Achievement is Result of College and Community Efforts

Dalton State is hosting a celebration, and you are cordially invited. I hope everyone who is able will consider joining us Thursday, April 26 at 3:30 under the Burran Bell Tower when we celebrate our official designation as a Hispanic Serving Institution. It is Dalton State’s party, but we think the achievement is one the community shares.

This HSI designation can only be earned when at least 25 percent of a college’s students report they are of Hispanic origin. We have long had the largest Latino student population within the University System of Georgia, and we have hovered just under the 25 percent mark for several years. Last fall however we vaulted over the mark recording almost 27 percent Latino students!

What does this mean for Dalton State? Our HSI status makes us eligible to apply for federal grants that will help make Dalton State a more effective and dynamic learning environment for all our students, not just Latinos.

Our student population reflects the composition of our community. For the most part, these are children who grew up in our very strong school systems; they have been encouraged their whole lives to go to college even though many of their parents did not.

Our region has historically had a very poor record of educational attainment which hurts us economically, but I believe that is changing.

We are justifiably proud of our HSI status and also very mindful of the fact that we did not get here alone. Many folks on our campus have worked hard to earn the HSI designation – most notably Vice President Dr. Jodi Johnson and Quincy Jenkins, our director of Hispanic/Latino Outreach– but we have also been the beneficiary of visionary community leadership. Seeds sown a generation ago are bearing fruit for us now, and we are grateful.

I have only lived in Dalton a few years and I never knew Erwin Mitchell (who died in 2011), but I know that I owe him a significant debt of gratitude. The work he and others did on what became known as The Georgia Project created a culture in Dalton that nurtured and encouraged non-English speaking immigrant students and their families. The project, launched in 1997 and extending over the next decade, brought in teachers from Monterrey, Mexico to teach non-English speaking students in local public schools while also training local teachers how to teach them.

Mitchell, a local lawyer, former judge and congressman, called the teacher exchange program “the love of my life” in an oral history recorded by the Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies in 2008. He, along with other community leaders including Bob Shaw, created The Georgia Project (so named by The University of Monterrey) which became a national model for other communities struggling to assimilate immigrant students into their schools.

The innovative Georgia Project was funded through a public/private partnership, and it profoundly changed the culture in local public schools. The goodwill demonstrated to the community newcomers and their families had far-reaching impacts that are still felt today, more than 10 years after the project formally ended.

In the oral history recorded three years before he died, Erwin Mitchell said, “Never in my 84 years had one thing that I saw produced results more quickly as the Georgia Project.” What a proud legacy.

But isn’t that the Dalton way? Like so many other projects before and since, the Georgia Project worked because of passionate leadership and caring people who were willing to work hard to make a difference for our community. It is largely because of the efforts of leaders like Erwin Mitchell and so many others like him that Dalton State is where it is today. I hope you will help us celebrate on April 26.