Gordon State College Hosts Third Annual State of the College Address

By Karolina Philmon, GSC Marketing Manager

On Thursday, March 31, Gordon State College President, Dr. Kirk A. Nooks delivered the institution’s third annual State of the College address at the Barnesville campus Student Activity and Recreation Center (SARC).

The event began with a welcome from GSC Student Government Association (SGA) President, Kierra Cooper-Williams followed by a recognition of guest grandees by GSC Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs, Dr. C. Jeffery Knighton. GSC Vice President of Advancement, External Relations and Marketing, Mrs. Montrese Adger Fuller gave an introduction next of the GSC Scholarship recipient, Otiona Willis. Presidential Fellow and biology major from Spalding County, Aastha Jaiswal introduced President Nooks before he took the floor for his address.

Nooks first focused his address on providing updates and the progress of the institution’s five-year, 2019-2024 strategic plan, Building the Power of WE. Its initial imperative task included strengthening a collaborative culture among faculty, staff and students by increasing internal communication efforts, building institutional capacity in key areas such as human capital, financial, physical resources and celebrating excellence across campus.

“You should remember that because we focused on our local 14-county primary service footprint, our success and your success are one in the same, hence the birth of this notion called, The Power of WE,” Nooks said. “This phrase reminds us that you don’t have to go it alone, that two heads are better than one and we are in this together.”

This year, GSC continues to rank and remain one of the leading state colleges in the region and throughout the Georgia state. Regarding economic impact, GSC has contributed more than $129 million to the economy and provided over 1,088 jobs. In fall of 2021, GSC led the state college sector in dual enrollment with 541 students. Gordon has the largest dual enrollment population among the nine state colleges for fall and spring semesters. Gordon also reported the smallest enrollment decrease in the state college sector with only a -4% change.

“In an environment where 22 out of 26 institutions declined in enrollment, or a national landscape where over one million students decided to forgo higher education since the start of the pandemic, Gordon State College is holding its own,” Nooks said.

Nooks continued the subject by announcing GSC experienced another record summer head count. Over the last six years, GSC had an enrollment count hovering in the mid to high 800s. In 2018, the college reached the mid-900s. In summer of 2020, amid the global pandemic, GSC had a record high head count of 1,006 students. In summer of 2021, GSC eclipsed previous year’s enrollment by an increase of 0.6% with 1,012 students.

Over the past year, GSC had a significant growth in the institution’s social media engagement by gaining about 2,500 followers among its four standard social media platforms. In addition, GSC marketing expanded in the 14-county primary service region with billboards and diversified its communication efforts by including movie theatres and streaming.

“We are focused on no longer being the best kept secret. We intend to be a household name within this 14-county primary service region,” Nooks said.

In highlighting programs, facilities and ideas that set GSC apart, Nooks addressed that in 2021, GSC launched its first Nexus degree in film production while joining the eMajor consortium for the Bachelor of Science in criminal justice. Currently, 11 students are pursuing their bachelor’s in criminal justice and 62 students are completing their associate courses. Bachelor of Science in health and wellness also launched with 35 students pursuing their degree while 28 students are completing their associate courses. The full launch of the Nexus degree will take affect this August 2022, however eight students are already enrolled in courses through the GA Film Academy. In the coming months, Nooks said GSC will announce academic programs the institution plans to put forth for system approval with a focus on the largest industry in Georgia and one of the most high-demand sectors in the state.

“This year our faculty have doubled back to the laboratory and have identified key programs linked to high demand fields that they believe will help students to realize their passion and pursue their purpose,” Nooks said.

Nooks signified on the strategic plan objective that required the institution to stabilize and align the organizational structure, institutional budget and operating policies. He said by the end of the current semester, the President’s Cabinet will have reviewed and updated over 25 policies to ensure they reflect GSC’s future direction and meet its five-year review expectation. In result of GSC’s ongoing policy reviews, Nooks commended the faculty senate’s recommendation to become a test-optional institution.

“This was not because students were not performing well on the SAT or ACT, but rather because we believe that the GPA is the strongest prediction of a student’s accomplishment as compared to who can afford the preparation for a one-day test,” Nooks said.

More so, Nooks mentioned GSC created new support systems to help students who didn’t have a successful transition semester from high school to college instead of leaving them to figure it on their own. Additionally, GSC adopted updated visitation and guest policies within the Residence Halls.

Another imperative objective was to recruit, retain and transition professionals through a process that supports and emphasizes the institution’s values. Nooks featured the following new Highlanders into the family who are serving in key leadership roles: Chief of Police, Jarvis Flowers; Director of Student Success, Advising and Testing, Jerry Oliver; Director of Continuing and Professional Education, Simonia Blassingame; Marketing Manager, Karolina Philmon; and Vice President of Finance and Administration, Bryan Stephens. Nooks also highlighted Dr. Tonya Moore, GSC director of career services for the past 12 years on adding the role of director of athletics to her responsibilities.

GSC continues to ensure that college faculty and staff are provided with at least two professional development opportunities aimed at expanding the understanding of their role. With this, GSC designed Gordon Opportunities for Lifelong Development (GOLD). Over the last year, 11 seminars were offered with 155 faculty and staff receiving professional development education on campus.

Nooks announced that the American Association of State Colleges and Universities will be naming one of its Highlanders to the Millennium Leadership Program 2022-2023 Cohort.

Surrounding GSC’s goal of its second strategic imperative, its focus is to promote student excellence throughout their academic journey. Under the first objective was the implementation of a comprehensive Strategic Enrollment Management (SEM) plan. GSC continues to increase awareness that the institution offers more than only associate degrees with an aim to have 70% of GSC students pursuing their baccalaureate degrees. Nooks announced that overall, year after year, GSC has successfully increased the percentage of students earning their bachelor's degree.

GSC has also partnered with USG and its study report to better understand which of the institution’s academic programs are growing and which programs are best replaced.

“This isn’t because these potential replaced programs didn’t add value to an academic environment, but rather the need to be strategically aligned with the needs of students and the region,” Nooks said.

The purpose of partnering with USG Study Report is to refine Gordon’s academic programs while exploring new programs such as an associate degree in agribusiness or a completion degree in targeted health areas. Nooks believes the Gordon message has begun to take root as the institution has more than doubled its applications and acceptances for fall of 2022, as compared to previous years at this same time.

Under the third objective of the second strategic imperative, GSC focused on designing an educational experience that supports the USG’s Momentum Approach and national success measures.

Nooks noted the last two years have reminded many that the heart of each student is just as important as their mind. With this, Nooks announced GSC received the Governor’s Emergency

Education Relief (GEER) fund grant in the amount of $36,260 towards the USG’s Mental Health Initiative (MHI) for students. In result of this support system, students have been able to continue their path and finish what they started. This is supported by the increase in number of degrees conferred. In 2019-2020, a total of 535 degrees were conferred while in 2020-2021, 574 degrees were conferred. This presents a record 7.2% increase.

For the third consecutive year, GSC increased the retention of first-time full-time students. In 2018, retention rate was at 53.5% and in 2019, retention rate increased to 55.9%. In fall 2020, the retention rate increased again to 58.9%.

Nooks next focused on speaking about GSC Highlander EDGE. He mentioned Dr. Knighton has been consistently advancing the concept of Engaged Innovators, Dedicated Scholars, Gifted Communicators and Ethical Leaders (EDGE). The taskforce, known as Dave Janssen and the HIPsters, created the EDGE-ucation manual which outlines the curricular experience to aid students in becoming aware of the steps toward the development of EDGE. Gordon’s work over the last year also included a new platform called Presence that tracks student’s attendance and involvement toward the EDGE.

In addition to GSC’s multiple developments, Nooks spotlighted Dr. Moore and GSC Dean of Students, Dr. Matthew Robison’s work on their Squad Pod initiative. This effort is aimed at providing additional support to the athletes on and off the field. Nationally, institutions are putting forth broader efforts to support the physical, emotional and academic needs of this student group.

Another objective concentrated on connecting extracurricular experiences to increase student engagement. Nooks put a spotlight on GSC Club Football for their championship over Columbus State University Cougars. Furthermore, GSC Golf and Women’s Volleyball will be launching this fall with Brandon Hugley joining the Highlanders as the new volleyball coach.

GSC has been waiting for the opportunity again to engage within the community for the last two years. Its goal is to look for ways to increase the quality of life for students, faculty and staff and residents through connections between the community and campus.

“This objective’s goal reminds the institution that we do not exist in a vacuum. At a time in our nation when some are engaging in the cost vs. benefit conversation related to higher education, the narrative seems to take on a singular focus,” Nooks said. “As soon as we could safely restart our efforts, we did.”

Nooks showcased Gordon’s Highlanders that have joined community and national leadership programs. Highlanders representing the region include: Jody Defore, assistant vice president for student financial services within Forsyth and Monroe counties; Dr. Robison with the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education (GPEE); Shalanna Banks, admissions support coordinator with Lamar county; President Nooks for Millennium Leadership Initiative (MLI) executive committee through the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU); Mrs. Alison N. Nooks, GSC first lady for AASCU Spouse Program as national co-chair; and Angiah Davis, director of library services within Lamar county.

Within the third strategic imperative under the third objective, GSC focused on elevating facility space needed on and off campus to serve current and future programs. Nooks discussed the renovation progress of the Smith Hall and Alumni Memorial Hall buildings in addition to the lighting upgrade of the Fine Arts Auditorium. GSC has also invested in its virtual IT infrastructure to include significant wireless upgrades for the Residence Halls. More so, the access of the LiveSafe app will make GSC, one of the safest campuses in the state, safer. The LiveSafe app enables direct and discreet two-way communication with community safety officials using text, picture, video and audio. It allows the user to virtually walk friends and family to their destination using SafeWalk.

Nooks touched base on an example of likeminded partners seeking to chart a different path forward. The project is known as the Community Innovation Campus with Henry County schools and Piedmont Henry. Another partnership includes a dual enrollment to Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN) articulation to increase nursing pipeline.

“With the shared objective of a tailored high school curriculum coupled with paid in-field work-based experience so that students graduate high school with associate-level credentials, an employment offer, and a path to completing a baccalaureate; the partners are focused on making this educational experience a reality this coming fall,” Nooks said.

As a reminder, two additional partnerships with Georgia College and State University and Southern Crescent Technical College were signed into articulation.

Objective 6 from the third strategic imperative is dedicated to the Foundation Board and how they built philanthropic capacity to assist the institution with achieving its goals. Last year, the Foundation Board made a historic $100,000 investment. This year, they have doubled by investing $200,000 that will fund scholarships for dual enrollment, new freshman and provide additional retention support through tutoring our athletic program.

The Foundation Board made a commitment to model the way for philanthropic leadership. They accomplished that with a 3-year average of 95.5% participation during the Annual Giving Campaign. Over the last four academic years, GSC has seen a continued increase in the participation of faculty and staff giving. This annual campaign year, Gordon reached a record high of 82.1% of our faculty and staff giving back over $21,000 to the institution.

Keeping on the subject, GSC Inaugural Day of Giving on March 30, 2021, surpassed its goal of $15,000 and received $54,000. This year’s Day of Giving on March 30, GSC has surpassed its goal for the second year in a row. With a goal of $25,000, GSC has currently raised over $40,000 and counting.

In combination of all the philanthropic donations, GSC has a total amount of $1,073,131in contributions over the last two years.

Nooks concluded the event by addressing the institution’s final objective from its strategic imperatives which confirms the commitment in developing meaningful and productive relationships with employers throughout the 14-county primary service region. Recently, the institution’s career services department provided its students with a platform called Handshake. It’s a career management system that connects students with open positions from internships to entry level jobs. In 2021, 73 students established profiles and 606 jobs were posted. This year, 321 students have established profiles while a record breaking 7,200 jobs were posted.

“The Handshake platform is just the technology that represents the relationship with external partners through our six advisory boards. Each advisory board continued to meet virtually and will meet again this semester to discuss how Gordon can continue to prepare our students to meet regional workforce needs,” Nooks said.

Nooks announced lastly that in the coming months, new partnerships with large employers from the 14-county region footprint will be established.


Click below for the official video of President Nooks' State of the College Address on March 31, 2022.