Dannette Wallace – The Corsair
Dr. Georgianna Bryant, Director of Student Affairs for the Milton Campus for almost twenty-five years, retires on October 29, 2010. Though she is just a few months shy of being officially named a Pensacola State College “Legend” due to the date of her retirement, no one can doubt that she has earned the right to carry that designation because of her service.
When one enters Dr. Bryant’s office, one is met with several bookcases filled with awards, memorabilia, and photos from her alma mater, Florida State University. When one speaks to her, however, one immediately perceives that she has dedicated her heart and mind to the ideals of the community college.
She states, “I was a ‘traditional’ community college student in the sense that traditional community college students are typically older students. Right out of high school I went to St. Pete’s Community College but then I had to stop for about nine years before I could go back for my second year. That helped me relate to our students because I experienced college straight out of high school but also having come back after a long period away.”
Dr. Bryant worked during those nine years away from her studies to support her first husband who was pursuing his doctorate. She always knew she would return to her education. Though her father had a sixth-grade education and her mother had graduated from high school and had some vocational training, they always impressed upon her the importance of a good education.
Her family was of humble means so she learned early that for whatever she wanted to achieve in life, she would have to work hard. She states, “I am basically a product of ‘deferred gratification.’ I learned to do without, struggle along and wait for reward at the end. Right now a lot of kids want everything. I have tried to help students look at things another way. I have tried to teach them that they can do anything they put their minds to but it is going to take sacrifice; they are not going to have everything everyone else has at the beginning. Get your education: that is something no one can take from you.”
During the time she was not in college, she worked as a secretary and even on an assembly line soldering and welding parts for the then top-secret Polaris and Gemini programs. A lot of students who are returning after a long time away from school feel that they have lost time. Younger students also feel that they have wasted time when they chose another major and later change their mind. They think they are so far behind the other students and have to play catch-up but, in fact, they have learned other valuable lessons that the others have not.
“I am a believer that everything in our lives helps us with the next step. I try to teach students that really nothing is ever wasted. I just believe that we benefit from all of our experiences. Every life experience is valuable in some way. I have gone through a lot of things that were painful but intrinsic and extrinsic life experiences teach you how to live the rest of your life.”
When she returned to college, she spent her sophomore year at Tallahassee Community College. She then transferred to Florida State University where she completed her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology with a minor in Psychology. Then she immediately continued with graduate school where she applied for a Masters in Sociology with a minor in Junior College Teaching because she was sure by that time that she wanted to teach at the junior college level.
Her first teaching post was at Bainbridge College which is about 30 miles from Tallahassee. She taught sociology, psychology and criminal justice. As she had her summers free, she took the opportunity to pursue her doctoral studies. In 1981, she completed her PhD in Higher Education with a specialty in Student Personnel Administration. Though she enjoyed her experience at Florida State University, she values the space of transition offered by the community college environment.
“Our socialization experiences are an important part of our education. The transition that community colleges provide is important whether the student is just beginning or returning after years away from the classroom. I just think that transition is part of our social and cognitive development.”
Her tenure at Pensacola Junior College started on April 1, 1986, as Director of Student Services of the new Milton Campus which, at that time, had only two classroom buildings. The full-service office that is enjoyed by students today was not yet there. The president of Pensacola Junior College during that period, Horace “Ed” Hartsell, charged her with the responsibility of creating a full service student office at the Milton Campus so that everything that students needed, from registration, testing and financial aid to counseling and preparation for graduation could be handled without having to send the students to the Main Campus in Pensacola. She chartered the first Student Government Association and Phi Theta Kappa, developed many student programs for the Milton Campus and helped them evolve. She also developed the college’s Student Handbook.
Her many titles at the Milton Campus have included: Assistant Provost, Campus Dean, Dean of Student Affairs and Director of Student Affairs. Whatever title, the center of her duties were always the students. Though she enjoyed the immediate gratification of seeing recognition on the faces of her students when she used to teach; she still feels that it is her job to teach students about life and to help them find their talents.
“To me, what we do in this office is also teaching. On the assembly line where I once worked there was a lot of burn-out because we never got to see the finished product, only small parts of it. One thing I have liked about working at Milton is I have had to take care of the whole student.”
She has particularly enjoyed working with the highly motivated students of Phi Theta Kappa and the Honors Program, especially those who dedicate time to community service which is very important to her. She states that she always looked forward to recognizing at the annual Student Excellence Awards outstanding students in academics, leadership and community service. Of all the committees she has been on in her thirty-five years in higher education, the Student Excellence Committee has been the best.
Community service has also been a large part of her life. Her first official assignment in this regard was from then Provost of the Milton Campus, Dr. Worley, who wanted her to be a part of the Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Program. She is currently a Chamber of Commerce board member and leader of their Santa Rosa Alumni Board. She has also served as the State Secretary for the Council of Student Affairs. She serves in leadership positions for the Rotary Club, Phi Delta Kappa, the Santa Rosa County Library Foundation Board and her church. She was past president of the Santa Rosa Medical Center Women’s Advisory Council and won the Mary Commons Spirit award in 2009 from the Milton Women’s Club of which she was formerly a member.
Courtney Winstead, who retired as District Director for Student Affairs in 2006, was Dr. Bryant’s counterpart at the Warrington Campus. She states that Dr. Bryant is an “unsung, quiet hero.” What she values most about Dr. Bryant is that she is “first and foremost a real professional who takes pride in her work and institution.” She admires the fact that she is ethical, motivated and helpful with any issues when she is called upon. Above all, however, when Dr. Bryant planned or advised on updating processes or created new programs, “she always put the students first and demanded that they be given respect and dignity by the staff.”
“I hope people who have worked with her will appreciate her vast knowledge and will continue to work to emulate her.”
Julie Knutson, an alumna of Pensacola State College who was honored by the Student Excellence Committee in 1996 for outstanding leadership and community service, states that in the beginning of her college studies she had thought she wanted to become a pharmacist. Her parents were not so sure she could accomplish that. She states, “Dr. Bryant encouraged me to try it and helped me plan my program. I discovered that I could really do it!”
She went on to become involved in the honor society, Phi Theta Kappa, and later served as its vice-president. In addition, she served as president of the Campus Activities Board of the Student Government Association; president of the Students for a Multicultural Society; and was a student member of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
“Dr. Bryant really encouraged me to become active in community service. I began to tutor special education students.” It was during this experience that she realized that teaching young people with special needs was her calling and decided to become an autism specialist. When she told Dr. Bryant about her decision, Dr. Bryant said “she had known it all along.” That is what Julie said she liked most about Dr. Bryant, “She did not give you all the answers but helped guide you in a way that you found it yourself.” She attributes the fact that she is now doing a job she loves and takes on challenges head-on to the mentoring Dr. Bryant gave to her.
“She does not realize how many people she has influenced. She is like that children’s book The Giving Tree (by Shel Silverstein); she always gives everything of herself.”
In closing, when looking back on thirty-six years in higher education, the advice Dr. Bryant would give the students of Pensacola State College is this:
“Remain a lifelong learner. Your education does not end with graduation: it just begins. I would certainly not want my knowledge base to remain what it was in 1961 when I graduated from high school or even in 1981 when I earned my PhD. I want it to be 2010. Learn all you can learn and whatever you do, do well.”