While it’s been wonderful to watch how the new Augusta University branding has captured the imagination of the greater Augusta community, even more exciting has been the way our own Augusta University family has responded to it. With a solid look that matches our status as Georgia’s innovation center for education and health care, we are now uniquely positioned to attract the best and brightest students from across Georgia, the nation and the world.
And because it’s important that we meet the expectations of these gifted students not just academically but also in terms of student life opportunities, we are focusing hard on our student engagement programs.
The overarching strategy – and our long-term goal – is to provide the services and amenities that really ensure that students are well-served while they are here and that they leave with fond memories and strong ties to the institution.
Are we where we want to be? Honestly, no. We are well-developed in many aspects, but because of the unique attributes of our legacy institutions and our relative youth as a fully formed comprehensive research university, we are very immature in other ways. Because of the different missions of the two schools that formed us – one serving a special purpose as a health sciences university and one with more of a commuter-college approach – what many universities already have embedded in their fabric just doesn’t exist here to the same degree.
So we understand we have some ground to make up, and although it won’t be made up as quickly as we would like, we are nevertheless committed to making Augusta University a place where students have engagement opportunities that are the equal of any of our peer institutions.
A real game changer, obviously, is the new student housing going up on the Health Sciences Campus. Scheduled to open in August, it is the first big step toward getting residential students on campus, and having undergraduate students living on the Health Sciences Campus is a real move forward in terms of uniting the two campuses.
Along with that, there are the expectations surrounding things like the dining experience. Not only are we building out the services at the Wellness Center, which is adjacent to the new housing, we’ll also be phasing in more expanded dining options for the JSAC facility so that all undergraduates on a meal plan will have the opportunity to have meals on the campus where they’ll be spending most of their academic time.
One of the real bonuses that has come from consolidation is the growth of the intramural sports program. It has just exploded since we brought the two schools together, and because it was one of the first places where the health sciences-focused student body and students from the more traditional undergraduate campus really intersected, it’s played an important role in marrying the student bodies.
And aside from all the positives that grow out of bringing students together, studies show that students who participate in intramural activities do better academically as well. On our own campus, undergraduate students who use the Wellness Center were found to have a GPA 0.12 points higher than those who didn’t.
Our intramural programs are so popular, in fact, that we are currently operating at capacity in terms of the hours we have access to the courts and fields. And because we don’t actually have a lot of land dedicated to this, we know it’s going to take some creative thinking to catch up. However, despite the challenges, it remains a priority because aside from helping students succeed academically, we know it’s an important factor in recruiting and retaining students, not to mention solidifying the relationship students have with their school, which helps build a more active and engaged alumni population.
And while paying attention to student engagement needs is always important, we also recognize this is a unique time in the history of our university, one in which we are forming the opportunities and traditions of tomorrow. Realizing, of course, that a traditional freshman’s experience is going to be different than a returning student’s, we do really want to engage these first cohorts by giving them traditions and experiences that they can look back on and say, “Wow – people are still doing that.” And that’s not so much the playing fields or the Wellness Center or the food court, but the kind of things we embed in the student experience. And while students always have the opportunity to contribute to those traditions, those who are here now have the unique and I think enviable opportunity to help actually establish some of these traditions.
I know I feel lucky to be here right now.