Learning firsthand from the state’s top leaders in business, politics, law, education and healthcare—an opportunity afforded to Georgia College students for 15 years now.
The Georgia Education Mentorship (GEM) Program—a one-of-a-kind partnership between the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and Georgia College— pairs leaders from the Chamber with juniors and seniors.
“Our mentors represent a broad range of Georgia's leaders. They exemplify Georgia College’s commitment to challenge students to think independently and lead creatively,” said Dr. Harold Mock, director of leadership programs at Georgia College. “They show our students firsthand that leadership means forging powerful connections to our communities through mentorship, civic engagement, social justice, thinking strategically and global mindedness.”
Senior Abby Kahler’s motivation and determination set her up for various leadership roles on campus. She’s served as vice president and president of her sorority Alpha Delta Pi as well as completed the Georgia College Leadership Certificate Program.
Based on that experience, she was selected to be part of the GEM program, which only a small number of students participate in each year. Expanding her knowledge and understanding of what true leadership is even further, she has been mentored by President and CEO of Med1st Roger Folsom.
“I was lucky be paired with Roger as my mentor,” said the mass communication major. “I was able to visit him three times last semester and several this semester. I don’t just go to his work and sit there. He also lets me shadow him in his work on the Dublin-Laurens County Development Authority. I’ve seen how he works with the community and focuses on economic development.”
Abby marks the sixth student Folsom has mentored through GEM.
“I’ve always enjoyed working with young people,” said Folsom. “All the students have been phenomenal, and I’ve stayed in contact with them.”
For Folsom, it’s not just about students seeing how he interacts in the business realm. He wants them to understand the social responsibility leaders have to give back.
“I live by the Winston Churchill saying—‘We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give,’” said Folsom.
“People don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care,” he said. “All titles are useless unless you have accomplishments to back them up. It’s about what you do in your positions, who you serve and what changes because of your service.”
It’s no surprise for Kahler, an established leader in her own right, that leading with a humble, servant’s heart was one of the main lessons she’s taken from the experience with her mentor. Although she was finishing her term as president of her sorority when she began working with Folsom, he taught her that lesson well.
“He instilled in me that you lead with your attitude and work ethic, not with your power or title,” said Kahler. “For him, it’s not just about his business. The people he works with are his friends. He genuinely cares about them, so he’s been a mentor to me in more ways than just what it means to manage a business.”
“He has taught me the value of giving back to your community, how to value others and about entrepreneurship,” she said.
Each year 25 of the top students at Georgia College are selected to join the GEM program. Mentors become integrally involved in the education of the students, reinforcing the qualities and characteristics needed in the next generation of our state’s leaders.
“The experience has honestly been amazing,” said junior mass communication major Nancy Leslie. “Chris Clark is my mentor. He’s the president and CEO for the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.”
Even before participating in GEM, Leslie was determined to develop her skills—participating in other leadership development core programs at Georgia College.
“Before my freshman year, I saw something about the Emerging Leaders Program, and I knew I wanted to apply. So I did that my freshman year, then the Leadership Certificate Program my sophomore year,” she said. “I fell into being the Leadership Programs intern, and that encouraged me even more to apply for GEM.”
Now thanks to the programs, she’s more confident and open to new experiences.
“GEM taught me to push myself outside my comfort zone. It was kind of stressful to think about working with a professional, but I realized I had to put myself out there to get the most from this experience,” she said. “Before this I was totally afraid of politics. I went from hating it to loving the whole lobbying side of things after Chris encouraged me to attend the legislative session. I learned it’s all about building relationships.”
Leslie and Kahler are not alone. This year marks not only 15 years, but also the 500th student participant in this highly successful program.
This special anniversary was celebrated April 10. Participants were joined by State Sen. Burt Jones and State Rep. Rick Williams who presented commendations for Georgia College and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce on behalf of Gov. Nathan Deal.
“Established in 2002 and piloted by a grant from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, GEM emerged from the mutual recognition that Georgia College students could benefit from relationships with the state’s top leaders and that members of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce could benefit from directly investing in the next generation,” said Mock. “We are grateful for the collaboration with the Chamber and look forward to this continued partnership for many years to come.”
For more information on leadership at Georgia College, visit gcsu.edu/leadership.