Students are at the heart of giving for GC's number one donor

Students are at the heart of giving for GC's number one donor

D r. Kenneth Saladin, distinguished professor emeritus, has made a tremendous mark on Georgia College through his teaching and generosity. Not only is he the university’s largest donor, but the impression he’s made on biology alumni, and continues to make on current students, is immeasurable. 

Dr. Kenneth Saladin
Dr. Kenneth Saladin

Since he began working at Georgia College in 1977, Saladin has mentored hundreds of students in the premed/ biology program. He remains friends with many successful alumni, whom he taught over the course of 40 years.

Saladin was just starting to write his dissertation for his Ph.D. when the biology professorship position “just fell unexpectedly into [his] lap.” During his one-year appointment, he decided Georgia College was a great fit for him.

“As it turned out, I couldn't have been happier,” Saladin said. “In grad school, I discovered teaching was my real passion. And Georgia College was always more focused on students than hustling grants, managing labs and things like that. So, it was a real good fit for me.”

For Saladin, the best part of teaching students is what he learns.

“Students provide me with a motivation to stay intellectually engaged with the world, and I always learn something new,” he said. “This provides a platform to share what I’ve learned with people who are interested.”

Overall, what he liked best was lecturing. He considers it “scientific storytelling.”

Through the years, Saladin took numerous students to the Galápagos Islands for study abroad, conferring travel grants on many of them to make the experience more affordable.

“Some of them had never been out of Georgia or flown on a plane before, much less been out of the country,” Saladin said. “The biology students were just awed by the intrinsic beauty and the mystique of the place, because biology students and everybody who's ever heard of Darwin has heard of the iconic Galápagos Islands.”

The study abroad was much more than an aesthetic experience, however. To qualify for the trip, students first had to take his on-campus course, “Cultural and Natural History of the Galápagos Islands.”

“As biologists, when students set foot on the islands, it’s a transcendent experience for them,” he said. “The mystery of the scenery on these volcanic islands and sitting among these animals that come right up to you—it was just a rapturous experience for many of those students.” 

Dr. Saladin works with biology students in the lab.
Dr. Saladin works with biology students in the lab.

Saladin was good at recognizing potential in students. Some of them had modest ambitions for their life. He made them realize they had the potential to do much more.

“I recall one of my student’s ambitions was not a high-paying job,” Saladin said. “But I just saw some spark of intellect in her that commended her for much more than that. So, I asked her, ‘Have you ever thought about medical school?’”

Despite her doubts, Saladin helped her understand she was capable of mastering medical school. Today she's a physician.

“I had other students like her who weren’t recognizing their potential,” he said.  “And now they're also physicians and professionals who are so happy with their lives in medical school and beyond.”

Saladin has traveled as far as Miami and Birmingham to see former students receive their medical degrees. Success is measured by how much you improve the world around you, he said.

“When I’ve mentored them for so long, it's nice to see the culmination of that effort for them to get their terminal degrees and be on the road to success” Saladin said. “For graduations at Georgia College, it's a matter of seeing students’ pride of achievement and meeting their parents. I see it as the culmination of all their efforts. It’s celebratory and heartwarming.”

Saladin’s philanthropy to the university began early in his teaching career by donating small monthly payroll deductions to the biology department.

“We had some needs in biology that couldn't be covered by the state budget,” he said. “I just kicked in a little money to help fund the department that we could draw from things that mainly were laboratory oriented and funding for student travel to research conferences.”

Later, his first six-figure gift was an endowment to the William Wall Museum of Natural History, to recognize the colleague and former department chair who created the museum and brought scholarship and research in paleontology to the biology department.

Prior to retiring, the first million dollars Saladin gifted was to create the William Harvey Endowed Professor for Biomedical Science and keep the Premedical Mentorship program going.

“I had created this program, and I didn't want it to fade away after my retirement," he said. “It was very successful. We had a 100 percent admission rate to medical school for students who went through with applying. I thought it deserved to carry on.”

Today, the position is held by Dr. Ashok Hegde, professor of biology. The premed mentoring program is unique to Georgia College and unmatched by anything like it in the country.

Saladin also created the William Harvey Lecture Series in medicine and biology—an annual lecture by speakers from outside the university. 

“We need more of them [scientists] in today’s world.  We need a larger citizenry who can think like scientists, who understand and respect scientists and don't reject science. And I think Georgia College epitomizes what institutions of higher education should be doing to produce this kind of scientifically literate citizenry.”
– Dr. Kenneth Saladin

In addition, Saladin created several scholarships—one for his first science teacher and mentor Donald Sly; one for retired colleague Doris Moody; and one for the famous sociobiologist, E.O. Wilson, who personally contributed money to Saladin’s endowment.

Saladin also provides for the Saladin Scholars program through the John E. Sallstrom Honors College. Three students are awarded the scholarship each year to support off-campus enrichment experiences in their field. He also supported the John E. Sallstrom Honors College in honor of Sallstrom’s tireless efforts in keeping the Honors Program going in the early years despite a lack of funding.

Saladin gives to the biology department—and to Georgia College as a whole—to give back. The university provided a supportive environment for his textbook writing.

“Not every college or university does this,” he said. “Georgia College, and my department, always generously and enthusiastically supported me in that endeavor, and that’s a big part of why I feel it’s appropriate to pay that back and share the success of my books with GC.

In his last few years of teaching, Saladin was inspired by the quality of incoming faculty for their dedication to the idea that research is for the purpose of teaching students how to work as scientists.

Saladin calls it “special” that the university places a high emphasis on student research, where students can start working in research labs as early as their freshman year. Some students get published in peer-reviewed scientific and medical journals before they graduate. One student Saladin mentored is now a fourth-year med student. She published three articles in a medical ophthalmology journal even before graduating from GC.

Saladin’s next endowment will fund student research. Its purpose will be to teach students to think and work like scientists.

“We need more of them in today’s world,” he said. “We need a larger citizenry who can think like scientists, who understand and respect scientists and don't reject science. And I think Georgia College epitomizes what institutions of higher education should be doing to produce this kind of scientifically literate citizenry.”

In tandem with the September ribbon-cutting ceremony for the university’s new Integrated Science Complex—Saladin donated $1 million to further support faculty-mentored student research in biology and environmental sciences.

Despite all his donations, he has mixed feelings about being the largest donor in Georgia College history.

“I want somebody to come along and take that title away from me, eventually,” Saladin said. “But for now, I'm very happy to hold that rank. I just hope it’s going to grow into bigger philanthropy in the future.”