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Dr. Stas Preczewski, Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs

April 30, 2013

Good afternoon and welcome to all of the extended Georgia Gwinnett Community.  Today we celebrate and honor Georgia Gwinnett College’s founding and charter president, Dr. Dan Kaufman.

It is simply impossible to adequately describe the significance of President Kaufman’s role in building this institution, or the strength of his leadership, or the incredible inspiration of his vision for the future of higher education.  But today, we’re going to try.

Some have said, “Cmon, is he really that good?”  The answer is an unequivocal “Absolutely YES!”  Think about it; numerous records have been broken by GGC:  fastest accreditation in history, fastest growth, fastest construction in adding one million new square feet, first-season winning athletic teams, first national championship by an academic team.  If anyone else could have done it, why are we the ones breaking records and setting the new standards for others to attempt?  The common variable in every one of these feats – President Dan Kaufman.

It’s not every day that you build a college from scratch.  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.

He wasted no time in forging critical community partnerships, recruiting outstanding staff, faculty and administrators, while developing an aggressive growth plan some thought impossible. More importantly, he set the course for what this institution would become.

His vision included that GGC would be an access institution that would welcome all students from all walks of life, of all ages, from a highly diverse community who each possessed a rich and robust set of skills, talents and motivations towards college.  He envisioned a college that would literally be built from the ground up to help all students succeed, regardless of their academic preparation.  And it would be a new, innovative model for all of public higher education in the 21st Century.  GGC was to be a college with total commitment to students. A place 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 retain and graduate from college. How often has he said:  “We’ll change one student at a time, to change one family, one neighborhood, one community, one state and one nation – all to the good.”

Well, this was unheard of.  In fact, GGC was labeled, “an experiment” by many.  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. What was once a dense set of woods is now our library.

Today, only in our sixth academic year, we have well over 9,000 students on campus, pursuing degrees in 12 majors.  We are now one of the 10 largest institutions in the University System of Georgia.  And in three weeks, we will surpass 1,000 graduates.  GGC is now the college of choice for students from Gwinnett County.  More Gwinnett students enroll here than any other institution in America and our campus is the most diverse in the University System of Georgia.

GGC’s retention rates are comparable to state universities, not access state colleges.  But instead, comparable to admission selective state universities – this is unheard of for an access institution.  Other institutions are asking us, “How are you doing this?”  Dr. Kaufman is often called upon to speak nationally about the GGC experiment.

Our students themselves place us 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 he intended this college to excel. By all success measures that matter, the “experiment” is working.

We would be here all day if I started listing the achievements and success stories of our students, but I must mention just a few.

Our students are competing against the nation’s top institutions … and winning … both in athletics and academics.  This has been a fantastic first year for intercollegiate athletics, with winning seasons in men’s and women’s soccer, baseball and men’s and women’s tennis, and a Grizzly defeat of the nation’s #9 ranked team in softball.

And just a couple of weeks ago, we won our first national championship in a highly competitive and prestigious information technology competition. In fact, in every academically based competition we enter, our students are making us proud.

And I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the many service projects in which our students and student organizations participate, and how much this institution has become woven into the fabric of the Gwinnett community.

In fact, we didn’t just build a college. 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 Dr. Kaufman.

From our innovative approach to higher education to our College colors, our four core values of scholarship, leadership, creativity and service, and even to the color of the bricks in our buildings, you will find that Dr. Kaufman has had an influence on every aspect of this institution.

And he has done so with a leadership style that has been decisive, a speed that led to the notion of “GGC time,” a communication style that is always crystal clear and a sense of humor that always leaves one laughing, even in the face of bad news.

I recall a day several years ago, when a water sprinkler pipe in the ceiling of Building B burst and very quickly flooded the third floor. We actually had a waterfall, if you can imagine, cascading from the third floor to the second, down to the first. Everyone was running around, trying to figure out what was happening and what to do about it. Some grabbed towels; others grabbed phones.  Everyone was looking to one another about what to do.  Offices were flooding; ceiling tiles were collapsing down; people were coming out of their offices to see what the commotion was about. 

Moments later, Dr. Kaufman came out of his office, his feet calmly splashing through the water in the hallway and very quickly surveyed the situation.  And as all of the staff in the building looked up at him from around the atrium for direction and leadership, he promptly looked up, scanned the panicking faces of those around, and declared: “Abandon ship!”

We laugh at that memory, but it should be noted that GGC has faced innumerable similar “disasters” or challenges from 2006 to present.  Yet not once has Dr. Kaufman seriously entertained the thought of abandoning ship.  First, recall that he is a retired Army general and so you couldn’t get him onto a ship, anyway.  But metaphorically, he has never given up the ship under what have been the stormiest of seas for this college, for Georgia’s, for America’s and for the world’s economy.  Most every aspect of our finances, resources and innovative approaches to delivering higher education have come under fire and flood—yet standing calmly in the center, guiding the true course to excellence, has been the one constant, the one lighthouse, the one visionary, the one leader—Dr. Dan Kaufman.

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.

Let us consider today as a tremendous celebration of his contributions.  Dr. Kaufman is not really leaving us – he’s just moving his office down the street to the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce. As president there, he will continue to be a powerful advocate for the College and an important community partner. I’m sure we will see him on campus often, as we will always welcome him home to Georgia Gwinnett.

Dr. Kaufman, we cannot thank you enough.  We all wish you the very best, and we promise that we will continue to make you proud.  Yours will be impossible shoes to fill.