Kings Bay Campus Celebrates 25th Year
Brenau University on June 1 celebrated more than a quarter century of operations at the U.S. Navy Submarine Base when it conducted its 25th commencement exercise for undergraduate students on its Kings Bay campus.
The university commissioned the program at the behest of the Navy, and about half the members of the student population on the campus, reflected in the makeup of the 2012 graduating class, are active duty military personnel, members of their families, civilian employees on base or military retirees.
“We are extremely proud of the relationship that Brenau has enjoyed with the Navy over the years,” said the university’s President Ed L. Schrader, who addressed the graduates, friends and families in the Navy base’s chapel. “And we are honored that many of the fine young men and women who will go forth and serve our country are Brenau graduates.”
Brenau shares higher education chores on the base with a similar branch of Valdosta State College, whose acting president, Louis Levy, delivered the keynote commencement address. The institutions offer compatible, instead of competing, programs at the site along with other partner colleges and universities in the Navy College Program.
The 54 graduates who participated in the Friday ceremony will be among the 1,200 alumni who have received diplomas since 1987.
Among the early graduates who attended the ceremony was Dr. Gale J. Allen, a Brenau University trustee who is also associate chief scientist for the Life and Microgravity Sciences division of NASA. Allen as a civilian employee of the Navy set up a chemistry lab when the new base first opened and in 1991 completed a Master of Business Administration degree from Brenau, which she credits with helping her break the “glass ceiling” in the male-dominated Defense Department and NASA organizations.
At the ceremony Schrader recognized Allen, who had been a top sciences student in her pre-Brenau academic career and carried on as top student in the Kings Bay program. “She is typical of the high quality students we get at Kings Bay,” Schrader told the graduates. “You are not ‘among the best students’ at Brenau University. Year after year, you are our best students.”
Brenau previously had a relationship with the Navy at its supply school in Athens, Ga. Although the facility for training officers for logistics operations was located on the campus at the University of Georgia, it was Brenau that became the Navy’s education partner there in the 1970s.
“Brenau was one of the first colleges in the area to offer evening and weekend undergraduate and graduate programs,” said former Brenau President John S. Burd, “and that was a distinct advantage. You might be able to get a graduate degree at the University of Georgia during regular hours, but if you had a job or were attending classes for your Navy training during those regular business hours, you needed another option.”
Rear Admiral Patricia Wolfe, who entered the Navy through an ROTC program at her undergraduate alma mater, Villanova University, earned an M.B.A. through the Brenau program in Athens. Retired Navy Capt. Robert Bjelland earned a Bachelor of Business Administration degree at Brenau’s “Athens campus.” Bjelland would later return to Brenau at the Kings Bay campus to earn an M.B.A. in 1994.
He retired as a captain in the Navy after 34 years and now works for the Kootenai County, Wash., sheriff’s department recreational division performing marine and backcountry patrols. But, he said recently, in the Navy “a Brenau M.B.A opens a lot of doors.”
Burd recalled that Brenau was attempting to expand its weekend programs when he became president. However, when the Navy presented the idea of a branch operation at Kings Bay, neither he not the trustees were prepared to make an automatic decision to move forward.
The Athens location, less than an hour’s drive from Brenau’s main campus in Gainesville, was a good fit. Faculty could easily move between campuses. Because of the previous experience in Athens, when the Navy began gearing up the sub base, Brenau was a logical partner. However, Kings Bay was about 300 miles away, Burd said. “Faculty were not interchangeable.”
Brenau trustees, however, knowing the Women’s College, which had been on the Gainesville campus since 1878, would need some help through growth of co-educational programs on other campuses, decided to take the gamble. Brenau University today celebrated more than a quarter century of operations on the U.S. Navy Submarine Base when it conducted its 25th commencement exercise for undergraduate students on its Kings Bay campus.
Ironically, when brenau did set up shop in Kings Bay, it discovered that its student prospects, as Schrader acknowledged in his remarks, already collectively represented a very well-educated population. Many of the sailors and support personnel had at least some technical training beyond high school and undergraduate degrees, mostly in technical or scientific disciplines, like nuclear engineering, or like Gale Allen’s chemistry degree from her undergraduate alma mater. You did not have to sell them on the value of higher education.
As Allen explained, she had been trying unsuccessfully to get into NASA for years but had the wrong kind of science background. With the M.B.A., however, she not only quickly got a job with NASA, but also landed on the fast track to top management in the national space program.
“The Brenau program at Kings Bay was a godsend,” said Allen. “I had always been into science, and it was a totally new direction for me. For a technical person, much of the business curriculum was like Greek.
“But the professors were great. They worked with me individually and helped my science brain learn that this accounting stuff was just another way of looking at things.”
Robert L. North Sr., director of the Kings Bay campus for Brenau, says the unique Kings Bay dynamic still exists. “You’ll find a lot of students here who have to make adjustments in their careers and get a broader education than they envisioned.”
Schrader agreed. “Brenau’s liberal arts-based curriculum is a way for people who are just starting their careers or who, for some reason, need more university-level education to broaden their academic credentials and enhance career prospects,” he said.
“Many of the Kings Bay people are already experienced, accomplished students when they come to us. That makes for an excellent academic environment that benefits the university because it challenges faculty to be the best they can be, and that, in turn, attracts more good students.”