A Better Place for Students: Schwenn Leaves a Lasting Legacy at Dalton State
December 11, 2014
It didn’t seem to matter that the country was facing a recession.
Dalton State forged ahead.
In the last nearly seven years, under the leadership of Dr. John Schwenn, the College saw the addition of numerous bachelor’s programs, the revitalization of a dormant athletics program, a new science facility, and the addition of on-campus housing. Schwenn retires as president of the College at the end of the year.
“He came in and said ‘What can we do to make Dalton State better – a better place for the students?’” said Katherine Fromm, president of the College’s Student Government Association. “He is student centered.”
Schwenn’s time hasn’t been just about making the campus into a more traditional four-year college; it has been about supporting students, she said.
“He goes to sporting events, to plays, and one of the simplest things he’s done to show he cares is serve us food during finals,” Fromm said. “If you need him, you can go to his office. I thank him for the time he’s put in here to make Dalton State a better place.”
Schwenn is quick to say he hasn’t done everything alone.
“Dalton State has really turned into a traditional four-year college,” he said. “There’s a different feel on campus from when I started. We are different. But with anything you do, it’s the people, the faculty, staff, and students, who have done this.”
Schwenn became the College’s fourth president on March 1, 2008.
“He had a few months of good budgetary times when he arrived, and then he was handed a set of challenges that none of us envied, but all of us felt the impacts from them,” said David Elrod, director of the Dalton State Foundation. “And yet, he kept his wits and sense of humor and his smile about him. While he was juggling the financial challenges that were handed to him, he was doing other things, too.
“He’ll be the first to tell you that he had a lot of good people – faculty, staff, donors, and other institutional stakeholders – who were helping him and helping the College,” he said.”
Elrod noted the College grew to offer 18 bachelor degree programs during Schwenn’s time, and more are planned. The College began offering a bachelor of science in organizational leadership, its first degree that can be earned entirely online. Other degrees now offered are a bachelor of science in nursing, a bachelor of science in respiratory therapy, and a bachelor in social work – all degrees designed to help fill needs in this area currently.
Under Schwenn Peeples Hall opened to serve science students better. Labs feature sophisticated equipment and offers students a chance to do research, something not typical for undergraduates.
“We focused on making better learning space for our students,” Schwenn said. “I’m proud of the research our students and faculty have done. Also, we’re renovating our former technical building to be used as a working clinical area for our School of Health Professions. We have renovations to our student center and Sequoya Hall planned as well.”
After a 35-year hiatus, athletics made its return under Schwenn. He said he thought it was important to add the program to the College to help continue growth and pride, which ultimately leads to retaining students and successful graduates. Athletics adds a new dimension to campus and was another step in making Dalton State move toward a traditional four-year school.
“Bringing athletics here was amazing,” Fromm said.
For Montana Gray, director of the Campus Activities Board, the last three years he has been a student at Dalton State have been the best of his life, and he attributes that to Schwenn.
“We’ve been fortunate to see a lot of positive change while he’s been here,” Gray said. “He allows you to have conversations with him. He shows up to student events and supports us. He believes in the students.”
In his retirement, Schwenn plans to be active with his grandchildren and travel. His grandchildren don’t live locally, but Schwenn said he still plans to call Dalton his home. He also hopes to find time to take up painting again.
“This is a great place to grow old,” he said. “Being part of the Roadrunner Nation has been an honor. It is one of the greatest things that could ever happen to anyone. We make a difference in the lives of our students. We transform lives.”