Dean McDonald and Students
by Diane Johnson

I often tell parents the University of Georgia does a great job making a large public university feel “small” for our students. When I say this to parents, especially new parents, I’m met with some skepticism. In some cases, part of their apprehension of UGA as a fit for their student is the sheer size of the university. But what I’ve observed throughout the years while working with parents is quite the opposite.

I can recall many examples of personal stories from students and parents that support the “small college” feel UGA offers. The Office of the Dean of Students and Student Affairs have made significant steps to achieve this environment.

Until several years ago, for example, the Dean of Students did not have the funding to take students to lunch, coffee or offer a book as a resource. Dean McDonald now has the flexibility to take students to coffee or lunch to lend an ear and offer great resources and advice, thanks to a grant from the Parents Leadership Council (PLC) and an endowment set up by PLC parents. This support also allows him to be more visible on campus which improves his student accessibility.

A memorable story that was once shared with me was about a freshman student who made an appointment to see “Dr. Bill” (Dean McDonald) to explore ideas of campus involvement as a pre-med student. Dean McDonald suggested this student apply to the student board at the health center. Not only did that student apply and become part of the board, he also developed a close relationship with the Health Center director who eventually provided the student with a letter of recommendation for medical school. There are so many wonderful stories like this and parents love knowing this type of mentorship and guidance are available for their students.

Dean McDonald also offers an opportunity at orientation for students to connect with him via text and several receive a copy of Making the Most out of college by Richard J. Light. I asked Dean McDonald why this book is a great resource for students. He pointed out several points the book emphasizes:

  • Get to know a faculty member. You’ll have a mentor, and in many cases, a mentor for life.
  • Get outside of your comfort zone. Encouraging students to seek opportunities that may make them “uncomfortable”. This will help solidify their current values, help them develop new ones and develop the integrity and interpersonal skills needed in life.
  • No matter what you think you’re going to do professionally, now is the time to try something different. Follow your passion, but take courses or seek out opportunities that expose you to something completely different. This may end up being your “calling”. It helps you learn to explore interests and expand your understanding.

Earlier this month Dean McDonald took 11 students to dinner and to the play, In the blood. He would not be have been able to do this without the PLC grant. After the event, Dean McDonald said the students were so excited about the opportunity and the great time they had. They also all met several students they didn’t know.

It’s so fulfilling to know we have many colleagues on campus making such a positive impact on our students……one student at a time.