First-generation alumnus claims "firsts" for Georgia College

First-generation alumnus claims "firsts" for Georgia College

F irst-generation Georgia College alumnus Russell Bentley, ’79, ’80, takes on each task with determination and grace. A 36-year police veteran, 31-year campus police agency executive, chief of police and now director of Campus Police for Bibb County Schools and chief finance officer of Safe Havens International—a nonprofit campus safety organization—Bentley pushes his abilities to the limits every day. He initiated this powerful drive as a student studying family consumer science at Georgia College. He was also a cheerleader, cheerleading coach, chairman of the Honor Council and chapter president of his fraternity.

“Being in the field that I've been in for over 30 years, my leadership experience at Georgia College just spring boarded me to take on responsibility and motivate others to collaborate,” Bentley said. “All of that was the start of a foundation that has carried me throughout my professional career.” 

Russell Bentley, director of Campus Police for Bibb County Schools
Russell Bentley, director of Campus Police for Bibb County Schools

Dr. Catherine Dupree, associate professor of home economics and Dr. Therry Deal, chair of the department, were instrumental in helping him stay in the program.

“They encouraged me to attend graduate school and assisted me in getting into and staying in the program,” said Bentley. “Both professors provided me the opportunity to work as a graduate student on several grants, which helped me find my way through graduate school. They also provided references for several years, as I sought various professional opportunities.”

Both Dupree and Deal taught him how to be professional and better understand interactions with students and educators.

“My classes helped me understand student development and family interaction and dynamics,” he said.  “This has helped me tremendously in the role of leading a public safety agency, because we work with students and their families. The education classes also allowed me to better understand educators, both at the K-12 and the post-secondary level.”

“I hope we gave these students a solid foundation to take on those roles. It’s my job daily to exemplify this. It doesn’t cost you anything to inspire people.”
– Russell Bentley

While Bentley immersed himself in his studies at Georgia College, he also strived for more. He served as a resident assistant and hall director.

“The residence-life experience at GC allowed me to prepare for my role as an area coordinator in Residence Life at Middle Tennessee State and Emory University,” said Bentley. “I’ve got my background in Residence Life from Georgia College, which provided me with the nexus to become a professional at the next level at these universities.” 

Russell Bentley (pictured right) presents a new officer his police badge after taking the Georgia Peace Officer's Oath of Office.
Russell Bentley (pictured right) presents a new officer his police badge after taking the Georgia Peace Officer's Oath of Office.

Bentley also sought to grow his leadership skills by serving as the Honor Council chair, where the council litigated potential violations of the Honor Code.

In addition, he served as president of the newly chartered chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, Inc.–one of the first African-American Greek organizations at Georgia College. The experience shaped him, plus he gained lifetime friendships.

“It was a great honor to serve my fraternity brothers at that particular time,” he said. “They had trust in me and allowed me to lead that outstanding group of young men.”

Bentley was also a male cheerleader on campus—another first for Georgia College. He enjoyed making new friends and meeting new students from across the nation at Cheerleading Camp. Later, Bentley was surprised to see those cheerleaders he met at camp on TV during the Saturday afternoon college football games. 

Russell Bentley poses with GC's cheerleading team.
Russell Bentley poses with GC's cheerleading team.

“Cheerleading provided me an opportunity to be a part of a special group of students,” he said. “We were among the first few males who were able to be a part of that group.” 

From his involvement in his fraternity to helping cheer fans on during sports, Bentley thrives around people. He makes it his mission to protect and serve the Bibb County School system’s students and staff. Although no day is alike for Bentley, serving as director of Campus Police, one thing remains the same.

“Typically, my job is to reach out to everyone district wide,” he said. “I keep my finger on the pulse of what's going on with the assistance of my leadership team—a great group of police professionals.”

Bentley enjoys his profession in keeping the schools safe. However, the part of his job he especially treasures is watching the students learn and grow in a safe and secure learning environment.

“I’ve known these young people from the time they enter the school system as early as Pre-K, and I've seen them walk across the stage at high school graduation,” he said. “One graduate constantly reminds me that she still has her fingerprint card I helped make when I was working in the Macon Police Department Crime Prevention unit in 1985. Now, she's an elementary school principal.”

Bentley’s hope for Bibb County students is that when they leave the district, he’s helped shape and prepared them for the 21st century to be productive young people.

“Each day my goal is to assist each student to demonstrate strength of character and be college or career ready,” he said. “This is the Bibb County Public Schools vision for every student.”

“I hope we gave these students a solid foundation to take on those roles,” he said. “It’s my job daily to exemplify this. It doesn’t cost you anything to inspire people.”