Georgia Southern University is the state’s largest university south of Atlanta. With 141 degree programs at the bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels, Georgia Southern has been designated a Carnegie Doctoral/Research university and serves more than 26,000 students.
An interview with Dr. Kyle Marrero, President of Georgia Southern University.
Tell me about your organization, your role in the organization and how long you’ve worked there.
Georgia Southern University is a public Carnegie Doctoral/R2 Institution founded in 1906. We offer 141 degree programs serving nearly 26,500 students through nine colleges on three campuses and online instruction. We are the leading higher education institution in southeast Georgia and we provide a diverse student population with expert faculty, world-class scholarships and hands-on learning opportunities. Georgia Southern creates lifelong learners who serve as responsible scholars, leaders and stewards in their communities. I started as Georgia Southern’s 14th president on April 1, 2019.
Georgia Southern has three locations and offers a wide array of online learning. Tell me a little bit more about your three campuses.
Situated on the Atlantic coast in beautiful Savannah, the Armstrong Campus of Georgia Southern University is located just minutes away from the National Historic Landmark District downtown and a short drive from the sunny beaches of Tybee Island. The 268-acre arboretum campus is home to more than 6,500 students and offers an abundance of resources to help students succeed.
Located just an hour from historic Savannah, our 900-plus acre Statesboro Campus is nestled in the classic Main Street town of Statesboro, Georgia. It boasts a lively and picturesque downtown, where visitors enjoy boutique shops, restaurants, a seasonal farmer’s market and diverse cultural activities. Statesboro and Bulloch County continue to grow along with the University and are now home to more than 72,000 residents. Located in Hinesville, the Liberty Campus houses a new, state-of-the-art facility offering a variety of opportunities for local students, especially those affiliated with the military, to take advantage of a nationally recognized university in their own backyard.
How many students are enrolled at Georgia Southern University?
Georgia Southern serves more than 26,000 students from all 50 states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico and 102 countries.
How is Georgia Southern University a global institute?
Georgia Southern is a global institute first because of its people. Our students, our faculty and our staff come from all over the world and bring exciting new perspectives to our curriculum and to our campus. Our international programs on both the Statesboro and Armstrong campuses host cultural and educational events that display the best food, dress and traditions from around the world and share those with our students.
Georgia Southern is also global because of its resources. The University recently opened its first international learning center in Ireland, which will host students and professors to continue their amazing work on the connection between Wexford, Ireland and Savannah, Georgia.
Finally, Georgia Southern is global because of its impact. Our world-class professors and our students are doing important research that is having a significant influence on their fields and gaining national and international attention. Savannah itself is also having a global influence on logistics and transportation, and our University hopes to be a big part of that growth in the future.
Georgia Southern recently announced big news in Ireland. Can you tell me a little more about the learning center there?
The new Irish learning center is a logical outgrowth of a long-time partnership between Wexford, Savannah and Georgia Southern’s Center for Irish Research and Teaching. A large percentage of Savannah’s population claims Irish ancestry, specifically tracing their roots to Wexford. The Allen company of Wexford town and the Graves and Howlett companies of New Ross (ports in County Wexford) operated direct services to Savannah in the mid-19th century. That connection brought many emigrants across the Atlantic on vessels like the Dunbrody. To this day, family names associated with Wexford abound in Savannah. Georgia Southern students and researchers have been studying those immigrants, their descendants and the larger historical connections between the two countries.
That history – and years of collaboration between Savannah and Wexford leaders and academicians – led to Georgia Southern University-Wexford, a global hub for learning housed in a historic building constructed in 1812. The space now features state-of-the-art classrooms and student apartments where students will visit to further their study and advance the exciting research.
Most of us know what type of services you offer, but what is unique about choosing to attend or work for Georgia Southern University?
I think the most unique thing about Georgia Southern is the opportunity students have to get real-world experience from day one. A lot of universities talk about hands-on experience, but that experience comes much later in their college career. Our students are working side by side with our professors in the lab, some as early as their freshman year, and our academic programs support and encourage research, exploration, co-ops, internships and more with financial resources as well as departmental resources that help them pursue a more experiential learning path. Experiential learning is our trademark and we make sure it’s built into our curriculum inside and outside the classroom.
How is Georgia Southern involved in the local community here in Savannah, Statesboro and in Hinesville?
At Georgia Southern, we want to be great educators, but also great neighbors. We are dedicated to community involvement. As president, I make it a point to be involved in the area Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis and Rotary, as well as offer leadership where I’m needed, such as the East Georgia Regional Medical Center, through our education collaborative with a variety of educational organizations in Bulloch and Chatham Counties.
As a University, we’re also making sure we’re involved with large-scale events like Empower Savannah, the healthcare initiative with area Armed Forces and St. Joseph’s/Candler; Treasure Savannah, a large-scale community volunteer event for Savannah and Hinesville; and the Blue Mile project in Statesboro, a multi-million dollar downtown improvement initiative which we have greatly supported. When Statesboro, Savannah and Hinesville succeed, we succeed, and we want to make sure we’re contributing to their business growth, cultural growth and enrichment.
What is your favorite part about working at Georgia Southern University?
My favorite part of Georgia Southern is the people. The mission statement for our strategic plan is “People. Purpose. Action: Growing ourselves to growth others,” and that’s a big part of who I am as a person and as a leader. I love our people. Our faculty, staff and students are incredible, and I have truly missed them during these months of quarantine.
I’m also excited to work with the University because I think we are poised for even more impact on southeast Georgia and beyond. We have the people, we have the vision and I look forward to great things on the horizon.
What makes Savannah/Statesboro/Southeast Georgia an ideal location for GSU?
The colleges that became the Georgia Southern University of today were founded in response to workforce needs. Armstrong Junior College in Savannah was a joint effort between Savannah Mayor Thomas Gamble and other community leaders who wanted students to have a place to train near home. Georgia Southern began as an agricultural and mechanical school that addressed the agrarian needs of the Statesboro area and later grew to a teacher’s college before becoming a university.
Today, Savannah and southeast Georgia comprise one of the most crucial areas of our state. Two of the largest ships to ever call on the East coast came to the Port of Savannah in the last year, and the number of container units that come through the Port of Savannah continues to grow. Southeast Georgia’s agricultural and industrial capabilities continue to grow as well, and the I-16 corridor remains an exciting place for businesses to locate. There is so much opportunity for growth in southeast Georgia and Georgia Southern wants to be a part of that growth and contribute to the next generation of leaders who will take it to the next level.
What impact does your organization have on the local/regional/national/international economy?
Georgia Southern University impacts the regional economy by more than $1 billion. More than 11,639 jobs can be directly tied to the University, not to mention the economic impact of our students who live, shop and spend their dollars in the communities near our campuses. As we develop more academic and university programs that align with regional needs, I expect that number only to increase.
How does Georgia Southern support international studies and programs?
On both our Statesboro and Armstrong campuses, Georgia Southern houses an International Student Admissions and Programs office. These offices assist international students in becoming a part of the campus community while also offering cultural events and education that help our American students experience international language, food and traditions. In addition, the University offers an International Studies degree through the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences which trains students in one of three emphasis areas including modernization, development and environment; war and peace studies; and society, cultures and tradition. Graduates from this program are expected to learn a second language and experience another culture by studying abroad.
How does Georgia Southern recruit international students?
Georgia Southern has a dedicated team who give specific focus to international students at the undergraduate and graduate level. We have international admissions counselors who travel internationally during the fall to visit select high schools and attend college fairs to recruit students. Through years of relationship building, we have developed many feeder high schools that send students to us each year. When you look at the top sending countries at the undergraduate level, you see the result of our international travel and recruitment – as these are the countries we have visited (Nigeria, Honduras, Bahamas, Burkina Faso, Trinidad and Tobago).
We work with these international prospects daily with communication plans developed for each target area. We assist students with everything from evaluating foreign transcripts to applying for housing to picking up students from the airport. This high level of service continues as the student matriculates with us – providing a number of programs designed to help students adjust and quickly become a part of the University – from a three-day orientation designed specifically for international students to helping student complete their tax forms.
What is your relationship like with World Trade Center Savannah?
The University has a very close relationship with World Trade Center Savannah (WTCSSav) and the Savannah Economic Development Authority, and I now serve on the Board of Directors of World Trade Center Savannah. WTCSav was instrumental in helping the University work with Wexford County, Ireland to establish our learning center there. Without their contacts, relationships and connections to businesses and industries overseas, Georgia Southern could not have accomplished such a partnership on their own.
In the same way, having an R2 research university in the region is a boon to the work that WTCSav does in recruiting businesses to the area and they often bring us to the table when courting a new industry. When Savannah and southeast Georgia succeeds, we succeed, and our relationship with WTCSav is invaluable.
Georgia Southern University has been a partner for 7 years. What has been the most valuable part of this business relationship?
The most valuable part of our business relationship is the symbiosis – each of us brings crucial value to the table for the growth and success of Savannah and southeast Georgia. When industries come to visit the area, we introduce them to University resources, programs, faculty members and facilities that can help them thrive here, and we show them the valuable graduate pipeline of skilled leaders that can keep their businesses on the leading edge.
In the same way, WTCSav has relationships and connections around the world that have helped us expand our reach and influence and we have become great friends with the people there. I look forward to what we will continue to accomplish in partnership with them.
1332 Southern Drive
Statesboro, GA USA 30458