan be?

Georgia College – Think Independently. Lead Creatively.

The liberal arts, as we know, can be described in many ways. It is not a simple concept to explain in a few words or even a few sentences. However, we needed a way to describe the Georgia College experience to an audience that is not living in the same liberal arts “echo chamber” as we. These four words can say quite a bit in an elegant and compelling way.

Think Independently. Lead Creatively.

This slogan will be part of our branding campaign. We will be using it across all our visual touchpoints. However, our current logo will remain the same. A visual identity system is being developed in conjunction with the Office of University Communications and the Office of Admissions so that we can present a visually consistent look and feel across all of our communication platforms.

At Georgia College, we are very fortunate to have many great stories to tell – stories that reinforce this notion of thinking independently and leading creatively. I hope you will help us identify students, faculty, staff, and alumni who are thinking independently and leading creatively so that we might tell our story through their good work.

One such example is Kim Ryan. Kim is a Georgia College graduate who now serves as President of the WellStar Atlanta Medical Center. I met Kim only a couple of months ago; and as soon as I heard her story, I immediately thought how well she exemplifies and embodies the spirit of our new slogan. Kim is a true leader who has leveraged the liberal arts experience at Georgia College to think independently and lead creatively during one of our nation’s largest natural disasters, Hurricane Katrina. In fact, Ms. Ryan led her team without a single loss of life. Here is Kim’s remarkable story.

Kim Ryan from Georgia College on Vimeo.

Bradley Galimore, a senior fine arts major is learning what it is like to think outside the box and lead creatively. Bradley uses his artistic talents to help students at the Georgia Academy for the Blind experience print making, creating an exciting opportunity for these students to express their creativity. Would you watch Bradley’s story with me?

Bradley Galimore from Georgia College on Vimeo.

Georgia College Highlights

There are so many success stories at Georgia College that, like last year, we felt it was appropriate to produce an annual year-in-review highlights publication to capture some of them. Copies of this publication are available today, and I would encourage you to read through the many exciting accomplishments taking place on campus. I hope you will share these accomplishments with others and congratulate the many folks who are doing preeminent work among us.

For example, we just launched an eSports team; and several of our students will participate in the first Peach Belt eSports championship to be held here in Magnolia Ballroom in the next few weeks. There is such interest in this that we have been told that NCAA officials will be on hand to observe this emerging competition. Currently, the Peach Belt is the only conference offering an eSports competition of this type.

Also, Georgia College had four Fulbright semi-finalists last year. One of them, Audrey Waits, was awarded a Fulbright grant to research pathogenic bacteria in reindeer with researchers from the Thule Institute at the University of Oulu in Finland. Now that is exciting!

In the fall, Dr. Karen Berman was recognized as one of twelve recipients of the 2017 Governor’s Awards for the Arts and Humanities. Thank you, Dr. Berman, for bringing this prestigious award to Georgia College.

Senior Project Manager Mark Bowen recently received the Distinguished Service Award from our University System Office. This award is given to an individual who demonstrates exemplary service in his or her job duties and has gone above and beyond normal job responsibilities. We were so proud to see Mark win this award, and I know this was well deserved.

The Final Word

Let me leave you with some final things to contemplate. Like many of you, I am paying close attention to the divide we now have in our society and the deterioration of civil discourse that exacerbates social and political tensions in our nation. We are seeing gradual – even alarming – shifts in public opinion with respect to higher education and its role in society. As a sector, we certainly do not want higher education to remain stale and unable to make the bold changes necessary to respond to emerging needs and expectations.

I see the value of what we do more important now than ever before. So I am asking all of us, myself and my cabinet included, to continually think about institutional renewal and to constantly question whether we are prepared to navigate in the new normal or respond better to emerging expectations from students or even an increasingly skeptical public about our role in society. I want to challenge our faculty, in particular, to take teaching beyond mastering a particular discipline. Our goal is to instill in our students an appreciation for critical thinking, ethical reasoning, and to encourage them to have a deeper appreciation for intellectual honesty that values multiple perspectives before gravitating to any one in particular.

We must do a better job of walking a balanced tight rope. It would be easy for higher education to become too focused on the more utilitarian needs of preparing our students for careers and to be gainfully employed. Additionally, it would be easy to err by focusing too much on the metrics and indices of improvement and failing to see the bigger picture of what we are doing – contributing to the character of our students enabling them to think and lead. Don’t get me wrong. Georgia College has and will continue to make great investments in the areas of strategic planning, assessment, and in career preparation. However, there must be more to the college experience. College must be a time where students go through a process of self-discovery and learning how to more fully exercise their intellectual curiosity. We must create a truly transformative experience that contributes to the character of our learners – enabling them to think independently and lead creatively as they step into the future. So let us not relinquish this important role for Georgia College. Let us do our part to help foster constructive attitudes and shape a future that is collegial and inclusive.

As we continue on our path to preeminence, I challenge all of us – faculty, staff, and students - to take full advantage of Georgia College’s many opportunities to think independently and to lead creatively – and ultimately move us closer to our goal of preeminence.

State of the University 2018 from Georgia College on Vimeo.