Bus Driver Edward “Bear” Powelski’s mission is much more than taking students back and forth from the residence halls to classes—he wants students to feel at home at Georgia College.
“My job is to interact with the students,” said Powelski, a six-year Georgia College veteran. “At 7:20 in the morning, we’re the first people students see as they’re getting on the shuttle. So our whole thing is to be upbeat and positive. There are a lot of freshmen, and they’re
homesick. So we give them a big smiley face and make their day.”
He tells his trainees that they may have bad days, but if they smile, they’ll get through them.
“It’s a great job,” he said. “Most of it is about relationships. Some students are acclimating themselves to being away from home for the first time, so you listen. When they ask me for advice, in my case, I give them fatherly guidance. My kids are roughly the same age—25 and 26.”
With a smile on his face, Powelski makes a point to serve the students—going above the call of duty.
“Our drivers help cushion the blow,” he said. “I’ve even changed tires here on campus to help the students. We like to help them get adjusted and meet people on campus. These are just things we do for the students to help them fit in.”
One of his most rewarding experiences came when a student gave him the ultimate compliment.
“One student said, ‘I’m glad I came to Georgia College because you make coming here so much fun.’”
“Why do you say that?” asked Powelski.
“Well, you take the place of my dad,” the student said.
“I hope to meet your dad someday,” said Powelski.
Months later, he got his wish at Tent City during homecoming. The student walked up to Powelski and introduced him to his dad.
He initiates conversations with students with a simple “good morning.” Once he had one student who wouldn’t speak for about three weeks while he rode the bus.
“The student said, ‘I’m kind of shy,’” said Powelski. “So was I. You’re just like me.”
“I guess you’re right,” said the student.
Powelski contends the most challenging part of his job is training Georgia College’s drivers to be safe.
“Just because you have a commercial driver’s license doesn’t mean you are a safe driver,” he said. “If you think about it, the most important cargo you have is someone’s son or daughter. So when I train others, we set the bar high to make sure they’re professional about the way they drive.”
Powelski has the West Campus and the Centennial Route, but he also drives for charter trips with athletics and the Max Noah Singers, venturing to places as far as North and South Carolina and Florida and New York City.
He assumed his nickname in 1975 when he played for a football league in Macon. Powelski ran into a man at a restaurant who asked, ‘Do I look familiar?’
“No,” said Powelski.
“The man asked, ‘Do you have a nickname? I’m the running back you hit all day long. You’re one heck of a guy until you put a uniform on. Then, you’re a bear.’”
And the name has stuck with him ever since, and it resonates with the students.
As for shuttling students where they need to be, there isn’t any other profession he would rather do.
“These kids are my motivation,” said Powelski. “They’re young, and they don’t know a thing about the world, and you see that so you want to make sure you lead them in their path. I don’t see this as a job. It’s just so easy to get here in the morning and be with students all day.”