After 10 months at Georgia Southern University as its interim president, Shelley Clark Nickel has handed over the office to Dr. Kyle Marrero, who officially starts Monday as the university’s new, regularly hired president.
So Sunday is Nickel’s official last day, but Thursday was her planned last day in Statesboro when she gave an interview Wednesday. Friday, both Nickel and Marrero were expected in Atlanta for a meeting of University System of Georgia presidents from around the state.
Chancellor Steve Wrigley had appointed Nickel to the interim role following the resignation of Dr. Jaimie Hebert as Georgia Southern president. Nickel’s core assignment was to solidify the consolidation that took effect Jan. 1, 2018, during Hebert’s two-year stay. That process absorbed Armstrong State University into the Georgia Southern brand, creating one university with three campuses, in Statesboro, Savannah and Hinesville.
“What I was charged with doing when the chancellor asked me to take this job was to really make sure that with the consolidation that we did what we said we were going to do and that we implemented the new academic plan for the university,” Nickel said Wednesday. “Both of those things have been accomplished and are also ongoing.”
In her longer-term role as the University System’s executive vice chancellor for strategy and fiscal affairs, Nickel helped lead the system-wide consolidation effort that has reduced the number of USG institutions from 35 to 26.
She was asked whether the consolidation initiative has reached an optimum number of universities and colleges or what the goal is.
“I don’t think there’s a number goal,” Nickel said. “I think there is a goal to organize the system in the best way possible to serve the students of Georgia, and whatever that number is, I don’t know. I think we’re at a good place where we are right now. I think we need to have some institutions grow into the next phase, but, you know, the Board of Regents makes those decisions about who gets consolidated.”
Now she will return to the University System headquarters to work on the board’s next strategic plan, she said. Her retirement is scheduled for May 31, capping 30 years employment with Georgia’s state government.
Nickel’s 10 months at Georgia Southern – her interim presidency officially started July 1 but she was on the campuses a month earlier – were eventful, especially in terms of new buildings.
Nickel took part in the opening ceremony for the Interdisciplinary Academic Building, a $33.6 million structure in the middle of the Statesboro campus, in September. She broke ground with then-Gov. Nathan Deal for the $50 million-plus Engineering and Research Building, also on the Statesboro campus, in December.
On the Armstrong campus in Savannah on Jan. 3, she helped cut the ribbon officially opening the new $22 million Health Professions Academic Building, which houses the headquarters of the university’s Waters College of Health Professions.
Nickel also mentioned two memos of understanding she signed on Georgia Southern’s behalf with other university system schools as accomplishments during her interim presidency.
Under a new agreement, Savannah State University will offer a homeland security and emergency management degree program at Georgia Southern University’s Liberty campus in Hinesville, where there are many current and former military personnel.
The other agreement was with East Georgia State College, formalizing its relationship with Georgia Southern that has existed since 1997, with some new provisions. EGSC will move its Statesboro administrative, faculty and academic support offices to the Nessmith-Lane building on the GS Statesboro campus, where Georgia Southern will provide public safety, information technology and other support services, the schools announced in a March 22 news release.
Nickel described these as examples of “lots of things that are making it more advantageous and attractive for students to want to come to the university.”
Around St. Patrick’s Day, Georgia Southern announced a partnership with County Wexford in Ireland to create a learning center there. Instead of with an Irish college, this arrangement is directly with the county and city, which have renovated an old courthouse and jail and are leasing these to Georgia Southern for use as classrooms and a residence hall, Nickel explained.
This will provide international experiences for Georgia Southern faculty and students, and also students from other universities who may want to participate, she said.
“That opportunity gives our students a leg up when they go look for a job,” Nickel said. “They can say, ‘I’ve studied abroad, I’ve experienced multicultural both academic and social experiences,’ and I think it gives them a greater appreciation for the world that they live in.”
After consolidation, Georgia Southern’s enrollment dipped last fall, particularly at the Armstrong campus, from the previous year’s combined number of Armstrong and Georgia Southern students.
But dual enrollment of high school students and recruiting across state lines are two areas that Nickel and other GS officials said holds promise for renewed growth.
Will enrollment rebound in fall 2019?
“We won’t know for a little while yet, because we’re still in that sort of courting of students phase, but our applications are up, and things are pointing in the right direction,” Nickel said. “We’re very excited about that. We’ve done a lot of hard work this year and opened up different pathways of recruiting and have been able to recruit out of state in some new places.”
Marrero in the loop
Since his appointment to be Georgia Southern’s next president was announced in January, Nickel has kept Marrero apprised of key decisions, and he took part in some GS meetings in person and others by internet conferencing, she said. Marrero comes to Georgia Southern from the University of West Georgia, where he was president for more than five years, through last week.
He arrives at a new university poised to move forward, Nickel said.
“Consolidation is complete. We are one institution,” she said. “I always think of what we’ve done as putting the pieces of the puzzle together in a way that makes sense for our students so that they can, you know, find a university that is welcoming, a place where they know that they can get the academic preparation that they need, have some fun along the way and graduate and be a productive citizen in the state of Georgia.”
Asked if she had anything else to add before departing, Nickel said, “I would want to say thank you for all of the support the community, the alumni and the institution have given me over the last 10 months. It’s a very special place.”