Dalton State Aspires to be “Thick” Institution

David Brooks, an Op-Ed Columnist for the New York Times, recently described (in “How to Leave a Mark on People,” April 18, 2017) what he called “thick” and “thin” organizations. He asserted, “Some organizations are thick, and some are thin. Some leave a mark on you, and some you pass through with scarcely a memory.” He describes the difference between thick and thin organizations or institutions in this way: “A thick institution is not one that people use instrumentally, to get a degree or to earn a salary. A thick institution becomes part of a person’s identity and engages the whole person: head, hands, heart and soul.”

He went on to explain by saying that in thin organizations, “people are members for mutual benefit” and “there’s an ever-present utilitarian calculus – Is this working for me? Am I getting more out than I’m putting in? — that creates a distance between people and the organization.” Conversely, in thick institutions “people are members so they can collectively serve the same higher good.” In thick organizations, “there’s an intimacy and identity borne out of common love.”

Furthermore, Brooks asserts, these thick institutions “…have the courage to be distinct. You can love or hate such places. But when you meet a graduate you know it, and when they meet each other, even decades hence, they know they have something important in common.”

The column resonated with me as I think about Dalton State. How do we make the College a “thick” organization for our students? I think there are many ways in which we are doing that as we continue to evolve from a place where students merely come to take classes to a unique nurturing community that provides a rich, full collegiate experience. I want our students’ time here to be dense with connections to others, a place where they feel supported and encouraged as they progress through their academic programs. I want Dalton State to be a place they remember with affection and pride after they graduate, and I want them to share this bond with their fellow Roadrunners. I want the Dalton State College experience to make a difference in the lives of our students.

Our spring graduation speaker is always a graduate, selected through a competitive process. Each year, I am struck by the wisdom of the words of our student speakers. They can speak to the Dalton State experience better than anyone because they have lived it. This year’s speaker, Sean Self, was no different. He spoke about how he found himself and his passion at Dalton State with the help of one of our most extraordinary faculty who noticed him and took the time to suggest that Sean was good at something and should explore it further.

This story could have been told by any number of our students about any of our faculty. Sean graduated with a baccalaureate degree last weekend not because he was molded into a replica of our other graduates but rather because he was carefully nurtured by our faculty and staff and allowed to blossom into his best self. Dalton State made an impression on Sean.

Sean dares to be distinctive because Dalton State expects that of our students. Despite studying the same core curriculum, each student has a unique experience that respects their individual needs and aspirations. No two graduates are alike, and yet they are united in their common experience as Roadrunners. Our students engage with and are impacted by our faculty, our curriculum, our residence life, our student life, our athletics, and our student government association, to name a few areas. I can cite many examples of the unique student stories, and yet they all share the common bond of the Dalton State experience which allows students who juggle multiple jobs and families as well as physical and emotional challenges to thrive and to support each other despite their disparate backgrounds, beliefs and experiences.

There is something special happening at Dalton State. It is unmistakable when I look in the faces of each graduate as they walk across the stage. I see a combination of confidence, exhilaration, pride, relief, and belief in the future. Many of them are still seeking that first job as a college graduate or seeking entry to a graduate program when they receive their diplomas but they share an air of resilience they did not have when they first arrived on campus. I have heard people talk about “the Dalton difference” and I know what they mean. I have seen “the Dalton State difference” in thousands of our students. Day by day I believe we are becoming a thicker organization.