A BRIGHT FUTURE FOR OWL NATION
With President Sam Olens at the Helm and Georgia’s Second-Largest Engineering College Under its Umbrella, Kennesaw State University is Poised for Growth
By K. K. Snyder
For Cobb County, Kennesaw State University (KSU) – and its two campuses in Kennesaw and Marietta – has long been a community point of pride and an economic development engine. Offering more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees across 13 colleges, the University is one of the 50 largest public institutions in the country and the University System of Georgia’s third-largest school.
At the helm is University President Sam S. Olens – former Georgia Attorney General, Cobb County Commissioner and two-term County Chairman. The transition from law to education proved a smooth one for Olens. “There’s seldom a day that there is not a legal or process issue and my background isn’t helpful. The whole idea of prioritizing and delegation of authority really comes into play each and every day,” says Olens.
Since assuming this role in November 2016, Olens has enacted major changes and strategic initiatives across both campuses. But one major change pre-dates his tenure: KSU’s consolidation (in January 2015) with Southern Polytechnic State University (SPSU). Among the many benefits resulting from this consolidation was the addition of Georgia’s second-largest engineering college into Kennesaw State’s portfolio of academic colleges.
Since the consolidation, enrollment in the Southern Polytechnic College of Engineering and Engineering Technology has steadily increased, with more than 4,000 students currently registered. This Fall alone, one in every four new students attending KSU is pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree in the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology.
This growth is no accident though; it is the result of active leadership that is focused on educating Georgia’s next generation and ensuring the University’s continued success.
Olens came on board ready to make improvements for the school’s more than 35,000 students. One such change is the recently adopted Competitive Admissions Model. Brought about under his leadership, this initiative gives the registrar’s office more insight into the exact classes students need to take in order to graduate on time. In other words, students will be able to take the classes they need, when they need them. And KSU will be able to better plan to meet those students’ needs. “With this new model, we will know for the next semester – even the next year – how many new faculty we will need to hire to accommodate the incoming flux of students,” says Olens.
The greatest impact of the admissions model may, in fact, be felt on the Marietta campus. That campus experienced a 17 percent increase in enrollment in 2016, and a 10 percent increase this year. In addition, enrollment is up 20 percent in the engineering school’s graduate program. These numbers prove the critical need for the Competitive Admissions Model: KSU can now accurately predict the number of students and classes required with a greater lead time, enabling its leadership to proactively hire additional faculty if needed.
Another cause important to Olens is the need to help students with the cost of attending KSU. As a result, the University encourages professors to require less expensive course textbooks and materials. In addition, Olens asked the KSU Foundation, as well as other external foundations, to assist in providing more need-based scholarships. In response, the KSU Foundation budgeted several hundred thousand dollars more in additional funding for 2017 for these types of scholarships.
Olens notes that while these additional dollars will finance scholarships for students in all areas of studies, funds tied to some of the external foundations are specifically for first-generation, under-represented minorities, and students pursuing degrees in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields. “The STEM shortage in this country is a serious challenge and we are poised to have a positive impact through our programs,” Olens says. “Engineering is certainly one of the areas with the largest shortfall, especially as it relates to attracting more women to the field, so we are looking for scholarships that will specifically assist those students. The vast majority of our growth last year was in our STEM programs, which bodes well not only for the University, but for the entire state.”