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Preczewski focuses on vision, plan for Georgia Gwinnett College, not interim title

A file photo of the Georgia Gwinnett College campus. (Photo courtesy of GGC)

A file photo of the Georgia Gwinnett College campus. (Photo courtesy of GGC)

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Stas Preczewski (Photo courtesy of GGC)

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A file photo of the Georgia Gwinnett College campus. (Photo courtesy of GGC)

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A file photo of the Georgia Gwinnett College campus. (Photo courtesy of GGC)

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A file photo of the Georgia Gwinnett College campus. (Photo courtesy of GGC)

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A file photo of the Georgia Gwinnett College campus. (Photo courtesy of GGC)

For the first time in his career, Stanley “Stas” Preczewski is putting down roots.

After he spent a career in the U.S. Army, Preczewski has worked at Georgia Gwinnett College since 2005, first as provost and now as interim president, the longest time he and his wife have lived anywhere. In their time together, they’ve moved 19 times.

“It’s nice to have roots,” Preczewski told the Daily Post in a recent interview in his office. “I know my neighbors’ names. They know me. We’re not packing again. So that stability is quite nice.”

At the office, Preczewski said he and colleagues can communicate in shorthand and more efficiently because they know each other well, and what to expect.

For the second time in his career, Preczewski is an interim president of a college institution, this time as GGC now counts 9,869 students — while class sizes remain at 22 — as it nears an eventual goal of 13,000 students. Yet because of his personality, and the way GGC was built, Preczewski believes the interim title doesn’t change the job description.

“Whether you have interim before you’re name, the decisions still have to be made and the responsibility is still the same,” Preczewski said. “You just have that word out front. I operate the same, whether it’s there or not there.”

The appointment, which began on July 1, follows GGC President Daniel Kaufman’s recent move as the new president of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce. Preczewski previously served as vice president for Academic and Student Affairs.

Preczewski was also interim president of Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville from July 2011 through June 2012. While he learned some lessons in his first stint as an interim president, Preczewski said GCSU’s more than 100-year-old history is a stark contrast to GGC still being in the development stages.

There is no timetable for the Board of Regents to name an official president, spokesman John Millsaps said.

The standard process for finding a college president includes the formation of two separate committees: a campus search committee and a Regents search committee.

Preczewski earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering at Cornell University in 1980 and concurrently received his Army officer commission. His other degrees include a master’s in engineering from the University of Massachusetts, a master’s in National Security Strategy and Planning from the United States Naval War College, and a doctorate in Higher Education from the University of Missouri.

Preczewski met his wife, Jean, a legal assistant in Buford, 42 years ago and they have been married for more than 30 years. They have three adult children, each of whom hold the rank of captain in the U.S. Army.

With a military background as a retired colonel, Preczewski said he makes decisions based on the mission and the vision of the college. He also doesn’t treat the interim title as a sort of on-the-job interview for the permanent position.

“I’ve never made a decision, ever, in my life that benefits me, in fact I’ve done things that have hurt myself,” Preczewski said. “We’ve always operated, and will always operate, in the best interest of the students. If we do what’s in the best interest of me, generally that’s not what’s best for the students. … There’s only one reason a college exists, there’s only one reason we have jobs. It’s because students choose to come here. They choose to come here because they’re successful here.”

While the job description hasn’t changed, Preczewski’s duties have since he was provost, which he admitted to being largely internal to the campus. The president’s duties are largely external, and deals with every stake holder that touches the university: students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, donors, legislators and the Board of Regents.

“Everybody has a slightly different twist of what they would like to see a college to do,” he said. “You’re job is to find that middle point. It’s not a science, it’s an art.”

Meanwhile, Preczewki is proud to share retention statistics that show 87 percent of students who started in August remain on campus, a two percent improvement from last year. The school’s new advising center is also credited for a three-fold increase in retention of at-risk students.

Preczewski also said keeping costs low continues to be a priority as GGC is $40 a credit hour cheaper than the next closest four-year only college, despite getting less state money.

And he hasn’t looked at other institutions or sought advice from other presidents because the GGC model hasn’t been done before, and the school has already broken records for accreditation and enrollment growth.

“What pieces of other colleges can we do on a large scale,” he said. “We’re taking the best that’s out there and putting it together in one institution for everyone.”

Asked about potential growing pains for the school, Preczewski balked at the term because of the plan in place since it opened.

“A growing pain is something that happens when you say, ‘Gee, we didn’t know that was going to happen,’” he said. “We’ve been very proactive from day one of staying out ahead of what’s next.”

Complaints of parking problems from students last fall were not necessary, because Preczewski said the college has plenty of parking; it just may not be where students want it, or close enough to classroom buildings.

“Before, you literally could get the parking spot next to your class,” he said. “Now, you have to park farther away.”

So the July opening of a $30 million Allied Health and Science Building, which will bring another 1,000 students, is just another step in an ongoing building process that has included dining and residence halls and expansion of academic buildings.

“Dr. Kaufman’s vision was to have a crane on this campus, somewhere, for 10 years,” Preczewski said. “And so far we’ve had a crane on this campus every year since we opened the doors. Everything has happened according to the plan from 2006, and we haven’t varied from that because it’s working quite well.”

What’s next is largely based on making the college more efficient.

GGC opened a call center last fall to answer general questions while employees in the admissions office can tend to students face-to-face. Previously, the college accepted about 20 of those calls a day; now it counts more than 200.

Preczewski would also like to add a career services employee in every school, and add new majors.

“We’ve thought about this for a year and now we’re ready to put the resources in place and we know what outcomes we want to have,” Preczewski said. “Now we simply just execute.”

Last year, the General Assembly agreed to a six-year draw down of $1.375 million per year for GGC. Preczewski said the college can handle the drop in funding because it knew it was coming and planned for it.

“We’ll take the cut, since we know it’s coming, and it will have no effect on the quality of our education,” he said.

Institutions around the country are beginning to take notice of GGC’s success, for reasons that include managing with less money. Preczewski said he’s been invited to speak about GGC’s model at national conferences. And he’s proud to share the recent U.S. News & World Report No. 5 ranking that GGC received for Southern public colleges.

That has helped market the college by word of mouth, and Preczewski said the college officials have been surprised that they didn’t have to do as much marketing.

“Success breeds success,” he said. “We’re getting a reputation for quality.”