If you didn’t know that STEM in educational jargon is an acronym for “science, technology, engineering and math,” Georgia Southern University’s fall graduation services, especially the one at midday, were a good time to learn.
The university awarded degrees to 1,707 students Friday in ceremonies at 9 and 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. in Hanner Fieldhouse. Col. Thomas J. Tickner, the commander for the Savannah District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, gave the 11 a.m. commencement address for the Colleges of Science and Mathematics, Engineering and Information Technology, and Health and Human Sciences.
Speaking to these graduates, Tickner seemed to add medicine as a second “M,” as is sometimes done literally.
“When I talk about STEM I’m talking science, technology, engineering, math and medical. It goes on,” he said. “It’s those hard sciences that are what the nation needs right now, and today I want to honor your STEM degree.”
Having deployed as the operations officer and executive officer with the 52nd Engineer Battalion, Combat Heavy, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Tickner is a decorated veteran. His military honors include the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star Medal and the Meritorious Service Medal.
He thanked Georgia Southern for opening its doors to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and said it has the largest ROTC program in Georgia. Tickner became an officer through the ROTC, but at Pennsylvania State University.
Introducing him, Dr. Mohammad S. Davoud, the dean of the Allen E. Paulson College of Engineering and Information Technology, had observed that the Corps of Engineers’ Savannah District will have responsibility over the deepening of Savannah’s harbor.
“There are few places with more potential opportunities for disciplines in the sciences than right here,” Tickner said, referring to the Southeast as predicted to have “one of the most rapidly growing economies in the United States” over the next decade.
“Studies done by the Corps of Engineers suggest that all the major ports in the Southeast — such as Charleston, Savannah, Jacksonville — all need to be improved, not because of just the large ships that are going to be coming globally, but because of the manufacturing and all of the technology that’s going to happen right here in the Southeast,” he said.
Another place creating engineering and science-based jobs is the Southern Company’s Plant Vogtle, near Waynesboro, where two new nuclear reactors are being built.
Matthew Hodell, 22, from Milledgeville, graduated Friday with a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering. He has an interview scheduled for a field engineering job at Plant Vogtle, and is confident of getting hired. A couple of his friends already have jobs there, and Hodell sees the timing as opportune for engineering graduates in southeast Georgia.
“If you want a job once you have got a civil engineering degree at Georgia Southern, you will get a job, there’s no doubt,” Hodell said. “I do not know one person who has tried who hasn’t gotten a job.”
He was one of a number of students from the university’s Department of Civil Engineering and Construction Management who wore blue GSU hardhats instead of mortarboards throughout the ceremony. Some of the hardhats had tassels attached.
Another hardhat-equipped civil engineering grad was Danielle Spencer, 22, from Atlanta, a former starting forward for the women’s basketball team.
“I’ve just always had an interest in, like, how things work,” she said, explaining that civil engineering seemed a natural fit for her.
Men still noticeably outnumbered the women among Friday’s engineering graduates. But Spencer said she has never felt any discouragement and sees many more women now entering the profession. She, too, is confident of being employed soon in Georgia or elsewhere in the Southeast.
“I’ve had a couple of interviews, so I’m just waiting to hear back from them,” she said.
Even with the 11 a.m. selection of colleges, not all graduates’ career choices were as obviously STEM-centered as these.
For example, Molly Devine, also 22, from Athens, received a Bachelor of Science degree, but in fashion merchandising and apparel design. That program is offered in the College of Health and Human Sciences.
She just landed a job starting in January — really it’s a paid internship leading to a job — doing social media and marketing with a small company in Cumming. The company sells apparel, so this is a job in her field.
“I got lucky. … I’m very blessed,” Devine said, explaining that finding a job in fashion merchandising was not so easy.
“I applied for many jobs before I got this one,” she said.
At the 9 a.m. service for the Colleges of Education, Business Administration, and Public Health, the commencement speaker was Rob Anderson, the University System of Georgia’s vice chancellor for educational access and success. He oversees the Complete College Georgia initiative, as well as state initiatives in educator preparation — and STEM.
The speaker for the 1 p.m. ceremony was Cobb Judicial Circuit District Attorney Vic Reynolds, a Georgia Southern alumnus. That was the graduation for the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences and the Center for International Studies. The Bachelor of Science in Justice Studies was one of the degrees being awarded.
Georgia Southern awarded 1,354 undergraduate degrees, 298 master’s degrees, 33 specialist degrees and 22 doctorates Friday, according to the university’s Office of Marketing and Communications.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.