BRUNSWICK, GA. | A model wooden ship sits on display in Meg Amstutz’s office at College of Coastal Georgia where she has a view of a broad walkway with pennants of the college’s blue-and-white logo, three sails filled with wind.
The model ship and the sails are connected only coincidentally, albeit perfectly.
When Amstutz decided to accept the appointment as interim president of the college to replace retiring Gregory Aloia, she told her father, Dave Amstutz, the model shipbuilder.
“He said, ‘I’m so excited for you. Would you like a ship for the office?’ ” she said.
She accepted without hesitation, and like other things, it fits in with the design.
Building has been a theme at College of Coastal Georgia since around 2008 when the state Board of Regents decided to turn the two-year community college into a state college offering four-year degrees. The first president, Valerie Hepburn came with a to-do list that took her five years and Amstutz’s office overlooks the results.
“She made big, big changes here,” she said.
Every building on campus has been renovated, two big education buildings, a campus center and two student housing facilities were added with a broad walkway running through the middle lined with those three-sail logos.
“One of the things that has been so wonderful is to transform this so it would feel collegiate,” said Amstutz, who last visited the campus around 2009. “It feels the way you want a campus to feel.”
When Chancellor Steve Wrigley called to ask her to take the interim appointment, Amstutz said her first question was “What goals do you have for me?”
The answer was to increase enrollment and that became her primary task, Amstutz said.
People enroll at Georgia Tech, Georgia Southern and the University of Georgia expecting to stay four — or more — years and obtain a degree. That is the aim of some who come to colleges like Coastal Georgia, but others come to get their core courses and transfer to bigger colleges after a couple of years.
Also, there has been an increased emphasis on dual enrollment — called Move on When Ready in Georgia — in which high school students take college classes. Amstutz said that results in colleges getting some young but committed scholars.
“It brings really motivated students. It’s also a huge cost savings for families” because the school system pays the tuition, she said. “It lets them see what college is like. It gives them a leg up on choosing a career.”
There is always the question, however, of whether College of Coastal Georgia can retain its identity as a separate institution given the state Board of Regents’ recent consolidations of institutions, some close by. Waycross College and South Georgia College in Douglas were combined with the administration in Douglas and Armstrong State was merged with Georgia Southern.
While resulting in savings and improving degree programs, it deprives the smaller campuses of a sense of identity as names are changed and sports teams are moved to the larger campuses. If a student at the Waycross campus wants to watch a basketball game, even the home games feel like away games after a 46-mile drive to Douglas.
Amstutz said Colleges of Coastal Georgia’s Mariner teams are safe, including a golf team that has won national championships. “I have been told there isn’t any plan to consolidate this campus. Only [the Board of Regents] can say,” she said.
She noted that the Board of Regents held its spring meeting at College of Coastal Georgia, where they saw the great investments made on campus and how that has impacted enrollment.
“It’s an absolutely beautiful place,” she said. “To come to the Golden Isles and serve the system that was so good to me was a great opportunity.”
In Amstutz’s case, it was a matter of leaving the University of Georgia campus in Athens to continue serving the system.
Since 2013, Amstutz served as associate provost of academic programs after 16 years in the office of then President Michael Adams. She was assistant to the president for 10 years and chief of staff for six.
She went to work officially July 1, the day after Aloia’s retirement, when there were few students on campus. That will change Aug. 8, on move-in day, and classes start Aug. 21, coincidentally the day a partial solar eclipse will briefly darken the campus.
The filled book shelves in Amstutz’s office may say more about her than her administrative history. She majored in English at Centre College in Danville, Ky., and taught English and American literature at the prestigious Washington University in St. Louis.
She hefted Mark Twain’s autobiography from a shelf and joked it’s not only a great book it is also a piece of workout equipment.
“Huckleberry Finn is a book I teach a lot,” she said.
She loves 19th-century literature including Elizabeth Stoddard, Nathaniel Hawthorne, George Melville and Henry James. Her favorite book, she says, is Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women.”
English is one of the degree programs that College of Coastal Georgia offers along with business, biology, calculus, culinary arts, economics and many others including the longtime mainstay, nursing. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing named the college first in the nation for bachelor’s of sciences and nursing.
The list of degree programs will grow. “We’re always in discussion about what new degree programs are needed,” she said.
Those discussions center on student interests, development of a workforce and courses already in the university system, she said.
Amstutz said she is fortunate to follow the great leadership and that her job is to keep the wind in the sails by getting word out about the college.
“We don’t want to be the best kept secret,” she said. “We want people to know how important we are to this community.”
Terry Dickson: (912) 264-0405