2021 State of the University Address

February 6, 2021
by Steve M. Dorman, President

Colleagues, students, alumni, friends, and supporters of Georgia College, let me begin by giving my sincere thanks and gratitude for your unwavering commitment and dedication to this special place. The past 12 months have been incredibly difficult as we have together navigated the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. The difficulties we faced were matched by your resolve and the resilience of our community; and we have seen the true spirit of our Bobcat Nation emerge as you worked tirelessly to provide an outstanding education for our students, demonstrated care and concern for each other, and shown perseverance under very difficult circumstances.  

We have also seen social unrest unfold across our country as we continue to reckon with racial injustice. Our collective values have never been more important as we seek a more inclusive campus – one which values diversity and celebrates our differences and perspectives because it makes us a strong and more resilient institution.

For several years now, you have heard me talk about the New Normal in higher education and some of the adjustments we must make to accommodate for this. Themes of demographic changes such as an expected decrease in high school graduates are, by now, very familiar and are central to the operating strategies that we have implemented.  The expectations of reduced public support for higher education and the need to remain nimble, entrepreneurial, and adaptive to external conditions have shaped the way we at Georgia College continue to operate.

What we could not have known, however, was the impact that a global pandemic would have on higher education. Much of what we have been seeing several years out on the horizon has now sharply accelerated.  The infusion of technology into our workspaces and the need to be more adaptive and pivot in ways that meet generational preferences and market demand are just some examples of this acceleration.  Our state budget was impacted approximately 10 percent due to the COVID-19 pandemic; and like so many other institutions, we also saw a slight reduction in our fall semester enrollment.   Fortunately for Georgia College, we have already embarked on a strategic direction that has allowed us to react to these changes. And, while we experienced modest reductions in our expected undergraduate enrollment number, our graduate enrollment numbers saw yet another increase to a record enrollment this year; and all indications are that our enrollment trends for next fall will be in line with expectations prior to the start of the pandemic.

As you know, we launched the GC Journeys program with the intention of providing our students a rich set of experiences that will expose them to the essential skills needed to navigate the complexities of life. I am pleased to report that we saw an increase in student participation in the GC Journeys program over the 2019-2020 academic year.  While the success of GC Journeys continues, parts of the program continue to be refined. For example, the First Year Seminar will be optimized to encourage more engagement between faculty members and students. We believe that early involvement of the faculty in the lives of our students will lead to greater persistence.

Our Journeys program can also be described as the centerpiece of our liberal arts strategy, and I want to thank all of you for being part of this journey – for our students, for Georgia College, and, indeed, for society as we produce graduates who can think independently and lead creatively. Now, more than ever, we need a generation of citizens who can discern the information around them, adapt to ever-changing conditions, to think critically, and lead in diverse ways to improve not only their own lives, but also the lives of others. Our GC Journeys program offers transformative experiences to do just that, and I am proud to report that it recently received the 2021 Regents’ Momentum Year Award for Excellence in Teaching and Curricular Innovation from the University System of Georgia. Congratulations to all of you for being part of this journey and for your dedication to the continued success of our students.

One aspect of the GC Journeys program is the expansion of opportunities in undergraduate research for our students. I am delighted to report that this area, as well, has seen significant activity with a growing number of research-active students working directly with their faculty mentors.  We published the inaugural edition of a national Undergraduate Research journal – and what an impressive edition it is! If you have not already seen it, I would encourage you to pick up a copy and browse through the impressive scholarship that students and are able to produce with the guidance and mentorship of their professors. I am also delighted to report that the Council on Undergraduate Research has recognized Georgia College as a leading university in undergraduate research; and although we cannot communicate this publicly beyond campus just yet, we were recently notified that Georgia College will receive the prestigious Award for Undergraduate Research Accomplishments (AURA) for program excellence.  To all those faculty members who have helped our students participate in these exciting research opportunities – please know that I greatly appreciate your work.  

Opportunities are also expanding for GC students in other ways by deepening our partnerships with other institutions that provide additional pathways. For example, undergraduate students can now complete their graduate studies as they pursue a PharmD program at the University of Georgia, Auburn University, and the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. Many thanks to Dr. Chavonda Mills, Dean Eric Tenbus, and all of those who have helped forge these new pathways for our students.

Of course, our initiatives around partnerships are not only focused on external institutions but also include our internal collaborations across department, divisional, and college lines. A good example of this is our new interdisciplinary program in Logistics and Computer Science to support the broader aims of the USG’s Nexus degree initiative.  This initiative was inspired by the need to provide cross-disciplinary programs in niche areas that meet specific market demands.

As another example, the College of Business has partnered with the College of Arts and Sciences to create a new Data Science degree program. This is a great example of internal partnerships that create additional opportunities for our students in areas of high demand. Let me take this moment to encourage all faculty members, as owners of the curriculum, to continue to collaborate with each other to produce meaningful degree experiences for our students – particularly in areas that span across disciplinary boundaries and which meet emerging professional needs.

As internal partnerships continue to be forged, GC must also widen the scope beyond the academic enterprise to include academic and co-curricular collaborations. A really great example of this is the recent Adopt-A-Stream initiative. For those of you who may not be familiar with this program, Georgia College recently had fifty students from diverse majors become “citizen scientists” as they monitored waterways in 26 counties across Georgia. They made visual assessments, analyzed chemical markers, and logged information in the state’s Adopt-A-Stream database. This is a great example of a unique co-curricular experience that benefited greatly from the collaboration between various academic departments, Student Life, and our Transformative Learning Experiences initiative.

There are many more accomplishments to celebrate despite the challenges of this year. For example, we recently expanded our honors program to create the John E. Sallstrom Honors College and hired its founding Dean, Dr. Brian Newsome. I am excited about the possibilities that this prestigious and academically rigorous program can offer our students.  At 51.4%, our four-year graduation rate continues to improve. This is another indicator of preeminence and a measure of our ability to support student success and retention. Moving the needle on this metric requires the collective effort of many, and I thank all of you for your contributions in this area. In addition, I want to thank all faculty and staff members who helped us to reaccredit our Nursing program this past year and for the continuing effort to regain accreditations from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) in the College of Business as well as the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) in the College of Education and the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM) for our music department.

I am also pleased that Dr. Dana Gorzelany-Mostak is leading our effort to intentionally support faculty success and help to generate exciting opportunities for our faculty members. Just as we have seen great success with students receiving national awards and recognitions, GC will also want to be more intentional about assisting faculty members from all departments to compete for national awards and recognitions.  Dr. Gorzelany-Mostak has already supported our faculty members with applications to the National Science Foundation, the Fulbright Program, the Council on Undergraduate Research, and more; and I look forward to following the successes that will undoubtedly be made in this area.

I am delighted with the progress we have seen with our recently created Rural Studies Institute, headed by Dr. Veronica Womack in her new role as executive director. Our Andalusia Institute, under the leadership of Dr. Irene Burgess, has had a very productive start with several virtual events. The design process for the Andalusia Interpretive Center is underway, and funding has been secured. Look for that building to emerge as you travel down 441 past Andalusia in the future.  And, we look forward to the opening of the Integrated Science Complex later this year. I am excited about the many possibilities this new facility will bring to our STEM programs and look forward to the ways science will be put on display for the entire local community to enjoy.

Another important theme emphasized over the years at Georgia College has to do with the life-long nature of learning and what that means for the institution and our way of doing business. We know that knowledge is reproducing itself at a staggering rate, bringing the need for job updates and skills development to those currently in the workforce. And, many of the jobs of the future don’t even exist today. So, GC must recalibrate ways to respond to these challenges for working professionals to ensure that continued learning remains relevant over their entire lifetime.

Toward this end, we have created a new continuing education strategy. Recently, Provost Spirou announced that Extended University would be reconstituted with the launch of a new School of Continuing and Professional Studies. In the coming year, an Executive Director will be hired, with a mandate to create relevant programs and activities that support the lifelong learning needs of recent alumni and current professionals, as well as those who are further along in their careers and need some assistance with transitioning to a new job or pivoting into new sectors of the economy. We know that the future will require our alumni and others to revisit the academy several times over their work experience. It must be easy for this to happen. GC must be that place that they return to for knowledge update and skill development. Therefore, GC must prepare to meet this future need. Indeed, as the high school graduate demographics decline, one way to remain relevant is to be ready for those individuals who will need continuing skill development and training. Therefore, the new Executive Director will be charged to work closely with all our colleges, departments, and administrative units across campus. This new School of Continuing and Professional Studies will have entrepreneurialism in its DNA as it develops content and programs to serve current market and workforce needs. I hope that you will find ways where you might contribute to this important initiative at Georgia College – with your ideas, talents, and even your professional connections to new lifelong learning opportunities.

I have asked our Associate Vice President for Inclusive Excellence and Chief Diversity Officer, Dr. Carolyn Denard, to create a second edition of the diversity action plan and report; and I look forward to seeing these findings in the near future as we all work toward making Georgia College a more inclusive place for everyone.

It is important to continue our efforts and commitment to diversity and inclusion.  During our November 2020 Budget Hearing, we learned about a proposal for Georgia College to pursue a multidisciplinary faculty cluster hire that would focus our attention on disparities.  A group of new faculty members, focusing on health, education, economic and environmental disparities would strengthen our work with students, support the Sallstrom Honors College with additional course offerings, engage with our newly created Rural Studies Institute, and expand our programming while pursuing new grant funding opportunities.  As we wait for the FY22 budget allocations, I have asked Provost Spirou to explore the possibility of redirecting funds that could contribute to advancing this effort.  If successful in securing these resources, the Provost would oversee the search process for this new initiative and assemble dedicated faculty lines in this area.

The recent challenging times have presented our students with new challenges in the area of mental health.  As a result of the federal COVID-19 relief package, the Chancellor allocated significant funds for institutions to help address the increased pressure placed on Counseling Services.  Through a partnership with Christie Campus Health, our students now have access to a 24/7 hotline that provides on-demand counseling services, free mental wellness visits both in person and via telehealth, and an online portal through which students can access self-directed workshops on mental health, fitness, nutrition, study habits, and more. 

I was particularly touched at how generous our friends, supporters, and alumni have been through this past year. We have seen their generosity and spirit of giving back to the institution at its best even during the pandemic. I am delighted to report that, last year, we concluded and exceeded our campaign target under the able work of our University Advancement team. A total of nearly $31 million was raised in this second comprehensive campaign for the university. This is a tremendous achievement for Georgia College and our students, and its impact will be felt for many years ahead.

In addition to the support of friends and alumni, I want to express my deep thanks and gratitude to each of you for your hard work, diligence, and flexibility during this past year. Many of you went above and beyond your own call of duty to help our students cope with the devastating effects of COVID-19.  As I reflect on the last time we had our State of the University address, no one could have imagined what was lying ahead of us. But thanks to your efforts and our collective resiliency, Georgia College managed to bring out the best in each of us.

Now, as we enter this next year, Georgia College will face a transition in leadership. During these nine years, you have welcomed Janie and me into your heart; and we have accomplished a lot together. For that, I will be forever grateful. I am confident, however, that the best days are ahead for Georgia College. As you continue to work with excellence and with an eye on the future, I am confident that the foundation we have laid together will serve you well. I know each of you will support your new president and leadership as they take the helm to move the university forward to even greater heights toward preeminence.  I am sure there will continue to be challenges to confront, but I have hope and optimism that you will continue to persevere and tackle whatever comes your way.  I know this to be true because you have demonstrated that in so many ways this year.

Thank you for tuning in and listening to this virtual edition of our state of the university address, and thank you for making Georgia College a special and unique place.

View the 2021 State of the University Address