Often overshadowed by its university neighbor, Ogeechee Technical College's star is clearly on the rise as enrollment is expected to eclipse 2,000 students this fall under the guidance of its president, Dr. Dawn Cartee.
Cartee assumed the role as the institution's leader last January pushing for a student focused atmosphere and an even closer working relationship with the local business community.
"Everything we do in technical education is work force development which is training people in the community to go to work," Cartee said. "The programs that we offer revolve around that. Every program that we have developed here is based on needs assessment - what the community wants."
Cartee pointed out that each program the college offers has an advisory board comprised of local residents who are professionals in the program's field. According to Barry Turner, executive director of public relations for Ogeechee Tech (OTC), there are 379 different people serving on advisory boards at this time.
"Advisory boards are critical to a program's success," Cartee said. "We depend on the members of each advisory board to let us know if the curriculum is appropriate as demands in the field change. Their input drives the training and education that students receive."
East Georgia Regional Medical Center's director of medical education Donna Whitt serves on the advisory board of OTC's licensed practical nursing program. Whitt has been a board member for the last five years.
"I think it is very important that Ogeechee Tech has advisory boards for its programs," Whitt said. "Our board is there to insure that the program adjusts to current practice standards, and that it remains on the leading edge."
"We know that a certain level of work ethic is being instilled in OTC's students, and we know that we are hiring well trained, well qualified people," she said. "In addition, many people that serve on these advisory committees open up their facilities to serve as clinical sites for training students. It truly is a working relationship between OTC and the business community."
Jan Martin, an instructor in the imaging sciences department at the college, said OTC's new degree in Picture Archiving and Communication System (PACS) technology is cutting edge, and is the result of a cooperative effort between the medical community and the college.
"Members of our advisory board, in conjunction with Dr. John Martin who was our director of medical and clinical education at the time, worked together to help develop the program and to secure donation of the equipment we would need to train our students."
"To my knowledge we are the only technical school in the nation to offer a diploma in Picture Archiving and Communication System (PACS) technology," Martin said. "The program came about at the request of the medical radiology community who needed people trained in this field."
Cartee said many people may not realize the type of scrutiny a Georgia technical college receives not only from the state, but from employers as well.
"We have to be accountable for everything, we have to track where our students go to work, when they go to work, how much they are being paid, and then they are warrantied," Cartee said. "If they go to work and an employer says that they are not properly trained, the student can come back for free and get additional training. Simply put, we have to run this college like a business. "
Cartee said each program the school offers is in a perpetual review process.
"If we aren't bringing in any students, we are not continuing that program," she said. "We will stop that one and start another one. We only receive 60 percent of our funding from the state, so we have to generate the rest of our revenue from the internal planning of programs which reflect the needs of the community. It is very exciting, because we can move quickly, and we are accountable."
Mark Anderson is a partner in Joiner-Anderson Funeral Home & Crematory in Statesboro. Anderson said it makes good sense to work with Ogechee Tech.
"I think it is in our best interest as members of the business community to serve on OTC's advisory boards," he said. "The students at Ogeechee Tech are our future employees, and having a say in their curriculum is only beneficial to us as employers. It is a wonderful working relationship, and we are very glad Ogeechee Tech is here."
Cindi Mills, an accounting instructor at OTC, remembers when most of OTC's students enrolled because they had been "laid off" of their jobs when local manufacturing facilities began closing.
"In the early nineties we had a tremendous number of students who had worked in some of the local plants," Mills said. "The reality is that technical colleges aren't just for those that want to be welders and cosmetologists anymore. There are an astronomical number of jobs in the medical field available for technical college graduates. It is booming."
That boom is reflected in OTC's estimated fall enrollment.
"I anticipate that this will be the largest fall enrollment that Ogeechee Tech has had in a number of years, if ever," Cartee said. "If we focus on the needs of the communities around us, OTC will continue to thrive."
"Every day from the time I wake up in the morning until the time I go to bed at night, all I think about is what we can do as a college to make the businesses in our community successful, the industries successful, and the service providers successful," Cartee said. "We are so focused on improving the quality of life in our service delivery area, and the quality of life of the students that we educate."
"I think we are the best kept secret in Georgia," she said. "Our job here is to make sure the secret gets out."