By Dominique Halaby, DPA
Associate Provost for Innovation, Georgia Southern University
While our name says southern, our impact is much greater. Founded in 1906, Georgia Southern University has served as a key contributor to economic prosperity that extends beyond our immediate region. Now with nearly 26,000 students, Georgia Southern University is the largest institution of higher education in Georgia located south of the City of Atlanta. We have an alumni base that resides in all 159 counties in the state, every state in the nation, and nearly 100 countries, from Albania to Zimbabwe.
As a Carnegie Classified R2 institution, the ten colleges of Georgia Southern offer more than 140 programs to prepare students to make a significant impact on the lives of others. Some of our graduates are household names, like Chick-fil-A chairman, Dan Cathy ’75 and country singer/songwriter, Luke Bryan ’99. Yet, whether our students become future business leaders, musicians, educators, military leaders, politicians, or engineers, we take great pride in knowing that the skills they learned to be critical thinkers, risk takers, and compassionate individuals occurred in our classrooms and taught by some equally impressive faculty.
Apart from having a broad impact, we believe that the opportunities afforded by Georgia Southern must be accessible to all. In addition to attracting students from throughout the state, the institution’s student profile closely mirrors the state’s growing and diverse population, with more than 40 percent identifying as a racial group other than White (non-Hispanic). Additionally, 37 percent of the student body are the first in their family to attend college.
In 2018, in order to better serve the needs of students and to strategically align program offerings and services to the growing talent and economic needs of the region, the University System of Georgia (USG) elected to consolidate Georgia Southern University with Armstrong State University to create a singular institution with campus locations in Statesboro, Savannah and Hinesville operating under the Georgia Southern University banner.
Shortly thereafter, the Board of Regents and USG selected Dr. Kyle Marrero to serve as Georgia Southern’s next president. With the backdrop of consolidation, President Marrero saw the IEP Designation as an opportunity for the institution to better know what economic engagement activities were occurring across the three-campuses, to better measure what the broader impact of those activities are on the community, and to better align our institutional messaging to tell our economic engagement story.
The process began with more than 2,000 surveys being distributed to internal and external stakeholders to assess the strengths and challenge areas of the economic engagement activities of the institution. These surveys were augmented by individual and group discussions and ultimately led to the establishment of a Faculty Advisory Board (FAB) to help clarify the key areas in which the institution is having a significant economic impact on the region. This process led to the Office of Research establishing five research focal areas to promote public impact research. These are: Holistic Fitness and Wellness, Logistics and Supply Chain Innovation, Community Enrichment, Advanced Materials and Manufacturing, and Coastal Resilience and Sustainability. These impact areas are helping to answer the question of who we are as an institution and how we define what it means to be classified as an R2 institution.
While the surveys and FAB helped identify what was occurring on campus, they also helped drive strategic conversations as to how Georgia Southern measures performance regarding innovation and economic prosperity. Over a six-month period, the Office of Research held meetings with the Associate Deans of Research of each college to establish 22 cross-disciplinary metrics that would be used to track the institution’s progress in driving economic prosperity and innovation. These metrics extend beyond traditional measures of research and service and embody a broader guideline for the colleges and individual units to track how they engage with the region.
Once we established a sense of the economic activities occurring across our institution and formulated a plan for measuring and tracking our performance, we realigned our internal structures and became intentional in communicating our innovation and economic engagement efforts.
A dedicated marketing outreach specialist for the business development units was included in the university-wide communication team meetings to ensure that the university’s marketing and communication leadership remained aware of the marketing needs and activities of the business development units. Equally, external partner organizations were invited to internal economic development meetings to help align strategic priorities and foster collaboration. Also, business clients were invited to monthly luncheons with the Associate Provost for Innovation to enhance listening opportunities and provide a conduit for securing feedback from business clients to better align institutional services with their specific needs. These sessions have already resulted in stories of how businesses engage with the institution to promote economic prosperity in the region.
The intentional nature of the IEP Designation process has already significantly contributed to our understanding of on campus activities and how our institution engages with the broader community.
We’ve successfully gathered information on a paid student internship program that was highlighted in a technical publication as a model for developing technology workers in rural markets.
We expanded our military friendly brand to be more strategic and launched a tactical athlete initiative that aligns with our Holistic Fitness and Wellness focal area. Under this initiative, we successfully secured $5.7 million from the federal government to expand a solider performance program with the 3rd Infantry Division to a national program.
Making an intentional effort to capture our activities has not only helped enhance our ability to communicate institutional priorities and more effectively tell our story, but it has also helped to guide our continued contributions to the region. Our Growth and Improvement Plan has become the guiding star to outline who we will become as an institution over the next five-years and lays actionable steps we need to get there. For instance, our plan outlined the priorities and steps that resulted in the establishment of our institution’s first Tech Transfer officer, a move that is already resulting in a record number of IP disclosures in only the first year of the position. It also helped fuel support for the successful creation of only the second Patent Trademark and Research Center in the state of Georgia.
By going through the IEP Designation process, we are better equipped to know, measure and tell our economic engagement story. The process has also helped us to better understand who we are post-consolidation and take significant strides in being able to answer what R2 means to our institution. Perhaps the true strength of pursuing the IEP Designation has been its ability to move our campus forward by embodying our campus ethos for self-improvement- growing ourselves to grow others.