Why Clayton State-Fayette is a dream come true

At our grand opening on Dec. 6, Fayette County Commissioner Jack Smith referred to the launching of the Clayton State University-Fayette as a “dream come true.”

Although he was speaking about the county as a whole, it certainly has been true for me personally as well. Instead of writing about general academic issues, I would like to step aside this month and share some of my personal background and why the development of CSU-Fayette means so much to me.

In the early 1990s, I was teaching at a small liberal arts college in the middle of the cornfields of Indiana. My wife, Audrey, and I had three children under the age of 5, so life was never dull, even living in our one-stop-sign town.

We had both lived on farms while growing up, so we could appreciate the eccentricities of life in a small town. We were not fazed by the lack of restaurants, movie theaters, groceries, and medical services close to home.

But there was one thing that my wife did not have that did make everyday life more of a challenge in rural Indiana: a driver’s license.

Shortly after our marriage in 1985, Audrey was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease. By 1994, it had progressed to the point that she was no longer able to drive a car. Before she lost her license, I used to lovingly joke that someday I would buy her a golf cart with a slow-moving vehicle sign on the back that she could drive on the roads in our small town.

Of course, this suggestion could not be taken seriously, given the cold winters on the plains of Indiana and the fact that there really was no place to go within the range of a golf cart’s batteries.

The more practical option seemed to be moving to a city where Audrey would have access to public transportation. Thus, I came to apply at Clayton State College, as it was then called, because of its proximity to Atlanta.

Shortly after submitting my application, I was invited to an interview on campus. While there, I inquired about the availability of public transportation. I even made an off-handed comment about the inside joke between my wife and me about buying her a pink golf cart.

This prompted someone to ask if I had ever heard of Peachtree City. I had not, but the more they described the town the more excited I became.

That evening, after my interview, I made my first visit to Peachtree City. I can still remember my amazement as I saw golf carts breezing along on the paths and on the bridges over the road.

I even stopped someone on a golf cart in the Kroger parking lot and asked if this place was for real. They assured me that it was possible to drive golf carts all around town.

I immediately called my wife and fought through the lump in my throat to say, “Honey, do you remember how I promised you a pink golf cart? Well, start packing because we are moving to Peachtree City.”

That was nearly 15 years ago. Since then, Fayette County has become our home. For many, the golf carts are an enjoyable alternative to an automobile. For my wife, the carts restored her independence. She drove our children to school, went shopping, and ran all the errands most of us take for granted.

I knew that Peachtree City was an answer to our prayers; however, I did not realize at the time that Clayton State was such a good fit for me personally and professionally.

Clayton State is committed to quality teaching, which is a priority for me as well. I have enjoyed working with some of the most gifted teachers I know. And, as the university has grown, I also have had opportunities to start new programs and branch out into exciting new fields.

It has now been 10 months since I was given the opportunity to embark on the most exciting venture of my career: helping to open a new site for the university in Fayette County.

This past year, the time was right to build on the foundation that had been laid by many people working together to provide higher education opportunities to the residents of Fayette County. The evidence of the demand for a local university presence can be seen in all that has been accomplished in such a short time.

Just a few months after seeking a new facility, we opened a classroom and administration site in the Westpark office park. This location offers faculty and students the same classroom amenities found on our main campus.

The University System of Georgia has approved three undergraduate degrees to be offered on site: Psychology, Administrative Management, and Integrative Studies. We also received approval to offer our MBA program in Fayette County and started our first cohort in January. Soon we expect to receive approval for an RN to BSN degree program to help meet the healthcare needs of the community.

This spring semester, we have a record enrollment of over 250 students in Fayette County courses. This represents a growth of over 50 percent since the fall semester. We also expect a record summer enrollment as we increase our number of course offerings from past years.

Not only will this provide more options for local students, it will also fill the needs of students from other colleges who are coming home to Fayette County for the summer. The latter students can register as transient students and enroll in courses that will transfer seamlessly to their home institutions.

There also is a growing excitement for our joint-enrollment opportunities that are expanding each semester. Soon, it will be common for graduates from Fayette County schools to have already completed much of their college core curriculum while fulfilling their high school requirements.

Helping to bring my university and my hometown together has been an exciting journey. Every time a new student or instructor comes by, I enjoy giving them a tour of our facility and learning what having a university in town means to them.

Many people, me included, are excited about the development of Clayton State University-Fayette. It is an open door to new opportunities and a place to further personal dreams and educational goals.

Learn more about Clayton State University—Fayette at an Open House on Wednesday, Feb. 6 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the new Clayton State–Fayette facility, 1200 Commerce Dr., in Peachtree City, Ga.

[Dr. Kevin Demmitt is the assistant vice president for academic outreach for Clayton State University-Fayette]

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