Gwinnett Technical College Celebrates 20 Years in Education Excellence
Gwinnett Technical College is celebrating a two-decade span of success with its 20th year in education this August. “Gwinnett Technical College has proven itself as a cornerstone of workforce excellence in the county throughout its 20-year history,” says Gwinnett Tech President Sharon Rigsby. “While many of the physical features may have changed throughout the years, the ideal of serving the educational training needs of the existing and potential citizens and the private sector of this region has remained our primary objective and will continue to be as we move into the next 20 years.”
The possibility of a postsecondary institution based in Gwinnett County was, at best, a long shot back in the 70s. At that time, most of the decision-makers for higher education in metro Atlanta favored other places – any place – over Gwinnett County, a predominantly-rural area. But with the 80s came great growth, and seemingly overnight Gwinnett became one of the nation’s fastest-growing counties. As commercial land sales boomed, and technology industries moved in by the droves, it was apparent that citizens would need specialized training to be able to compete for jobs new to the area. Gwinnett Technical College, or Gwinnett Area Technical School as it was called then, received its charter and opened its doors in September 1984, just in time for fall quarter.
The campus began with its existing core 50 acres, strategically located near Interstate 85 in Lawrenceville with easy access to downtown Atlanta and its surrounding metro areas. In the early ‘90s an additional 35-plus acres was acquired for expansion, and the Corporate Training Center and media resource center were added, allowing Gwinnett Tech to become an even greater force in providing business and industry training.
Since then, the health science building, the horticulture building and the Busbee Center have all been built, courtesy of the one-cent special option sales tax adopted by Gwinnett County in 1997.
“All of our academic programs [were housed] in one building in 1984” when the school opened, says Trina Boteler, vice president academic affairs for Gwinnett Tech. “Now they are scattered about campus in six buildings, plus three more that house the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) program, English as a Second Language (ESL), and some Continuing Education classes.”
As the most recent building to adorn the Gwinnett Tech campus, the George Busbee International Center for Workforce Development is a brilliant collaboration of high-tech educational training and international business. Dedicated just last year, it is a direct result of the area’s companies articulating their need for a facility that could serve as an extension of their own businesses. With future growth, The Busbee Center may have additional significance for the college. “As the northern entrance of our campus becomes our main entrance, the Busbee Center will be among the first group of buildings that visitors to the school will see,” says Rigsby. “It will set the tone for the college.”
Growth and Change – Past and Present
The college has seen a number of changes throughout the decades. From a couple dozen programs in 1984 to today’s nearly 50 associate degree, diploma and certificate program options and literally hundreds of continuing education seminars and workshops to improve job skills and provide specialized training, the offerings have grown by leaps and bounds. When the college opened in fall of 1984, credit enrollment was 328 compared to credit enrollment last fall of 4,633, according to Sandra Causey, registrar with Gwinnett Tech. And in the past five years alone, Gwinnett Tech has offered 5,097 continuing education courses with 48,537 participants.
The school has also undergone two name changes in its history to better reflect its purpose. In the late-80s it changed from Gwinnett Area Technical School to Gwinnett Technical Institute. In 2000, it became what we know it as today - Gwinnett Technical College – due to a statewide transition for the network of 34 technical colleges governed by the Department of Technical and Adult Education (DTAE), of which Gwinnett Tech is a part.
“[The name change] is one of the most significant changes in the history of Georgia’s technical education system,” according to Ken Breeden, Commissioner of the Department of Technical and Adult Education, the governing agency for the state’s 34 technical colleges. “[It puts] Georgia's technical education system on a level playing field with the community and technical colleges of other states.”
“The most noticeable change in the college to an outsider would be the expansion into the eight buildings,” says Boteler, who has been with the college since it opened. “However, to me, the most important change at Gwinnett Tech was the change from a vocational-technical school to a college and the changes in teaching, learning, and culture that accompanied that change.”
Gwinnett Tech began offering customized training programs less than 10 years ago. Whether it’s computer, manufacturing, management or supervisory training, or anything in between, Gwinnett Tech has worked with a variety of businesses to develop comprehensive, customized training. Over the years, the college has provided training for such big-name companies as Scientific-Atlanta, BellSouth, Delta, Johnson & Johnson, Rooms To Go and Gwinnett County public entities, to bring them training they need. In the last three years alone, Gwinnett Tech has provided customized training to 1,600 area companies.
The virtual classroom is the latest growth area for the college. “Four years ago, we didn’t have any online courses, but the world’s changing,” says Britt Wattwood, director of online learning for Gwinnett Tech. “Now we’re one of the top two largest online programs in the technical college system.” In fall 2003, the program enrolled nearly 2,400 students, up from about 375 students when the program first began in fall 2000.
“As we enter our third decade in education, we feel confident we will continue to be a dominant force in the dynamic Gwinnett community, enhancing our usefulness to both students wanting to increase their relevant knowledge, and employers wanting to hire only the best in educational training,” Rigsby says. “We look forward to entering this next chapter in our history.”