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Colleagues discuss Kaufman's legacy

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Georgia Gwinnett College President Dr. Daniel J. Kaufman was named the president and CEO of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce in Duluth Thursday. Dr. Kaufman will be transferring into his new role officially on July 1, 2013.

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Georgia Gwinnett College President Dr. Daniel J. Kaufman was named the president and CEO of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce in Duluth Thursday. Dr. Kaufman will be transferring into his new role officially on July 1, 2013.

LAWRENCEVILLE -- For charter faculty and administrators at Georgia Gwinnett College, it's hard to explain the leadership and legacy of Daniel J. Kaufman without recalling "kiosk duty."

The phrase -- which was known to the select few who helped start the college nearly seven years ago -- described time spent in the food court at Mall of Georgia.

Stationed below the movie box office and a stone's throw from Chick-fil-A and Great American Cookies, 10 faculty members, a handful of administrative leaders and Kaufman himself took shifts pitching the brand-new college's merit to young people who roamed the shopping destination.

"When we were first starting up, we didn't have a bunch of money and we didn't have budgets to advertise, so we asked ourselves, 'if you want to communicate with young people, what do you do?'" Kaufman said. "Well what kids do is go to the mall, and they go to the movies, so we set up a booth next to the food court and started handing out literature and answering questions."

Kaufman is flooded with nostalgic feelings when he looks back on the days that were the genesis of Georgia Gwinnett College. Having seen it grow from the ground up, he said leaving for a new job will be "bittersweet."

On July 1, he takes the position of president and CEO with the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce.

News of Kaufman's planned departure, which came only days ago, was also bittersweet for those who have worked with him as they reflected on his leadership and the legacy he'll leave behind.

Few are better poised to talk about that legacy than Stas Preczewski, who has known Kaufman since 1999, when the two worked together at The United States Military Academy at West Point.

"(Kaufman) is the best leader I've ever met in my professional career," said Preczewski, who is now vice president for academics and student affairs at GGC. "He is a visionary, he is mission-oriented and he sets the highest standards and expectations for those around him."

Preczewski added that such attributes make for "an entire culture of strong leaders and role models (at GGC). No matter who our students interact with, they're getting a touch of the Dr. Kaufman leadership. He has created a village, a community of role models and leaders who come here in large part because of the vision he created."

Added Preczewski: "What was once a patch of woods is now a vibrant, learning community with more than 11,000 people including students and staff."

When asked to describe some of the milestones on the path from 118 students to more than 9,000, Kaufman recalls opening day, Aug. 18, 2006, when then-Gov. Sonny Perdue came out for the institution's ribbon cutting.

"Two years later, we had our first graduating class of 17 kids," Kaufman said. "The following summer, June 2009, we got accredited ... the fastest it's ever been done in the history of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools."

Beyond that, Kaufman recalls a visit from U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus. "That sort of put us on the map," he said. "When you have a person of that caliber and stature give the commencement speech ... it's a big deal."

In addition, he said the opening of a new library in 2010 and months later a student center and residence halls were big achievements at the institution.

Officials recently broke ground on a $30 million, 91,000-square foot Allied Health and Science building. The college also is in the final stages of construction on an intercollegiate athletics complex.

Preczewski said achieving such milestones was due to "the leadership of Gwinnett County, who had the idea to put a college here ... but then they needed someone who could take a concept -- a vision -- and bring that dream to life. Nobody else could have done this. He's a leader who believes every obstacle is an opportunity."

Others at the college too have found inspiration in Kaufman's leadership.

Charter faculty member Chris Brandon, a biological sciences professor at GGC, said he's "never met a leader like him."

"Ever since the beginning, when it was just 10 faculty members, he was right there with us. We were advertising this college using every avenue we could think of," Brandon said, recalling "kiosk duty" at Mall of Georgia.

"He took his turn there just like the rest of us. At every point along the way, he's been doing the grunt work as well as the administrative duties," Brandon said.

Kaufman said if you want to be a leader "you've got to lead from the front. You can't ask people to do things you're not willing to do yourself. You set an example, which says 'we're all in this together.'"