Daniel J. Kaufman, President of Georgia Gwinnett College, is interviewed Thursday. Classes begin on Monday at GGC.
Editor's Note: Gwinnett Daily Post staff went for a walk around campus on a pristine August morning last week with Georgia Gwinnett College President Daniel J. Kaufman.
Among topics discussed, the education official talked about the new varsity athletics program, preparation for the allied health and science building and the "excitement in the air" leading up to Monday, the first day of classes.
FR: How exciting is it to be at Georgia Gwinnett College at this particular point in time?
DJK: It's a great year here at GGC. Every year is different. We're always growing, we're always changing. We'll have a total about 9,500 students this year. We're starting varsity athletics as you know, we're starting our academic honors program, and we're in the process of designing our new science building, which we'll start building in the fall.
FR: What's your favorite thing about this time of year at GGC?
DJK: There's excitement that goes with the start of school. We've got about 3,500 new students including transfers and freshmen. About one third of our student body are new, haven't been here before. We're looking forward to welcoming them into our community, and we've got about 50 new faculty members, who will bring energy and expertise into our community, so when you put all those people together in addition to the returning students and faculty, it really makes for very exciting times.
FR: Talk about the few days leading up to the first day of school.
DJK: We start moving into dormitories (Thursday), our dining facilities begin to open, students begin to come back onto campus. We have our March Through the Arch (Thursday night), where we welcome our new students into the community, and we have a week called Grizzly Days with activities designed to make everybody feel welcomed to be back at the campus, get them engaged, frankly, get them out of summer mode and into school mode, get them off the beach and back into the classroom.
FR: Two years back we were talking about opening residence halls, the student center and the library. Now, we're talking about athletics. What has it been like watching the college come together piece by piece?
DJK: I'm a firm believer that vision matters. We had a plan for what we wanted to do in terms of facilities growth, program growth, student enrollment growth, and we've been studying varsity athletics now for a number of years. It's not something we did sort of on the spur of the moment. We planned it thoroughly. We wanted to bring on the kinds of sports that made sense for us, and then imbed our varsity athletics program into our integrated educational experience. We're excited about it. It will bring to us some incredible athletes who will represent the institution and make us more visible not only in this community but around the Southeast.
FR: You've hit 9,000-plus students, and I know you're approaching the maximum capacity for current facilities. Talk to me about expansion and why you feel it's best to continue growing?
DJK: We did a very thorough study last year of what we could really hold given current facilities. That number is 9,500. Until we bring on our next facility, which is our allied health and science building, that's about where we're going to be. It's a nice problem to have. We've literally filled up our facilities.
The demand is there. We'd like to take credit for what's happening but the fact is the community has needed this opportunity. We're trying to respond to the demand of our students, so they have the opportunity to get a college education. Our goal is to continue to grow and satisfy that demand, and we think we can do that. Our estimates are, if we can get the facilities, in the next five years we'll be at 15,000 students.
FR: With such rapid growth, at what point do you say, 'OK, stop. This is where we want to stay?'
DJK: We haven't gotten to that point yet, but at some point you're right. At some point, we'll meet demand. We're not about limits, though. We're about providing opportunities and then figuring out how to provide the programs that make sense for our community.
FR: What makes a college successful? What are the key factors?
DJK: It takes a commitment to whatever the mission is for the college. Ours happens to be being a 21st century access institution, which we are. We had the advantage and the privilege of starting from scratch. We've hired people who share our passion for what we're doing, and the success is to their credit. They understand the vision, they're devoted to it and they work hard to accomplish it. So, you bring in a cadre of passionate and committed people, then grow with like-minded kinds of people and that makes for success. Enthusiasm is infectious, and so their commitment is transferred to the students, and they get it and they understand the opportunity they have here. They work hard to succeed. They respond to that caring and engagement.
FR: Talk about how the addition of an intercollegiate athletics program will affect the community.
DJK: It affects both the internal community and we hope our relations with our neighbors. Varsity athletics, for all the well-deserved criticism, can perform a very important socialization function and community-building function. And so, we welcome our neighbors, literally, to come and cheer the Grizzlies and watch intercollegiate sports, whatever they happen to like and make them feel part of this campus. We want to be engaged with our neighbors.
And second, it gets young people who perhaps might not have thought about coming here to come here. Youngsters who think they might have a chance to play college ball of some kind or who just want that experience while they're in college, not necessarily to play but to watch, to be engaged. It adds another dimension to the richness of the experience.
FR: Where is Georgia Gwinnett College developmentally? If this college was your child, how old is it and why?
DJK: Probably early adolescence (laughs). We've grown like a weed, just as young people do. Just as young people do, though, now you begin to mature. Now, you begin to say 'Who are we? What are we? And where do we go from here?'
So, yes, early adolescence. It's all still fun and exciting and we're trying to bring that joy for what we do to everything we're about.