Dalton State at 50: Glancing Back, Forging Ahead

I recently heard a celebrity say in an interview that she never looks back. She said, “You can’t see where you are going if you are looking back.” I considered that philosophy carefully, perhaps too thoroughly. I know she meant she does not waste time with regrets. There is little to gain from that. But I believe there is value in looking back. As we approach our 50th anniversary this month, we have spent some time looking back at our origins as well as our path to becoming the institution we are today. As we follow the trajectory of our past, it is easier to sight the path toward the future.

I am in awe of the wisdom and foresight of those in our community who recognized the value of having a college in Dalton. Many people worked hard to bring this college to reality, spending time having conversations with state leaders, donating land, constructing the first buildings, hiring the first employees and teaching those first classes to our first students. I greatly admire the vision of those early pioneers. They created the foundation for the institution we are today with an emphasis on rigorous academics alongside affordability and serving the people of Northwest Georgia.

Some of those initial founders remain in our community today but many have left us. I doubt anyone could have imagined the institution we would become within the first 50 years, but I believe our forebearers would be proud of who we are today. We have certainly evolved over these five decades, from a junior college serving approximately 500 students to a four-year college with nearly 5,200 students; from a purely commuter student population to a campus with its first residential students in 2009, now living in a modern residence hall and participating in fraternities and sororities. Today we offer 23 baccalaureate degrees in subjects ranging from nursing and biology to psychology and logistics and supply chain management. We are an Emerging Hispanic Serving Institution, about to become designated as the first official Hispanic Serving Institution in the state of Georgia. We have championship-winning athletics programs with student athletes that compete both athletically and academically.

Many have heard me say too many times already that I want Dalton State College to become “a first-choice, destination college.” By that, I mean of course I want students to be proud to choose Dalton State as their first choice college, not their back-up plan or stepping stone institution. I want employers to look to Dalton State graduates for their workforce needs. I want our alumni to boast proudly that they are Dalton State graduates, and I want our students to actually graduate from Dalton State. With 23 four-year degrees, there are fewer reasons for students to transfer without graduating from Dalton State. We know our students who remain in Northwest Georgia through college are more likely to remain in the region for employment and to raise their families here. This is one of the key reasons this college was founded: to offer opportunities for local youth to become educated citizens who can contribute to the success of our community.

But how do we accomplish this dream of becoming a first choice, destination college? I believe we already have much of the foundation in place to become such a college. Building on the work of earlier leaders at the College, we are transforming into a school that is known in our region as a quality institution, one that offers relevant degree programs and produces graduates that are readily employable and prepared to become productive citizens of this region. Our students come to us because they know we offer a path to a good career and a good life. Our local business and industry leaders know our graduates are prepared to be good employees. Today, more of our students understand they do not have to transfer to another college or university to complete their undergraduate education.

In future years, I envision students coming from all over the country – some even from around the world – to attend Dalton State because of its strong reputation for producing quality graduates in an environment where faculty and staff still know the names of our students and where there are many opportunities for students to engage in activities that develop their leadership skills and experiences.

As we maintain our commitment to ensuring Dalton State remains relevant, we will continue to seek opportunities to raise the profile and image of this institution along with this community. Fifty years ago, this community founded this college. Together, we have weathered highs and lows but we remain a vibrant community with a thriving college. I only wish I could live to see how Greater Dalton and Dalton State College will evolve over the next 50 years.

Come help us celebrate both our past and our future on Monday, Sept. 25 from 6-8 p.m. under the shade of the Burran Bell Tower. You are invited!