Brenau Graduation Passes Milestone: More Advanced Graduate Degrees than Undergrad Diplomas
Celebrating its spring commencement Friday and Saturday, May 5-6, 139-year-old Brenau University passed a major milestone in its history: It conferred more advanced graduate degrees than undergraduate diplomas.
“More than half of the graduates of Brenau during this 2016-17 academic year were graduate students,” said President Ed Schrader. “These are folks that have already achieved one level and have moved on to the second level to further their education and their careers. They all deserve a special recognition.”
The milestone is significant, Schrader said, because the university’s 2025 strategic plan, approved by the board of trustees in 2010, called doubling the enrollment to about 5,000 students in the 15-year period primarily through the growth of professionally oriented advanced degree programs mostly in health sciences, education and business. In the past year, the enrollment in Brenau’s nationally recognized Master of Business Administration program had grown to the largest in Georgia, No. 1 in the annual Atlanta Business Chronicle annual listing of MBA programs.
Along with those who participated in the December commencement, the May 2017 graduates pushed the total Brenau graduates in the 2016-17 academic year to 823. Counting those who received diplomas at this year’s two May ceremonies, 485 of the total 2016-17 graduates completed doctorate, master’s or educational specialist degrees at Brenau.
On Friday, May 5, 125 graduates from the 139-year-old Brenau Women’s College residential campus in Gainesville received undergraduate diplomas. In the Saturday ceremony, which honored students from all Brenau campuses and online, the university conferred 92 associate and bachelor’s degrees. The remaining 187 who were eligible to participate in the Saturday ceremony earned graduate degrees in business, health sciences, education and other specialties.
Kirsten Winquist, a voice of Jimmy Buffett’s Radio Margaritaville on Sirius XM, addressed both groups of graduates, advising them that they will have to “do the grunt work” to succeed even in the pursuits of life they were born to do. (Visit our release “Radio Personality Kirsten Winquist Tells Women’s College Graduates that Chasing Dreams Requires ‘Grunt Work’” for more details.)
“Brenau truly seems like the kind of college experience I wished that I had attended,” said Winquist, a Florida State University graduate. “It’s a unique school built not only around learning but also around a community of students, support, and one with a president whose office truly has an open-door policy.”
While Winquist is known for being behind the mic with more than 30 million SiriusXM listeners and online subscribers at Margaritaville.com, she is also the program director for Radio Margaritaville – the worldwide station owned by Buffett – and she serves as a liaison between Margaritaville Holdings Inc. and SiriusXM.
Schrader – a regular listener of Radio Margaritaville and declared Buffett fan (he even brought his pirate hat to the stage with him to prove the point) – said what really impressed him about Winquist was her success in business, her passion for her work, her ability to communicate succinctly and effectively with vast audiences and her commitment to lifelong learning.
“She has demonstrated that a person can have a career that is totally fun, but you have to be serious about it,” Schrader said. “She got to where she is today – to what many would consider a dream job – by hard work and tenacity in sticking with what she loves doing. It takes a lot of courage to expand out of your comfort zone and love it at the same time.”
Winquist grew up in what could be the setting for Margaritaville – Safety Harbor, Florida – and played the trombone. At 11 she was selected to be a part of America’s Youngest Jazz Band, where she performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. By age 16 she had traveled the country performing with the Spirit of Atlanta Drum and Bugle Corps.
Her passion for music led to an interest in radio and studies in communications and sociology. She shared a story of her first job in radio, when she overheard two of her bosses discussing her voice. They declared it “too young, too light, too girly, not authoritative enough.” Later that week she was removed from the position.
“But just because someone or several people have determined your failure, does not mean you have to accept it,” she told the graduates. “You can let their rejection fuel you, and you can find a place that values your uniqueness.”
Schrader not only welcomed Winquist, but he introduced and awarded an honorary degree Friday to Pete Miller, chair of the board of trustees.
“We could not have navigated as carefully and accurately the troubled economic and social waters that you know we have all been through in this society, and which we have sailed, without Pete Miller’s hand on the tiller steering the board of trustees,” Schrader said. “Pete has been a great friend and trusted ally.”
Brenau also recognized several students and faculty members for outstanding academic and professional performances.
Mary Kaitlyn Salter, senior health sciences major from Tifton, Georgia, received the Cora Anderson Hill Academic Award. The honor, named after a Brenau alumna from Gainesville who had a distinguished career in public service – and journalism later in life – is awarded to the Women’s College graduate with the highest grade-point average through four years at Brenau.
Nicole Browning, assistant professor and coordinator of biology in the Math and Science Department, received the Ann Austin Johnston Outstanding Faculty Award for teaching. Established by Donald C. Johnston of Dublin, Georgia, the award is named after his late wife, a 1939 Women’s College graduate. It includes a $2,500 prize.
Perry Daughtry, assistant professor and undergraduate coordinator in the Psychology Department, received the Vulcan Teaching Award for teaching excellence and leadership. The award comes with a $1,000 prize funded by Vulcan Material Co. through the Georgia Independent Colleges Association.
Margie Gill, adjunct faculty in the Psychology Department and assistant director of the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services, and Ben Leaptrott, accompanist and adjunct faculty in the Music Department, received Outstanding Part-Time Faculty Awards.
The university also posthumously conferred a master’s degree in interior design on Christy Lantigua from Marietta, Georgia, who died in February. Lantigua earned a bachelor’s degree from Brenau in 2006, and she was honored by interior design program chair Lynn Jones after the conferral of degrees Saturday.