January 30, 2014

Werner Braun:A college’s gift to the community

I’m a lucky man.

When I think back on the cities I’ve either lived in or visited that I have enjoyed the most, I’m struck by the fact that there’s one common denominator: in all cases, there exists a great university.

And I’m proud to say that in the dozen-plus years I’ve lived in Dalton, I’ve seen Dalton State College develop into an institution that, while not yet a full-fledged university, is an important change agent in northwest Georgia.

The impact of having an institution of higher learning nearby seems to be the case both in small towns and large cities alike. In Austin, Texas, where I lived for a number of years, the University of Texas provided so much for the community besides what it was doing on the academic front.

The university provided a seed for the development of a fine arts culture in Austin, with world-renowned paintings on view, dance company performances to attend and a second-to-none music scene. To say nothing of its competitive athletics program. All of these cultural/community activities had their roots in the university.

My experience in Midland, Mich., near Ann Arbor, is a bit different as Midland didn’t have a major university per se, but its proximity to the University of Michigan, and the relatively short time it took to drive there, provided us with a plethora of cultural opportunities from which to partake.

And while Midland may have lacked the abundant resources available to those living near a sprawling campus like UT or UM , the good folks at Dow Industries (my former employer) worked hard to bring in many different venues and cultural opportunities to make their town a desirable place to live. They made sure that cultural activities were prominent in Midland, with a first-class performing arts center, a fabulous parks and recreation department, even a top-notch hockey rink.

The whole point is that a city is ultimately impacted by having a great university as part of the fabric of that community.

And I can see where that’s really beginning to take shape at Dalton State.

Since the time I moved here back in the dawn of the new millennium, I have watched as Dalton State has added 17 four-year bachelor’s degree programs, ranging from business programs (where the transition from “college” to “state college” actually began), to social work and criminal justice programs, and now to degrees in the liberal arts: English, history and psychology.

Now, in addition to its highly-regarded registered nursing program, Dalton State is offering a bachelor of science in nursing degree, giving past and future graduates a heads-up on the competition. And its School of Business has earned the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business accreditation, putting it into an elite category of business programs from around the country.

But so much more has evolved in addition to the impressive academic gains. The establishment of dorms on campus, aided by the generosity of the Dalton State College Foundation, has resulted in more of a “collegiate” atmosphere on campus and around town.

The introduction of athletic programs and all that that entails — including a stellar first season for the Roadrunners basketball team — has brought a level of excitement to town that is palpable, especially when you’re cheering the Roadrunners on at the Northwest Georgia Trade and Convention Center.

The college brings in wonderful fine arts events in the form of fascinating speakers, quality musical performances, student-led plays, etc., to campus, and the desire to provide more and more of these activities continues to grow.

People frequently ask me what I plan to do when I retire, just a few scant months from now. And I always respond, “I know that I’ll continue to be a lifelong learner. And while I’m going about that, I plan to be taking some classes at Dalton State.”

I love learning, about history, about the wonders of the universe and much, much more. As a retiree, I’ll be able to take classes when it fits my schedule, and I’ll be able to delve more deeply into long-neglected interests. I look forward to that.

I also look forward to watching as Dalton State goes forward, seeing the institution have an impact on people who’ll want to move here (not just married folk) because of the vibrant “college town” feel that abounds. There’s no doubt in my mind that as Dalton State moves toward university status, it will continue to change the culture of this community in a mighty big way.  

Werner Braun is president of the Dalton-based Carpet and Rug Institute.

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