Jann Joseph wants to look deep into data.
Before she began her tenure as the third president of Georgia Gwinnett College in July, she said the institution was already a leader in supporting its diverse student body. Now she wants to take a closer look at what that means. She said she wants the campus to identify groups of students who may be underperforming and the variables that influence to their performances and tackle it deliberately.
That doesn’t mean she’s cooped up in her office pouring over spreadsheets. On Wednesday, Joseph said she met with members of on-campus communities and organizations to share her vision for the college, listen to their thoughts and concerns and engage in a “professional day of success talks.”
“The responses have been overwhelming, as I would say, nurturing and supportive,” she said. “As I have given to them, they have given back to me tenfold.”
Joseph feels that she’s not unlike many of Georgia Gwinnett College’s students. She shares some of their humble origin stories and has ascended through the ranks of higher education to her current position as GGC’s new president.
Joseph, a native of Trinidad, West Indes, learned the value of education from her parents, neither of which completed elementary school. They valued education for its ability to transform generations, perhaps because they coveted it themselves. Joseph pursues a career in education after graduating from the University of West Indies-St. Augustine with a master’s of philosophy in plant science in 1989.
Her mission throughout her career has been to help increase educational opportunities and student success, and she intends to lead GGC as it continues to make strides in that respect.
She was clear the school that opened its doors to 118 students on August 18, 2006, has ambitions beyond attracting regional applicants. The school will open with a projected 13,000 students next week, approximately 600 more students than last year’s first-day attendance figures. Based on her statements Friday, don’t expect a plateau in those figures under her watch.
The college may be soon set its sights beyond county borders. GGC, she said, offers all of the big-college aspects prospective students look for with a small-college feel — a diverse campus, student housing, an expanding leadership team, student affairs, state-of-the-art facilities and engagement.
“I am confident that if we step up our marketing beyond Gwinnett County and beyond the state, we can be very successful,” Joseph said. “We just need to get them on campus.”
Joseph said her work starts with supporting students while the school itself continues to burgeon. Life happens as school happens, Joseph said, and many of GGC’s students are earning their degrees while working and raising children.
She recognizes there’s a balance that needs to be achieved, and the institution should provide the necessary support.
“We want to encourage them to take a full load of 15 credits so they can make adequate progress and we want them to graduate early to enter the workforce,” Joseph said. “But to do that, we have to provide support. Our perspective is about compassion and challenge at the same time. We will seek to understand what they do. We will seek to understand the challenges that they face. … We want them to succeed because of us, not in spite of us.”
That leads to one of the main reasons Joseph said she came to GGC, to invest. The school’s purpose to provide access to students that would typically find that access difficult, aligned with her personal mission she’s sought to achieve throughout her career.
Her credentials as a former professor at Grand Valley State University, the first dean of the College of Education at Eastern Michigan University and an interim chancellor at Indiana University-South Bend don’t leave her qualification in question. A look at her professional and civic affiliations indicate the social issues that are important to her.
She served as president representative for the Indiana ACE Women’s Network, a national network with the goal of advancing and supporting women in higher education. She is aware of the symbolism of her presidency as the college’s first and only minority and female full-time president — interim president Mary Beth Walker first assumed the position in January.
She plans to stay engaged in providing opportunities for women to get the professional development they need to apply for leadership jobs. She looks to pay forward the support she said she had.
“My service is really about — I would say — getting into a person’s trajectory and changing it, upward and forward,” she said. “Find a way to get them off a path where their destiny is not what it should be and what it can be and give them an opportunity. All my service is directed to that.”