Five days a week, Statesboro Mayor Jonathan McCollar commutes an hour each way from the hometown of Georgia Southern University’s largest campus to his job as assistant director of the smallest of the three main campuses, the Liberty Campus in Hinesville.
Some of the students attending classes there Thursday were wearing new Georgia Southern T-shirts with the three campuses named on the back: Statesboro, Armstrong, Liberty. Before Armstrong State University in Savannah was consolidated into Georgia Southern, the facility in downtown Hinesville, seat of Liberty County, was the Armstrong Liberty Center.
McCollar’s role there predates both his November 2017 election as Statesboro’s mayor and the Jan. 1, 2018, university consolidation. He went to work for Armstrong State, as assistant campus director in Hinesville, in March 2017.
“I came to Armstrong,” McCollar said. “I was part of Armstrong first, and the consolidation came after I was part of the Liberty Campus.”
True, but in another sense he came to Georgia Southern first, as a student, attaining his bachelor’s degree in history and his Master of Public Administration at the campus in Statesboro. His previous employers include East Georgia State College in Swainsboro, the American Cancer Society and Goodwill Industries, where he was a youth and community services director.
“This campus kind of caters to what I’m really about, and that’s offering a lot of opportunities,” McCollar said.
Providing student support services, such as bringing Career Services, Office of Multicultural Affairs and Academic Success Center programs and activities to the Liberty Campus, is a focus of his job. He also does some student advisement, helping the two full-time advisors reach all the students.
Over 500 students
At their peak enrollment in 2016, Georgia Southern in Statesboro had more than 20,500 students and Armstrong State had more than 7,000, of which a few hundred were at the Liberty Campus. Officials say they won’t know the fall 2018 enrollments until October, but last fall the Liberty Campus had a few more than 500 students.
Physically, the campus consists of one attractive, red brick-sided, two-story building with a parking lot and landscaped grounds. The current building, built for Armstrong, opened in 2016.
But Armstrong’s presence at Hinesville dates back to 1998, when the university in consortium with Georgia Southern, Savannah State University, East Georgia State College and the College of Coastal Georgia opened the Liberty Center on post at Fort Stewart, said Liberty Campus Director Dorothy Kempson. Before consolidation, only Armstrong was still offering classes at its Liberty Campus.
Kempson attained her two master’s degrees, her bachelor’s degree and first an associate degree all at Armstrong and has been working at its Liberty County location for 17 years. She started as a student employee and worked her way up, serving as assistant director before being promoted to director about two years ago.
“As far as our environment within our campus here it’s pretty much the same, but just being now-consolidated Georgia Southern University has brought us additional opportunities and resources for our students to have more programs,” Kempson said.
Most students attend classes at the Liberty Campus for about two years, Kempson and McCollar said. Many will then transition to either the Statesboro or the Armstrong campus to complete four-year degrees.
Or, as often happens with the substantial number of Liberty students who are soldiers, they will drop in for one or two classes and continue their educations elsewhere when they are transferred to another base or leave the service, said Kempson, herself once a Military Police officer.
In fact, a majority of the students are traditional students right out of high school, many from Liberty and Long counties. But about one-third are “military connected,” active duty or veterans, McCollar said. The campus is assigned its own military specialist to work with these students, but the position is recently vacant and the university is in the process of finding a replacement.
“This is what you’d consider an access campus as well, meaning that if you don’t meet the requirements to get into the Statesboro campus or to the Savannah campus, you can get your start here,” McCollar said. “That’s one thing that I love about this campus, whether you’re a traditional student, nontraditional, military-associated, you can really get a great footing here and build a strong foundation that can really change your life.”
Georgia Southern’s Office of Admissions website states that the office “can admit new freshmen to the Liberty Campus as long as they have earned a high school diploma.” But those admitted with less than the 2.5 high school grade-point average and the admissions test scores required for the Statesboro and Armstrong campuses must complete at least 30 credit hours at Liberty with a cumulative GPA of over 2.0 before transitioning to one of the other campuses.
Associate degrees are available for programs completed in two years.
The Liberty Campus is a commuter campus. It has no residence halls or dining facilities. It does not have a physical library of its own but is across the street from Hinesville’s branch of the Live Oaks Public Libraries, a new building completed two years ago. Instructors make arrangements for classes to use this library, Kempson said, and Liberty Campus students have computer access to the Georgia Southern libraries’ digital resources.
Besides a student commons area with computers and snack machines, nearby tutoring rooms and some upstairs “breakout” rooms where students can study or do research, the building contains eight regular classrooms and two biology labs. One of the labs is also used for anatomy-and-physiology classes. One is also slated to also be outfitted for chemistry over winter break, McCollar said.
Health professions programs such as nursing and radiology, he said, are the most popular among Liberty Campus students. But teacher education is also a popular track, and students go on to major in a variety of subjects, Kempson said.
Despite working in another city an hour away, McCollar shows up for twice-monthly regular City Council meetings and some special meetings and attends evening and weekend events in Statesboro.
As he said publicly then and now, he was transparent with his university supervisors about the potential demands of serving as mayor before he won the election.
“So we were able to put in a flex-time schedule that allows me to be in the office on Tuesday afternoons or either Tuesday mornings depending on when the council meetings are, and then on Friday evenings as well,” he explained Thursday.
McCollar arrives at City Hall for office hours about 3 p.m. Fridays and stays past 5 p.m.
For his other job, he arrives most days at the Liberty Campus at 7:30 a.m. and stays till 6 p.m. If he has a Tuesday morning meeting in Statesboro, he drives to Hinesville afterward and stays until 7 p.m., which has allowed him to interact with students in evening classes he didn’t see before, he said.
McCollar also makes frequent use of a hands-free cellphone with talk-to-text during his two hours on the road each day.
“Thank God we live in the age where technology is to the point where we can do everything from our cellphones,” he said. “So I’m always in constant contact with the citizenry as well as our city employees.”
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.