Gordon State College Hosts Fourth Annual State of the College Address

By Karolina Philmon, GSC Marketing Manager

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

The event began with a welcome from Student Government Association (SGA) President Mary-Monroe Smith followed by a recognition of GSC’s The Power of We by Provost and Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs, Dr. Joanne Ardovini. A recognition of guest grandees was given by Vice President of Advancement, External Relations and Marketing, Montrese Adger Fuller who also introduced the GSC Alumni Scholarship recipient, Naomi Meyerholtz, first-year biology major from Pike County. Presidential Fellow and nursing major from Rockdale County, Claire Williams introduced President Nooks before he took the floor for his address.

President Nooks focused his address on providing updates and the progress of the institution’s five-year strategic plan, Building the Power of WE, which is nearing its completion in a little over a year. He reminded the audience that GSC made a commitment to its 14-county primary service region, and by doing so, its commitment helped to better understand the desires of high school graduates, the needs of local employers and the aspirations of local and civic leadership. Over three thousand students have joined Highlander Nation and became either interns, volunteers, or a part of their hometown team.

“We created a three-pronged imperative approach that would make us look inward to clarify our identity, demonstrate that our students are at the heart of everything we do, and would reinforce that we are determined to build partnerships instead of walls,” Nooks said.

GSC’s initial imperative strategic 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.

As part of the strategic task’s first objective that ensured shared governance, decision making processes and communication which led to maximum performance, the faculty senate took a

difficult topic and partnered with the President’s Cabinet to meet the systemwide deadline related to faculty evaluation and post tenure review. With a leadership collaboration, a well-crafted recommendation was presented and passed by the full faculty.

GSC had also submitted its Fifth Year Interim Report to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), its regional accreditor of degree-granting higher education institutions. As of date, GSC is on track to complete a successful review.

“This was a major milestone that is required of all institutions within the southern region seeking the quality stamp of approval. Without this designation, we could not offer federal financial aid or transfer academic credit to other institutions,” Nooks said.

Over the past year, GSC had a significant growth in the institution’s social media engagement by gaining an 11% increase of followers among its four standard social media platforms. In addition, GSC marketing expanded in the 14-county primary service region with billboards, at high school athletic games and diversified its communication efforts by including movie theatres and streaming. On a national level, GSC extended its marketing reach with over 140 features within numerous publications.

President Nooks continued on the subject of strengthening its communication efforts and cited that GSC Chief of Police and Director of Public Safety Jarvis A. Flowers partnered with first responders from the City of Barnesville Fire Department, Lamar County Fire Department, City of Barnesville Police Department, and the Lamar County Sheriff’s Office for a district tabletop exercise to reinforce and evaluate operational plans in response to emergency scenarios.

“We realize that we need to learn together now so whenever duty calls, we will be ready,” Nooks said.

GSC persisted to craft a compelling case for support under Objective 1.4 from its first strategic task that highlighted programs, facilities and ideas that set the institution apart and fueled the imagination of its students, faculty and staff by recognizing 10 of its faculty that have committed to stretching the bounds of knowledge through original scholarship, peer-reviewed research and conference presentations. One example included Professor of Chemistry Dr. Richard Schmude who has hosted a viewing session of the moon to about 500 trick-or-treaters in Barnesville on Halloween.

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 14 policies to ensure they reflect GSC’s future direction and meet its five-year review expectation. In result of GSC’s ongoing policy reviews, President Nooks commended the faculty senate’s recommendation to allow students to test out of certain math courses in thereby reducing the time to degree completion and overall tuition cost.

This past year laid focus on another imperative objective to recruit, retain and transition professionals through a process that supported and emphasized the institution’s values. President Nooks featured the following new Highlanders into the family who are serving in key leadership roles: Chief Information Officer, Douglas Stewart; Provost and Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs, Dr. Joanne Ardovini; Dean of Enrollment Services, Melissa Johnson; Career Services Coordinator, Jasmine Copeland; and Development Officer, Meagan Pearson. In addition, President Nooks spotlighted the latest cohort of faculty in education, business administration, nursing, and First Year Experience.

“We are very clear about where we are headed and are fortunate to have additional talent join this already outstanding team of professionals,” Nooks said.

GSC maintained 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). Within the past semester, GSC offered five sessions to 85 participants. Over the last year, 16 seminars were offered where 240 faculty and staff received professional development education on campus.

Continuing on the topic of professional development, President Nooks highlighted Professor of English Dr. Stephen A. Raynie who was selected to be in the ’22-’23 University System of Georgia Executive Leadership Institute (ELI), and Ardovini who has been named to the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) ‘22 Academy for New Provosts (ANP), as well as Adger Fuller who was named to the ‘22 AASCU Millennium Leadership Initiative (MLI).

Objective 1.9 acknowledged and celebrated the accomplishments and milestones of the Highlander Nation family. President Nooks congratulated Assistant Professor of Education Dr. Julie Little and Testing Center Coordinator Sue Gilpin who were award recipients of the third consecutive Foundation Faculty and Staff Awards with the generous support of the GSC Foundation Board. In addition, President Nooks was named as one of the top 500 influential Georgians this past fall by Georgia Trend, a magazine of Georgia business, politics and economic development since 1985.

More so, Club Golf team Vice President Trey Smith represented the college in its first year of play at the National Collegiate Club Golf Association (NCCGA) Fall ‘22 National Championship tournament in Las Vegas and placed within the top 200 in the United States among more than ten thousand golfers. President Nooks also reminded the audience of Club Football’s victory title as the ’22 National Club Football Association (NCFA) National Champions. Club Football claimed the South Atlantic Conference Championship title two years in a row before their national championship win.

“These accomplishments are taking the name and reputation of Gordon to higher heights,” Nooks said.

President Nooks encouraged the audience to stay tuned as next month in February will produce two additional awards that will shine light on GSC.

Surrounding GSC’s goal of its second strategic imperative, its focus was to promote student excellence throughout their academic journey. Under the first objective was the implementation of a comprehensive Strategic Enrollment Management (SEM) plan. President Nooks mentioned the University System of Georgia (USG) reported its second consecutive year of enrollment decline where only eight of the 26 institutions remained either flat or experienced an increase in enrollment. However, for the third consecutive summer, GSC saw an increase in enrollment with 1,048 students which has eclipsed from the previous year with a 3.6% increase. GSC had the third highest summer percentage increase throughout the USG system.

Additionally, GSC notched its first fall over fall enrollment increase since 2017 having had a 1.4% increase according to USG’s semester enrollment report. The institution posted the highest percentage in full-time equivalent (FTE) within the USG with 3,144 students. Furthermore, GSC ranked second overall in the state college sector in dual enrollment with 458 students. Spring ‘23 enrollment numbers have yet to be finalized, but GSC is projected to have another increase.

In summer of 2022, GSC hosted its largest cohort of Highlanders with 1,014 freshmen at the New Student Orientation (NSO). President Nooks continued to illustrate the institution’s success and mentioned that applications this January reached 1,355 with 495 acceptances compared to 971 applications in January of 2022 with only seven acceptances. The difference was a 39.5% increase.

Objective 2.2 asserted to developing and evaluating degree programs that ensured maximum transferability to higher education partners and alignment to regional workforce needs. An announcement next month will expand the reach of the institution’s Parapro-to-Teacher program.

“Our schools are in need of talented professionals to develop our early talent pipeline,” Nooks said. “So by working with those 72 students who are already committed to the school and this region, we can make a difference. The announcement next month will demonstrate our commitment to the 14-county primary service region and beyond.”

President Nooks discussed its nursing commitment that was recently fulfilled when GSC signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Henry County Schools and Piedmont Henry Hospital to form the Community Innovation Partnership regarding a nursing pathway program for Henry County dual-enrollment students. The signing included a philanthropic investment of $100K from the physicians at Piedmont Henry Hospital designated to the GSC Foundation for nursing scholarships.

The next focus President Nooks elaborated on was the third objective of the second strategic imperative in designing an educational experience that supported the USG’s Momentum Approach and national success measures. He said GSC is “doubling down” its efforts in the retention area. Director of Student Success, Advising, and Testing Jerry Oliver Jr. provided leadership as GSC began the process of revamping their student advising methods.

“We do not believe that students and their families take the time to enroll and pay tuition only to enter the front door in the fall and step out the back door in May,” Nooks said. “Students with less than 30 credit hours are being advised and supported by a talented group of professional advisors.”

Dr. Scott Shubitz, associate professor of history led the work to ensure students are paired with faculty mentors who play a significant role as the student moves into his or her major. Grants and philanthropic support will be pursued in the upcoming year to provide each student with the necessary connections for increased persistence and success.

GSC Highlander EDGE aligned with the motion that the institution’s attentiveness within the classrooms, in the community and on the field was to create Engaged Innovators, Dedicated Scholars, Gifted Communicators, and Ethical Leaders. Efforts aimed at providing additional support to the athletics on and off the field were in motion last year. GSC coaches worked with Chief of Staff and Director of Athletics Dr. Tonya Y. Moore and Dr. Matthew K. Robison, former dean of students and hosted its first Athletic Summit with over two hundred athletes in attendance.

On a global scale, GSC competed in an international business competition called Global Solutions Sustainability Challenge. Professor of Sociology Dr. Christy Flatt led a team of faculty and students along with students from Salahaddin University in Erbil, Iraq. GSC won best pitch and placed runner-up globally for their device focused on flooding and rain measurement called FReDD. Its mission was to help individuals in flood-prone areas who were in need of a warning system to receive prompt communication about potential flood conditions in order to save lives and protect infrastructure. No instrument of any like to FReDD currently exists, especially in Kurdistan.

Objective 2.5 was designed to scale other co-curricular experiences to increase student engagement and development. Amber Fraley who is a recent graduate, presidential fellow and an aspiring pharmacy school student will join Professor of Biology Dr. Cathy Lee in a conference presentation set for March of 2023. President Nooks said students that worked with Director of Theatre Lisa Cesnik Ferguson and Professor of Theatre Tony Pearson on “Frankenstein Lives” as well as an adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” this past semester allowed for “emotions to be stirred and souls thrilled.”

Dorothy W. Hightower Collaborative Learning Center and Library with the help of Director of Library Services Angiah Davis partnered with Flint River Regional Library System to be involved in the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Big Read program. A viewing party and book discussion of the No.1 New York Times bestseller, “Circe” by Madeline Miller will be hosted by GSC in March of 2023.

Extracurricular experiences from the sixth objective of the second strategic imperative included the women’s Club Volleyball to play their first tournament this spring. President Nooks said to stay tuned as additional conversations of the future involving athletic conferences were had.

“Our intercollegiate and club sport teams are adding an advantageous dimension to Gordon State College,” Nooks said.

More so, President Nooks said it’s confirmed that Greek Life was coming on campus. Alpha Phi Alpha will be the first of many Greek letter organizations aimed at creating a well-rounded experience for GSC students.

Presidential Fellows Program continued to respond to the desire of leadership development.

“Our presidential fellows have the opportunity to develop their leadership potential through unique exposure to events hosted on campus, substantive work assignments and horizon-broadening education prospects,” Nooks said.

Further examples in leadership development that President Nooks mentioned was the institution’s Student Leadership Academy with a cohort of 20 exceptional individuals. African American Male Initiative (AAMI) in partnership with Georgia Power hosted its first summit in April of 2022 and hosted 142 high school students from GSC’s 14-county primary service region that visited the campus and discovered the importance and excitement of careers in education and leadership.

The third strategic imperative with a final set of objectives was created with a goal of strengthening community engagement and partnerships.

“This [Strategic Imperative 3] plan was shaped with many of you in mind,” Nooks said. “It’s our local and elected leaders, community partners, education ecosystem colleagues, our employers from the community and our extended Highlander family that involves the Foundation and alumni.”

In November of 2022, GSC hosted its fourth annual Legislative Roundtable event where several Georgia legislators from multiple districts covering GSC’s 14-county primary service region met and discussed the institution’s progress, highlights and priorities to continue on its academic success. GSC was also able to reinstate their Meeting with the Mayors that included attendance from mayors who serve in eight of GSC’s 14 counties.

“A major Thank You goes to the Governor and the legislature members for their funding support of a well-developed higher education budget which included salary adjustments for our full-time faculty and staff,” Nooks said. “We are your state college within the university system and we cannot be successful without your continued support.”

GSC has gained the chance to engage again within the community that increased the quality of life for students, faculty and staff, and residents through connections between the community and campus. Fall Community Brunch this past year hosted over 103 guests that enjoyed “some of the best food on this side of the Mississippi,” Nooks said. The upcoming Spring Community Brunch will be held in April with a matinee performance of “The Tempest.”

President Nooks spotlighted seven faculty and staff that serve on boards and made connections that aligned with GSC’s visions and aspirations. Two examples included Chairman Ryran Traylor of the Lamar County Board of Commissioners and Director of Nursing Dr. Samantha H. Bishop who serves on the Board of Health for Lamar County and Career Academy Board of Directors for Monroe County.

President Nooks said GSC is also committed nationally as he began a term on the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) Board of Directors where he plays a significant role in guiding its strategic direction. First Lady Alison Nooks also serves on the AASCU as volunteer coordinator for their Presidential Spouse and Partner Program.

In March, President Nooks said an announcement of an emerging partnership will be made as well as a slate of summer campus programming. But first, on Feb.4, President Nooks mentioned of its notable Foundation Board event, A Heart for Gordon Gala. This black-tie optional gala will include a cocktail reception followed by dinner, a live band, dancing and opportunities to bid on silent auction items. Outstanding citizens from the local counties will be honored and proceeds from the event will provide scholarship support for GSC students.

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 of Smith Hall and the generous donation of the Garret House from the Garret family that will clear the path for new gathering spots.

GSC continued to nurture the education ecosystem approach with K-12 partners. Eighty people from 12 school districts participated in this year’s Education Ecosystem Summit while the previous year had 60 people in attendance from 10 school districts. There was an increase in student population choosing higher education with 533 students who joined Highlander Nation in 2022 whereas there were 364 students in 2021. A MOU with Clayton County Schools established the Gordon at Night in Clayton County (GANCC) program. GANCC allowed a cohort of students to take courses together and the program served as a built-in support structure.

“For the past few years, we have been talking about the number of students going on to college. It’s imperative to every school board, chamber, employer, city and county leader because of the regional talent need,” Nooks said. “If students are not seeking credentials then our talent pipeline will not keep up with the jobs being created.”

Objective 3.5 identified how GSC expanded the educational ecosystem to include higher education partners with the goal in increasing the regional completion rate. President Nooks spoke on the partnership with Southern Crescent Technical College and the ADULTS Forward program. This collaboration included the possibility of an additional 2+2 partnership platform with residential capacity options for students desiring to stay on the GSC campus. Moreover, there was a conversation of the possibilities involving a future collaboration with the University of Georgia (UGA) Griffin campus.

President Nooks said the following objective was about the “outstanding Foundation Board and their continued aid in building philanthropic capacity” in assisting GSC achieve their goals. He

mentioned the Foundation Board brought their two-year investment to $300K that funded scholarships for dual enrollment, new freshman, as well as provided additional retention support through tutoring and aid of the institution’s athletic program. President Nooks also mentioned there was a 100% participation within the Foundation Board’s annual contributions. GSC, with the Foundation Board’s help, surpassed its goal of $25K in its second year with a total of $66,551.52.

Over the last five academic years, GSC has seen a continued increase in the participation of faculty and staff giving during the Annual Giving Campaign. This annual campaign year, GSC reached another record high of 83.3% where their faculty and staff gave back over $22K to the institution. President Nooks underlined that GSC increased their fundraising total by 9% and, in result, brought their three-year total to over $1.5 million.

Objective 3.7 reminded the audience that the Alumni Board built a collegiate affinity linked to the institution whether a student graduated from Gordon Military College, Gordon College or Gordon State College. President Nooks thanked GSC Alumni Advisory Board Chair and HS Class of 1970 Alumnus Cecil McDaniel for his support on the alumni endeavors including the Nursing Reunion, Gordon Grammar Reunion, and the Alumni Soccer Game. This past year marked the first time since 2019 that Alumni Weekend was able to be held in person where over one hundred attendees came together for a reunion celebration at the Barnesville campus.

Next, President Nooks recognized Mason Cree, ’22 biology major alumnus who completed his internship at The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) and received a full-time position as a forensic specialist.

The fourth annual State of the College address came to an end as President Nooks addressed the institution’s final objective from its strategic imperatives which confirmed the commitment in developing meaningful and productive relationships with employers throughout the 14-county primary service region.

Over one hundred Highlanders attended this past year’s Career and Grad Expo where they explored career, internship and graduate school opportunities. President Nooks mentioned that as Cree, these Highlanders could be the community’s interns and future full-time employees. President Nooks announced lastly that in the coming months there will be new partnerships with large employers to form a customized education program.

“Gordon State College is continued to move forward and serve a purpose,” Nooks said. “Our momentum is picking up, and we look forward to a bright future with you by our side.”


View the official video of President Nooks’ State of the College Address on January 31, 2023.