Jim Fatzinger spends his days talking and listening to students at Georgia Gwinnett College. The college's associate vice president of student affairs helps students start clubs and organizations, works with faculty serving as mentors and is responsible for the campus' disability, counseling and recreation services, among other things. "Basically, student affairs works with students outside the classroom and integrates with faculty inside the classroom to enable students to make the very most of their college experience," he said.
Fatzinger began his career at the University of Miami, where he completed his undergraduate and graduate work. He served as assistant to the dean of students, associate director of the academic resource center, director of graduate enrollment and, finally, worked simultaneously as the assistant dean of the graduate school and assistant dean of students.
In this edition of Community Connection, Fatzinger talks with Heather Darenberg about former career and what brought him to Georgia Gwinnett College.
HD: Have you always worked in higher education?
JF: I worked for American Airlines when my career began, and prior to that, worked with American Transair Airlines.
HD: What did you do with the airlines?
JF: Airlines, I was the special assistant to the chief pilot ... And I was an operations officer for two years when I was working in my undergraduate for ATA.
HD: Did you go on flights?
JF: I sure did. Working with American Airlines, I drafted the chief pilot resource manual, which is distributed today systemwide. I flew on the flight decks of every aircraft that American Airlines had in their fleet.
HD: Did you go anywhere interesting on those flights?
JF: We went around the world, probably the highlight of which was Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where we flew with the president of Honduras on the smallest runway with the largest piece of equipment that American operated at the time.
HD: Have you ever flown a plane?
JF: Yes, I fly for fun.
HD: How long have you been a pilot?
JF: I got my private pilot's license in 2001 and have been flying for fun ever since.
HD: Is it something you do frequently?
JF: I have not done it here in Georgia. We've enjoyed the vision of building a college from scratch, and also I hope to get back up in the air shortly, once we have our team in place.
HD: Why do you like working in higher education?
JF: Higher education is about the students, and I had an amazing undergraduate experience. It's important to note that we're building a college from scratch here in Gwinnett County, but the activities, the programming and the leadership opportunities we offer our students outside of the classroom are their college experience. So to them, we're building a college, but to them, we're also offering the college experience. We're creating their college experience, and they're creating their college experience.
HD: What was your college experience like?
JF: My college experience was one that I would like to build for the students of Gwinnett County in our open-access mission. I served as chair of our homecoming committee, president of our honor council, and was able to take advantage of a myriad of leadership opportunities both inside and outside the classroom. With the model that we're building at Georgia Gwinnett College with an integrated mission, we're able to offer those opportunities that I had and I enjoyed to our student body.
HD: Why do you think that's important for students to have these leadership opportunities outside the classroom?
JF: The passions and hobbies that students procure in college can turn into lifelong dreams and career opportunities.
HD: Did any of the activities you pursued in college help you in your career?
JF: Certainly. The lessons learned, the responsibilities, leadership opportunities, the ability to work with people all are lessons that I learned in college that I bring with me into the workplace today.
HD: You mentioned you studied at Oxford. What was that experience like?
JF: Oxford was very much a work hard, play hard environment. It is very much the traditional English model of higher education. During my studies there, my specific topic of interest was the nuclear family, post-Industrial Revolution, and the implicit and explicit costs when it divides. Student affairs as it relates to that experience is very much in loco parentis, and that is we work with students in helping them with lessons of responsibility, helping them with lessons of leadership while they develop over their four years of college experience.
HD: What's your typical day like?
JF: My day involves a lot of listening to students, a lot of working with students and a lot of policy implementation that allows students to reach their goals. Our overwhelming goal at GGC will be that we know we have been successful when our students reach their goals. It will be fun when our charter students come back and talk about getting into Harvard for graduate school or talk about giving back to the community. That's how we'll know. That's how we'll truly know we've done it right.
HD: What interested you in working here at the college?
JF: What an amazing opportunity to be at GGC. What an amazing opportunity to take best practices from around the United States and implement them in a college that's building from scratch.
HD: How did you hear about the college?
JF: I received a call from Stas Preczewski, who said, 'Jim, I've heard about you and I've heard about your reputation. I'd like you to take a look at Georgia Gwinnett College, and if you believe in what you see, please meet me at the Miami airport in a week.' To put it in shorter terms, I drank the Kool-Aid.
HD: Had you heard of Stas before?
HD: But he had heard of you. What did you think about that?
JF: When I saw the opportunity that Georgia Gwinnett College offered in developing academic affairs and integrating academic affairs with student affairs, there was no way to say no.
HD: Have you enjoyed it ever since you came here?
JF: I've loved every minute of it. I love working with the students, I love listening to the students, and I love helping them reach their goals.