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The state of our university is strong
Bartels welcomes Georgia Southern faculty and staff
081215 GSU CONVOCATION 02lighter
Georgia Southern University Interim President Jean Bartels gives the annual State of the University address to faculty and staff during Wednesday's Convocation. Bartels is the university's first female president. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

Noting that she is the first woman and the first nurse to serve as president of Georgia Southern University, Dr. Jean Bartels welcomed GSU employees to a new academic year Wednesday morning. Classes begin Monday for most of the expected 20,500 students.

 “While this is a momentous time for Georgia Southern and for me personally, I’m acutely aware that our great university is not, and never has been, defined by its president,” Bartels told faculty and staff members attending fall convocation.

Previously provost and vice president for academic affairs, she became interim president July 20, picking up where previous GSU President Dr. Brooks Keel left off for his new post as president of Georgia Regents University in Augusta. Before being named provost in 2012, Bartels was dean of the GSU College of Health and Human Sciences, and before that served as the chairperson and a professor in the School of Nursing.

The search for a new permanent president will probably begin this fall, she said. That tidbit, and descriptions of buildings soon to be completed or planned for construction, was about the extent of her forecasts for the future.

Bartels devoted most of her State of the University speech, lasting just over 20 minutes, to spotlighting outstanding achievements by GSU faculty, staff and students during the previous year.

“We have become what we are as an academic institution and will grow to what we can be in our next level of accomplishments solely because of the remarkable legacy left behind by all who have come before and because of all who are here right now continuing to contribute to our history and progress,” she said.

Faculty achievements

Among the recent faculty accomplishments Bartels mentioned were:

Dr. Diana Sturges, associate professor of human anatomy and physiology, received the University System of Georgia’s highest honor, the Regents’ Excellence in Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Award.

Dr. Jonathan Bryant, associate professor of history, is bringing national attention to a landmark court case with his recently released book, “Dark Places of the Earth: The Voyage of the Slave Ship Antelope.”

Collectively, the School of Nursing received $2.2 million in grants to establish a Center for Nursing Scholarship and Research, a graduate-level chronic illness certificate and scholarships for students seeking nurse practitioner graduate degrees. The school also won a $1.6 million grant to establish a mental health nurse practitioner degree.

The College of Engineering and Information Technology “made history once again” when the state Board of Regents approved it as the home of the first undergraduate manufacturing engineering degree program in the Southeast, Bartels said.

She mentioned other accomplishments, and said these were all “just a small sample.”


Student milestones

Bartels also hailed several student achievements and service projects.

In March, a team from Georgia Southern won first place in the advocacy category at the International Law School Mediation Tournament.

“The event marked the first time that a team from our university was invited to the international event, but even more impressive, it was the first time in the tournament’s history that an undergraduate team made it to the finals,” Bartels said.

Meanwhile, GSU engineering graduate student Brian Burns “earned his dream job” at Disney Imagineering by designing and training a lifelike animatronic dragon with motion-tracking sensors and software that allows it to interact with people. The dragon, Kronos, started out as Burns’ undergraduate project.

Eric Spencer, a junior trombone performance major, spent the summer performing with top college musicians from around the country after he won the jazz trombone soloist chair with the 2015 Disneyland All-American College Band.

Again, Bartels gave other examples.

She also noted some of the previous year’s athletic achievements, including the fact that the Eagles won the Sun Belt Conference football championship with an 8-0 record in their first season in the league. Football Coach Willie Fritz was then voted Sun Belt Coach of the Year.

Also last season, Men’s Basketball Head Coach Mark Byington was named Whack Hyder Georgia College Coach of the Year.

New buildings

“Building History: Our Legacy of Progress, Pride and Promise” was the convocation’s theme.

Bartels briefly noted some actual building projects.

The Shooting Sports Education Center will open this fall, she said. The 30,000-square-foot center, off Veterans Memorial Parkway, will accommodate firearms and archery training and competitions.

The new, $8.3 million Student Health Services Center, across Plant Drive from the Performing Arts Center where Bartels was speaking, should open in January, she said.

Meanwhile, the university is slated to break ground for its new Military Science Building in November.

On a visit to Georgia Southern in May, Gov. Nathan Deal announced multi-year funding for construction of a $33.6 million Multidisciplinary Classroom Building. It will eventually replace the more than 20-year-old, “temporary” Forest Drive Building and some other provisional buildings.

Bartels also noted that last spring the university successfully completed a self-study to maintain its accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges.

“The state of Georgia Southern is strong today, and it’s strong today because we deliver what we promise and we continue to promise,” Bartels said. “And most importantly, the state of our University is strong because we are all Georgia Southern University. We are all sustaining builders of this wonderful institution’s legacy.”


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