Gordon State College President Dr. Kirk A. Nooks Delivers The Second Annual State of the College Address

Gordon State College president Dr. Kirk A. Nooks delivered the institution’s Second Annual State of the College address January 29, 2021, a program which also included the introduction of the GSC Scholarship recipient Elijah Clemmons and the introduction of President Nooks by Presidential Fellow Harrison Bishton, a Coweta County resident and veteran who was part of the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command. Appointed in June 2018, Nooks is the fourth president of the institution since it joined the University System of Georgia in 1972.

Gordon State College currently offers 16 associate-level degrees as well as the 11 bachelor’s degree programs. The Board of Regents of the USG recently gave GSC the green light to begin the process of offering two new degrees; a Nexus Degree in Film Production and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice through the University System of Georgia’s eMajor. Gordon hopes to start offering classes for the new degrees pending approval by the Gordon State Faculty Senate and Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. In addition, Nooks shared the college anticipates hearing very soon that Gordon will receive official accreditation for the Health Information Management program, only the second institution within the USG to receive this accreditation.

Nooks provided 2020 highlights and accomplishments in a virtual presentation featuring the college’s progress toward achieving the goals of the five-year Strategic Plan: “Building The Power of WE,” initiated in 2019. “We are seeing the benefits of our collaboration with partnerships within our region,” said President Nooks, as he shared the college ranking in the top 20 leading regional state colleges in the nation for three consecutive years as reported by U.S. News and World Report, and seventh best nursing school in Georgia. “We know our graduates leave Gordon equipped with The Highlander EDGE, [Engaged Innovators, Dedicated Scholars, Gifted Communicators and Ethical Leaders,] noted qualities that set Gordon graduates apart. These qualities give them a noted advantage in the workforce,” he said.

Nooks commended EDGE leaders including among others, Hannah Norwood, a junior history major, who was recently named the recipient of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs highly competitive Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship and the first student to receive this award and biology major Amber Fraley, who plans on volunteering in local pharmacies and other health related organizations in order to gain experience for her future career as a pharmacist of biochemist.

GSC’s African-American Male Initiative (AAMI) program received full funding from the USG this year in the amount of $15,000 in sponsored funds to collaboratively carry out the mission and singular focus of the program to develop stellar scholars of today into extraordinary leaders of tomorrow. The college also established the inaugural Presidential Fellows Program, allowing students to grow their leadership experiences and serve as ambassadors for the Office of the President and the college.  

In Fall 2020, Gordon enrolled 3,200. It saw a 13 percent increase in student enrollment from the past summer, resulting in a record high enrollment of more than 1,000 students. GSC had the highest retention rate for first-time, full time freshmen, with more than 61 percent of students returning after their first year. One hundred percent of faculty received an online accreditation to teach courses virtually, as the college had to pivot to deliver classes remotely in March due to the pandemic. 

In its virtual spring commencement ceremony, the college awarded 125 baccalaureate degrees and 144 associate degrees to graduating students. 81 percent of whom hailed from 13 of the college’s 14-county service area.  Fifty-three percent of the graduating class earned their associate degree while the other 47 percent earned their baccalaureate degree.

Another virtual commencement ceremony, held in December 2020, added another 69 associate degree and 105 baccalaureate degree candidates who ranged in age from 17 to 65. Thirty-eight percent of graduates were adult learners, 46 were first generation college students and 13 percent of them graduated with honors.  “This is outstanding news, and a tribute to the collaborative efforts of our faculty and staff.

As highlighted in Objective 1.7 of the college’s Strategic Plan, the college’s strategic plan, the college will “Recruit, retain and transition professionals through a process that supports and emphasizes the institution’s values. In doing so, the college created a Presidential Commission on Diversity, Equality and Inclusion in keeping with the ongoing national discussion about racial discrimination, recognized faculty and staff excellence through its inaugural GSC faculty and staff awards, and the college acknowledged many others throughout the institution who received USG, state and national recognition.

Also mentioned in the strategic plan, GSC is focused on meeting the needs of its primary service region and the state. As such, Gordon State College contributed nearly $137 million to the regional economy and provided more than 1,100 jobs in fiscal year 2019, according to a report released by the University System of Georgia. Of the college’s total economic impact, spending by GSC students accounted for $75 million of the $130 million contributed to the regional economy.

In support of this strategic initiative, the college hosted its second Annual Legislative Roundtable in December, welcoming senators and representatives, this time utilizing a virtual format. The conversation focused on legislative priorities, and acknowledged the support of state representatives who supported the reopening of the 28,500 square-foot Academic building, home of the Department of Humanities. 

In part of its giving back to the community, the college is thankful for the work of GSC First Lady Alison N. Nooks, who has made it her mission since 2018 to read to children and to encourage healthy character building. In order to nurture relationships with other USG institutions, GSC has developed smooth transitions for students, this year adding Georgia Southwestern State University, with whom GSC signed a memorandum of understanding, allowing students who complete a Bachelor of Science in Management and Administration at GSC to be accepted seamlessly into Georgia Southwestern University Master of Business Administration program.    

In addition, the college has established a Career Management System called Handshake. The system connects students with open positions, mainly internships and entry-level jobs and streamlines the process for employers, career counselors and student candidates. More than 600 jobs have been posted in the system for students to review since GSC launched the platform in October. Seventy-three students have already established their profiles on the portal.

“Another important initiative of the college focuses on its partnership with the Foundation Board,” continued Nooks, who recognized the importance of building philanthropic capacity linked to the college’s strategic goals. The entire Foundation Board unanimously approved a one-time $100,000 grant to the college as a strategic investment during the COVID-19 pandemic. The grant included support for scholarships, the performing arts and athletics, and a $50,000 allocation to fully endow the Highlander GAP Scholarship Fund.

Nooks acknowledged the good work of Derrick Lewis who recently told Montrese Adger-Fuller, Vice President of Advancement, External Relations and Marketing and Executive Director of the GSC Foundation how excited he was to be Gordon State College Foundation Board Chair. “It’s an exciting time to be the Board Chair of the Gordon State College Foundation,” Lewis said “…and to work with the leadership to continue to move the institution forward for many years to come.”  

“We are proud to announce the largest donation in the history of the Foundation, a $255,000 gift from Foundation board member Dan White,” said Nooks. The gift will be designated toward a combination of eight endowed scholarships, an endowed lecture series and an endowed Fine Arts and Performing Arts Series. In addition, White presented an in-kind contribution of a Franklin Delano Roosevelt maquette sculpture in recognition of FDR’s monumental speech at the college in the 1930s, bringing electrification to rural Georgia.

Thanking other board members for their support, Nooks noted, “We are proud of our Foundation board. Over the two years, an average of 93 percent of them have provided financial support to the college. In addition to foundation support, annual giving to the college has reached a high of more than 80 percent. “When you combine all the funds we’ve received, we have a total of more than $600,000 in contributions this year, a $100,000 increase from last year,” Nooks said.

In addition to partnering with the GSC Foundation to build philanthropic capacity, Nooks shared information about the partnership the college has with the GSC Alumni Board, whose goal it is to build collegiate affinity linked to the institution. “I am proud to highlight the expansion of our Alumni Board,” he said. “Gordon State College has increased its board from six members to 13. Our board includes Highlanders from as far back as our military school days to our most recent graduates.”

Anchoring his State of the College presentation to Strategic Plan, Nooks highlighted many objectives including a strategy for launching and enhancing marketing and communications efforts reflective of the 2019-2024 vision for the college. He touched on the significant growth in the college’s social media engagement and the fact that Gordon has gained 3,548 followers among its four standard social media platforms. He proudly discussed the introduction of a new spirit mark and a new mascot, whose name was voted on by the college’s students.

Sharing a quick history of the college, Dr. Nooks explained that a stag was symbolic of the badge worn by the Gordon Highlanders. They were a line infantry regiment of the British Army who existed for 113 years after two Scottish Regiments merged in 1881. A crest with a stag and motto, “Bydand- Stand and Fight” motto was featured as part of the badge. “Our new mascot is a stag named Gordy,” he said. “Gender-neutral, it not only represents the history of the college, but also will stand proudly as a representation of the present and future of this wonderful institution. Gordy has been transformed into a spirit mark that represents all the pride the Highlander Nation has to offer. The mark and mascot will serve as the visual symbols of strength, pride and the Power of WE for the college for many years to come.”

Nooks ended his Second Annual State of the College presentation by thanking all participants for their support, and he offered a glimpse into where the college is going in year-three of the Strategic Plan -exploring future big ideas such as: the rollout of Highlander EDGE software allowing students to post an electronic portfolio of academic and extra-curricular achievements, implementation of a course schedule to match student needs, modernization of a predictive analytics program to alert students to potential pitfalls in their studies and how to correct them, scaling philanthropic opportunities through the colleges Case for Support and finally continuing the institution’s valued partnership with the K-12 community to nurture and grow relationships with students across the educational spectrum.