Georgia Gwinnett College turns 15
Fifteen years ago, the Xbox 360 gaming console first made its way into teenagers’ bedrooms. A new video-sharing platform called YouTube was created. And 15 years ago on May 10, 2005, former Georgia Gov. Sonny Purdue signed Senate Resolution 33, authored by Sen. Don Balfour, which officially created a new, unnamed college in Gwinnett County. A product of Gwinnett County for the region, GGC was created by those who know best the needs of its citizens and its economy.
Gwinnett was the largest county east of the Mississippi without a four-year college. Within 15 months, Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC) opened its doors as the first baccalaureate-degree granting public college founded in the 21st century with only 118 students and 11 charter faculty. Those students and faculty were pioneers – participating in what some called “an experiment.” GGC was not yet accredited, so students could not receive federal financial aid. Faculty left tenure-track teaching posts or gave up tenure at Ivy-league institutions to help build the new college.
At that time, Dr. Bagie George was a young biology professor who taught at the University Center for the former Perimeter College. When the opportunity came to work at the fledgling institution, she was excited at the chance to join the faculty and collaborate in a new setting.
“We had the opportunity to create something different and something that stood out,” George said. “We wanted to share all the ideas we knew worked, add to them and make them better. That was very exciting.”
Those differences included no tenure, no department chairs and a vision to help students succeed through small class sizes and personal attention.
Dr. Lee Kurtz shared George’s excitement. Kurtz, also a biology instructor, worked at the University of Georgia and also was excited to help shape GGC from the ground up.
“This was a new place with no precedents whatsoever and no policies,” she said. “We were encouraged to be creative, which isn’t something that happens very often in institutions. So, it was a unique situation to help create a school consistent with best practices and innovative approaches, not ‘how it’s always been done.’ You don’t get an opportunity like that very often.”
As the years progressed, so did the college. Despite being founded at the beginning of a recession, more students enrolled, making GGC the fastest-growing college in the nation, growing each semester. New buildings rose out of the ground and existing buildings expanded. To better serve its blossoming student population and serve local economic development needs, GGC added degree programs.
What was once an abandoned rail line and kudzu field became a full-service, residential institution.
“We’ve [opened] a library, student center, fitness center, housing, a parking deck, new classroom buildings, an athletics facility and sports,” said Kurtz. “We have more than 160 clubs, an honors program and an advising center.”
Kurtz also added that along with the buildings, the college had more of a “college feel.” Students from various high schools from within and outside Gwinnett enrolled. Attracted by the academic offerings as well as the nationally ranked athletic teams, students from a number of countries around the globe chose GGC as their destination.
Today, the GGC campus is host to more than 14,000 students, faculty and staff on a 261-acre campus. There are more than 45 programs of study, including majors in nursing, health science and cinema and media arts production. GGC’s business school is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), a distinction held by only five percent of business programs in the world. More than 7,000 GGC alumni are making an impact in their local communities.
Although much has changed, some things remain the same.
“We’ve always put students first,” said Kurtz. “We’re a teaching school and the students get a quality, very personal education at a great price, and if they’re from Gwinnett County, it’s close to home. That has not changed at all. It’s why most of us came here.”
“There’s a certain joy we get from mentoring our students,” said George, who shared a message she received from a former student who now works as a nurse at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
He wrote, “Thank you for instilling such strong principles and knowledge. I truly remember so much and how well you prepared me for nursing school and my career was something I can’t really thank you enough for…it’s helped me become the nurse that I am.”
“This is why I do what I do,” said George. “It’s for the students. That’s what drives me.”