GGC bids farewell to President Kaufman with touching celebration
Members of the extended Georgia Gwinnett College community gathered today during the quiet of a pre-exam study day to honor its founding and charter president, Dr. Daniel J. Kaufman. Students, faculty and staff were joined by Gwinnett business and civic leaders for an outdoor ceremony celebrating Kaufman’s seven years with the college with memories, laughter and some tears.
Kaufman recently announced that he was leaving the college for the presidency of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, effective July 1. Dr. Stas Preczewski, vice president for Academic and Student Affairs, will serve as interim after Kaufman’s departure.
GGC’s first employee, Kaufman was hired in 2005 by the University System of Georgia to establish a then-unnamed college in Gwinnett County – at that time the largest county east of the Mississippi not served by a bachelor degree-granting college. With a rapidly expanding population, the county and its immediate region were underserved when it came to higher education.
“It’s not every day that you build a college from scratch,” said Preczewski in his remarks. “GGC is Georgia’s first four-year, public college established in more than 100 years. There are no instruction manuals outlining the process. There was only this monumental task … and Dr. Kaufman to take it on.”
Kaufman envisioned GGC as welcoming a highly diverse student body and as being literally built from the ground up to help all students succeed, regardless of their academic preparation. An access institution, it would be a new, innovative model for public higher education in the 21st Century, and have a total commitment to students. He envisioned a college where teaching, student engagement, scholarship, student activities and services moved in a deliberately integrated fashion to ensure students would not just go to college, but instead, where students would stay and successfully graduate.
“This was unheard of. In fact, GGC was labeled, “an experiment” by many,” said Preczewski. “And some people didn’t believe it could work. But Dan Kaufman believed in GGC’s vision, and his infectious enthusiasm made the rest of us believe. Just look around. Today, his vision is reality.”
Today, in its sixth academic year, the college has almost 10,000 students, pursuing degrees in 12 majors. It is now one of the 10 largest institutions in the University System of Georgia (USG), and will soon surpass 1,000 graduates. More Gwinnett students enroll at GGC than any other institution in America, and its campus is the most diverse in the USG.
GGC’s retention rates are comparable to state universities, unheard of for an access institution. Its own students place Georgia Gwinnett in the top 10 percent of colleges nationwide in the level of academic challenge, active and collaborative learning, supportive campus environment and faculty engagement outside of the classroom.
“These are exactly those areas in which Dan Kaufman intended this college to excel. By all success measures that matter, the ‘experiment’ is working,” Preczewski said. “GGC’s continuing successes are a testament to Dan’s inspiring leadership, incredible vision and heartfelt dedication in serving the citizens of Gwinnett County, the State of Georgia, our nation and beyond. Georgia Gwinnett College will forever stand as just one of his legacies.”
After Preczewski’s comments, a series of speakers lauded Kaufman’s accomplishments.
District 4 Commissioner John Heard brought greetings on behalf of Gwinnett County, and read a proclamation in Kaufman’s honor. He noted that Kaufman’s “leadership extends well beyond Georgia Gwinnett College to the entire Gwinnett community,” and that he looked forward to working with Kaufman in his new role with the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce.
Lawrenceville Mayor Judy Jordan Johnson announced that with the assistance of Congressman Rob Woodall, a U.S. flag is being flown over the nation’s capital in Kaufman’s honor.
Chad Miller, chair of GGC’s charter alumni board, said to Kaufman, “Because of your leadership, we have achieved our dreams of a college education.”
Speaking on behalf of the student body in his role as Student Government Association president, Seijin Tranberg said, “You’ve changed our lives and in return, we’re going to change the world.” He then called the college mascot, General, to the stage to give Kaufman one last bear hug. A few years ago, the student body voted to name the mascot in tribute to Kaufman’s service as a brigadier general in the U.S. Army.
David Gabrell, who spoke for the Staff Council, a body representing the college’s 375 staff members described his amazement during a winter groundbreaking ceremony on his first day at the college.
“These people meant it. They were excited to be standing in the cold, shoveling ceremonial dirt. They were all inspired. I knew that meant there had to be an inspiring leader at the center of it all,” he said. He then described how working at GGC had affected his own life and those of his family, friends and colleagues. “Dr. Kaufman, you talk about changing tomorrow, but you’ve changed a lot of people’s todays. We have been lifted by your vision.”
Dr. Clay Runck, assistant professor of biology, recalled how he took a chance on the young, then-unaccredited and unproven institution and how his colleagues at his previous university thought he was crazy. Evoking lessons from the movie, “Field of Dreams,” and how much the college had grown, he said, “Dr. Kaufman, you built it and they came.”
Speaking on behalf of the college’s Faculty Senate, Runck concluded, “You have sown good seeds. We will carry your vision forward.”
Both Gabrell and Runck announced gifts from their respective organizations to the college’s newly formed Daniel J. Kaufman Scholarship Fund.
In response, Kaufman said that he had not yet come to grips with the thought of leaving GGC, and he read from a speech he had given during the college’s Oct. 4, 2005 welcome reception. Predictions he made in that speech about the college’s future success have come to fruition.
“What a wonderful journey it has been,” Kaufman said. “If we are lucky in life, we get to be part of something extraordinary. All of us at GGC are so blessed.” In looking forward to his future work with the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, he described how he envisioned Gwinnett County repeating the success of Georgia Gwinnett College.
“GGC has become the prototype college for the 21st Century. It already mirrors the America of 2040,” he said. “Gwinnett County can be the prototype community for America in the 21st Century.”
After the event, the audience enjoyed an outdoor cookout, provided by the GGC Foundation. The fellowship and sense of community was palpable.
“We didn’t just build a college,” Preczewski said. “We built a community – a community uniquely dedicated to the promise of a brighter future for its students, many of whom who may not have had an opportunity for a high-quality, four-year education were it not for GGC and Dan Kaufman.”