LAWRENCEVILLE - Until recently, Georgia Gwinnett College had substantial state support, experienced administrators and a large, lush campus in Lawrenceville.
There was only one thing the new college was missing: students.
All that changed last week when the college sent out acceptance letters to its first three students: Shawnda Noble, Tori Davenport and Joanna Ortega.
They will enter this fall as college juniors, along with 150 to 200 other students, according to GGC President Dan Kaufman. In August 2007, Georgia Gwinnett College will enroll its first freshman class. Administrators anticipate the college will have 10,000 students by fall 2009.
When he assumed office last fall, Kaufman often joked about being the president of a college with no faculty, no students and no alumni. For him, the addition of the first three students marks an important step for Gwinnett County.
"This really isn't just a representation of what Georgia Gwinnett College has been doing for six months," Kaufman said. "It is really a representation of what the county has been trying to do for 20 years."
Noble, 25, knew as soon as she heard about the new college that she wanted to go there. She checked the Web site frequently from the first day it went up and filled out an application as soon as it was available online.
Now a teacher's aide for Gwinnett County Public Schools, Noble will major in biology. After graduation, she hopes to go to medical school and become a doctor.
"I'm just really excited this school is here - so close and so convenient for me," Noble said. "I know I'm going to get a really convenient education, and I'm going to get a really quality education."
Tori Davenport, 21, knew she wanted to go back to school for her bachelor's after earning her associate's degree from Georgia Perimeter College. But without GGC's convenient location, she said it would have been impossible to work and go to school full-time.
All three students talked about the adventure of attending a brand new institution - the first four-year state college to open in Georgia in more than a century. At a luncheon Monday, they were surrounded by administrators, photographers and reporters hoping to hear from the new students.
"I was pretty excited. You don't get to do this every day," Davenport said.
Kaufman described the three young women as a good cross-section of Gwinnett County, bringing a sense of diversity to the college through their different life experiences. He also commended them for their "terrific" academic records.
"These three accepted students mark the first of generations of students who will attend GGC and transform their lives through the excellent education offered here," Kaufman said.
Because they will all continue to work full-time, the students said they were a little nervous about managing their course load. But they were confident that they would be able to handle it.
Ortega is going back to school after four years away from textbooks and tests. She was working toward her degree at Wichita State University when her husband was laid off, and she had to leave school and move to Georgia. Now 28, she is looking forward to finally finishing her college education.
"I am very excited a school like this has opened up so close to me where I can complete my degree like I always wanted to," Ortega said.
Philip Hawkins, the college's admissions director, called the three students personally to congratulate them on their acceptances. It was the kind of attention that made them feel "like more than just a number," Noble said.
He said he was really impressed with the students, and was optimistic about the future of the college.
"The folks of Gwinnett County will be able to continue their educations and continue whatever preparation they need for life or for their careers," Hawkins said.
GGC administrators have often talked about working to accommodate students' schedules, including for those who also work full-time. Hybrid courses will combine online and traditional learning, so they can access their coursework from anywhere with an Internet connection. Fully equipped "smart classrooms" will include digital chalkboards, connections to library resources and lecture notes archived online.
"The college will indeed live up to its nickname, The Campus of Tomorrow, by using cutting edge classroom technology and pioneering teaching methodology," said Stanley Preczewski, vice president for academic and student affairs.
Georgia Gwinnett College will offer three degree programs starting this year in business administration, biology and psychology. In fall 2007, it will also offer a bachelor of science in education. Three other degree programs have been approved for the following year.
The college will continue to accept applications until Aug. 10 for Fall 2006. To apply or for more information, visit GGC's Web site at http://www.ggc.usg.edu.