President Anne Skleder reflects on her first six months

Dec. 18, 2019
Anne A. Skleder

As 2019 draws to a close, I want to share some of the many accomplishments and successes at Brenau University since my arrival of which I am very proud. All that we have achieved and celebrated is organized around ensuring an excellent experience for our students while at Brenau, and preparing them to successfully take on the challenges of their professions as they make their marks on the world.

Our student success is supported by our culture of nimbleness, which is driven by faculty and staff capable of entrepreneurial responsiveness to changes in student interest and societal needs. Peering over the next hill, Brenau will begin an important round of strategic planning in the spring. I know that the future is bright for this innovative, comprehensive university.

While this list is not all-encompassing, it does provide a robust sampling of our enterprise here at Brenau.

Brenau President Anne Skleder and student Jenna Schardt at commencement


The work of our faculty in the classroom is crucial to our mission here at Brenau, as they shape futures of personal and professional fulfillment.

  • A Faculty Leadership Team, led by Dr. Heather Ross, program director and chair of the Department of Physical Therapy, was launched to work with the provost to ensure an effective relationship between the faculty and the administration through collaborative shared governance initiatives.
  • We are moving forward to implement the Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies program beginning in 2021. This includes the start of construction in the Brenau Downtown Center and hiring Founding Director Dr. Julie Keena and Assistant Director Dr. Kyrus Patch, as well as important and complex accreditation work.
  • The faculty and accreditors approved the development of an undergraduate computer science program, which will launch in the next academic year.
  • Occupational therapy student Jenna Schardt was the guest of honor at the graduate winter commencement in December, when more than 300 students earned degrees. Schardt underwent brain surgery this fall and her operation was the first to be livestreamed via Facebook.

Gale Starich, Stewart Bauck and Jessi Shrout


Athletic opportunities have long been at the heart of the student experience at Brenau, and this year was no exception.

  • Three Golden Tigers teams were ranked in the top 10 nationally this year, including No. 6 competitive cheer, No. 8 tennis and No. 9 swimming and diving.
  • 14 student-athletes were named to the Appalachian Athletic Conference All-Academic Team based on their academic performance.
  • Brenau Athletics received the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics’ Five Star Award, which emphasizes integrity, respect, responsibility, sportsmanship and servant leadership.
  • Tennis student-athlete Elyse Lavender made Brenau history as she received a bid to play in the national tournament commonly known as the “Super Bowl of tennis.”
  • Nate Rhoads, head swim coach, was named an American Swim Coaches Association Level 5 Coach, its highest level.
  • Devon Thomas, head softball coach, was inducted into the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Easton Victory Club for his 500th career win.

A student places a origami paper butterfly as part of an art project

Financial Support

As a mission-driven not-for-profit, Brenau is dependent upon the incredible generosity of those who believe in and invest in what we do.

Elyse Lavender swings a tennis racket

International Experiences

Brenau is in the process of building a comprehensive internationalization plan to create more opportunities for global experiences for Brenau students on campus and around the world.

  • The university signed an agreement with the Mexican Consulate in Atlanta to provide scholarships for students of Mexican heritage.
  • Ten delegates from Anhui Business College in Wuhu, China, completed the Brenau University International Education Seminar for Business Educators this summer.
  • Brenau continued its partnership with Anhui Normal University, welcoming its first cohort of interior design students this fall, bringing the total number of students on the Gainesville campus from Anhui to 87.
  • We are proud of how prepared the Anhui students are for graduate school, with alumni gaining admission to fine graduate programs, including Penn State University, Johns Hopkins University, University of Georgia and Brenau, to name a few.

Brenau faculty and students from China laugh while work on a project


This fall, we especially focused on creating or enriching community partnerships that add to the one-of-a-kind experience offered to our students.

  • A partnership with premier secondary school Lakeview Academy will enhance the experience of both campuses, offering Lakeview students access to Brenau theatre facilities and giving Brenau student-athletes access to the school’s top-of-the-line track.
  • Brenau renewed a three-year partnership with the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, which offers new opportunities to use a state-of-the-art space called Hub at the High.
  • The Melvin Douglas and Victoria Kay Ivester Foundation invested in the early college program — now named the Howard E. Ivester Early College — in the local Hall County School District, of which Brenau has long been a partner.
  • The Arader Art Fund at Brenau University was established through a partnership with Graham Arader to support the acquisition of natural history artwork and its integration into the undergraduate curriculum. Linking science and the humanities is an important focus for us moving forward.
  • The Norcross campus partnered with four major health care systems to hold a residency fair for the students in the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program: Northeast Georgia Health System, Piedmont Healthcare, Pruitt Health and the Northside Hospital system.

A nursing student laughs while preparing to work with a medical manikin.


While we are confident in the work we do here at Brenau, rankings offer a third-party perspective and external validation that we are doing our work well.

  • We climbed 19 spots on the U.S. News & World Report’s list of Best Regional Universities South, and we landed in the top 3 in the state on that list and four others: Best Value Schools, Campus Ethnic Diversity, Best Colleges for Veterans and Top Performers on Social Mobility.
  • The Princeton Review: For the 15th consecutive year, Brenau was included on its “Best in the Southeast” section of the 2020 Best Colleges: Region by Region. The feature places Brenau in the top 22% of the nation’s approximately 3,000 four-year colleges.
  • Money Magazine list of Best Colleges for Your Money 2019: Brenau ranked in the top 23% out of all four-year universities in the country.
  • Brenau earned high marks in the areas of diversity, safety and value in the publication Niche, which bases its rankings upon student surveys.

Daniel Pavilion on the Brenau campus

Recruitment and Retention

We are engaging and impressing potential and future Brenau students, as evidenced by strong work from staff and administrators in this area.

  • Redenna Poole, assistant vice president for enrollment management and director for admissions operations, and Nathan Goss, assistant vice president for recruitment, are providing strong leadership, and the university is building a comprehensive strategic enrollment plan that will direct the efforts of our team for the next few years.
  • Enrollment and recruitment will be enhanced by a redesign of, which was initiated this fall and should be completed within 15 months. The web is the single most important “front door” of the university for prospective students and their families.
  • Graduate and transfer populations for spring are strong, and new enrollments for The Women’s College and Gainesville Day programs more than doubled from this time last year.
  • Provost Jim Eck is leading a university-wide effort to improve student persistence rates, driven by a student success team. Efforts will extend throughout the university, but the first major point of focus in student retention is a particular point of focus within The Women’s College. Some early signs of progress are showing for spring.
  • A new Executive Women’s MBA was developed under the direction of Dr. Juli Clay, assistant vice president for executive programs. The inaugural cohort begins in January 2020.
  • The spring class of the Accelerated Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing on the Norcross Campus will push enrollment in this program to over 100 students.

A student enjoys an exhibit at the High Museum of Art

University Life

Cocurricular programming at Brenau allows us to educate our students both in and out of the classroom.

  • Under the leadership of Dr. Debra Dobkins, dean of The Women’s College, the GOLD Program was launched, offered signature experiences including a Golden Ticket event made possible with the help of Dr. Heather Hollimon, professor of political science, and speaker series that featured the highly successful Leatrice Eckber Gochberg.
  • Due to the generosity of Kay and Doug Ivester, the Brenau University Downtown Center is hosting an ongoing special exhibition of works titled, “Charles Webster Hawthorne: Paintings from the Collection of Doug and Kay Ivester.”
  • With strong leadership from Executive Vice President and CFO Dr. David Barnett, $2.75 million worth of improvements were made to Gainesville facilities including the John W. Jacobs Jr. Building, Walters House, Bailey Hall, Pearce Auditorium, Simmons Visual Arts, Geiger Hall, 810 Perry St., Parklane Apartments, Guest House, 406 Academy St., Hosch Theater, Brenau Incubator, 424 Academy St., Wheeler House, and the fire suppression system.
  • Construction began in October on the $3 million expansion of classroom, student gathering and office spaces at the Downtown Center to support the new physician assistant program.
  • 330 students participated in Campus Movie Fest, which provided young filmmakers with all of the equipment, training and support they needed to make a 5-minute movie in one week. The red carpet event showcased the creativity of our students and the support of our faculty.
  • With the process for the renewal of our regional accreditation well underway under the leadership of Jim Eck, David Barnett, Associate Professor and Head of Research and Instructional Services Kimberly Boyd, Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs Emily Zank and me, Brenau’s steering committee attended The Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools orientation session at its annual meeting in Houston, which ensured that we are on track for the team visit in March 2022.
  • The Center for Lifetime Study at Brenau University, which is home to the Brenau University Learning & Leisure Institute, filled two positions: Tim Bryant assumed the position of executive coordinator of the center, and Dr. Bill Coates was made BULLI education and membership coordinator.