Celebrating 25 years of the liberal arts mission: Alumni reflect on their experience
Celebrating 25 years of the liberal arts mission: Alumni reflect on their experience
In 1996, the Georgia Board of Regents designated Georgia College as the state’s public liberal arts university. We celebrate 25 years of this designation and showcase how the liberal arts comes to life on campus today.
S ince its humble beginning in 1889, thousands of students have walked the Georgia College campus. They’ve moved on to successful careers leaving their marks on the world.
Meet four alumni as they share how their liberal arts education at Georgia College impacted their lives and guided them to their career path.
The first person on record to triple major in math, chemistry and physics, Matthew Hilliard, ’14, had a passion for learning.
“When I visited Georgia College, I met with Dr. Ken McGill. He got me on board that the chemistry major was for me,” he said. “Then I finished my calculus classes for chemistry, I was like, ‘I don't want to stop learning math,’ so I decided to add on the math major.”
As part of his chemistry major, he also took some physics classes which he really enjoyed as well.
“Dr. McGill said, ‘You know, you can take a few extra classes, and we'll count some of these as electives. Then, you can major in physic too,’” said Hilliard. “I only added a year of undergraduate studies to finish the three different majors. I just really enjoyed learning, obviously.”
After Georgia College, he attended Auburn University receiving his Ph.D. in chemical engineering in 2019. He completed postdoctoral work at Auburn and now works at Danimer Scientific—a pioneer in creating more sustainable, natural ways to make plastic products.
“I’m a hybrid position. I'm a microbiologist IV, but I'm also a process engineer,” he said. “Our company produces biodegradable plastic. We are on track to be the largest commercial producer of biodegradable plastic in the world.”
He credits the foundation set for him at Georgia College with much of his career success.
“I wouldn't be where I am without my time at Georgia College,” said Hilliard. “Working closely with Dr. McGill, Dr. Hauke Busch and the other professors in the chemistry and physics department was critical to expanding my outlook on how we approach problems and think critically.”
“What was the most helpful is having personal connections with the professors, being able to interact with them more directly and doing undergraduate research in the chemistry department. That really laid the foundation for moving into a research position in graduate school,” Hilliard added.
For Altimease Lowe, ’18, her mass communication major and political science minor, as well as her experience in Student Government Association (SGA), led her to her career.
“I really enjoyed my time in SGA, and that is actually what led me to become interested in law school,” she said. “When I came to Georgia College, I chose communications to be a communications strategist. But when I joined SGA, everybody was so passionate about advocacy, myself included, and I was like, ‘Okay, well, what career can I choose to where I could do that on an everyday basis?’”
She graduated in May 2021 from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, William H. Bowen School of Law. She credits the experiences she gained in her undergraduate classes for helping her succeed in law school.
“I think a lot of the writing experience I gained from Georgia College helped me through law school,” said Lowe. “In my research, writing and analysis class, my professor would always commend me on being a concise writer and an effective writer. I definitely gained that from being a mass communications major and the rhetoric classes that I took.”
Now she lives in Chicago and works for the Cook County State's Attorney's Office in the Criminal Appeals Division.
“I feel like I couldn't have chosen a better school than Georgia College. It was the best fit for me,” she said. “It was a mixture of being at the right place at the right time, and then having such great people around me that poured into me —students, faculty and staff. If I had been at any other school, I don't think I would have ended up being an attorney now.”
For Lowe and Hilliard, their journey after Georgia College took them across the country, but for some, they come full circle back to Milledgeville.
Dr. Justin Adeyemi, ’10, ’11, received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Georgia College. He transferred in from LaGrange College after deciding he wanted to pursue athletic training.
“In looking for programs, I saw that Georgia College had an athletic training program,” he said. “Seeing that it was a liberal arts institution, that's what drew me here.”
His original plan was to be a high-school-level athletic trainer and teacher.
“At the same time, I was interviewing for a particular job at the high school. I also was completing an interview for the same type of position, but at Central Georgia Technical College,” said Adeyemi. “I said, ‘well, if I take this opportunity this will be a really unique opportunity because I’d be their first athletic trainer.’”
Being nimble and open to change, he took advantage of the new opportunity, which also led to his first experience teaching at the college level. From there, doors continued to open.
“I remember getting an email from one of my former faculty who knew I was interested in teaching. She said, ‘We've got an opportunity here as a lecturer to come in and teach,” Adeyemi said. “I jumped at the opportunity to come back and teach at my alma mater. That is special to me to give back to the institution that I felt gave me so much.”
Adeyemi proudly notes he got two degrees from Georgia College, works here and met his wife here. It all came together through the relationships he built.
“I don't think that I would be in a position that I'm in now without the relationships that I formed here at Georgia College,” he said. “My current supervisor, the department chair, was my former professor for the master's program here, and now I'm in a position where my former faculty members are now colleagues. I believe that really played a huge role in me even being in this position.”
Dr. Brooke Conaway, ’03, associate professor of economics, has a similar story. She too transferred to Georgia College her sophomore year and immediately saw the value of the liberal arts experience.
“Right off the bat my first semester here, I already felt I was part of the community,” said Conaway. “The economics department was fantastic. Within that first semester, I got to know all my classmates, most of the professors and even students in other majors.”
That “collegial kind of family” from when she was a student, led her to want to come back.
“I loved it so much as a student that I wanted to be on the other side and help perpetuate that for other students,” Conaway said.
“When I got to grad school, everyone talked about what they planned to do in the future. I would say I hoped to come back to teach here,” she said. “Everyone's said, ‘you know, that's probably not going to happen, right?’ But that was my dream.”
She’s been teaching 11 years in the economics department, where three faculty are alumni. It’s the personal connections with both students and colleagues, she says, that makes Georgia College special.
“We have the first-year seminar for econ students, and at the very beginning of the semester, all of the faculty come in and introduce ourselves. So, it's not like students are just seeing a professor the first time when they take a class,” she said. “Our classes are also small, which also allows you to get to know the students well.”
Those connections and an undergraduate research requirement help give economics students a leg up for grad school or their career.
Every day, Conaway and Adeyemi see students at work. The professors experience first-hand the light bulb going off for students as they finally comprehend a difficult subject or make the grade they’ve worked so hard for. The students research, collaborate and think critically about subjects and problems presented to them.
Lowe and Hilliard show those skills learned in the classrooms and through extracurricular activities on campus translate to skills for a lifetime. They still value the relationships built through their undergraduate experiences and know first-hand the value of a liberal arts education.