Students and professors seem to be settling into the new University Center | GA 400 on Pilgrim Mill Road.
The 38,000-sqaure-foot, $7 million campus is a joint effort of North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega and Gainesville State College.
The two colleges are slated to merge and form the University of North Georgia after Board of Regents approval in January.
Student John Frye, a 2012 graduate of Horizon Christian Academy in Cumming, spent some time in the school’s learning center, or library, on Thursday in between classes.
Frye, who eventually wants to go into sports medicine, said the campus was a good fit for him to work on core courses through Gainesville State College.
“It’s literally five minutes away from my house and I heard great things about it,” he said. “Once I came here and walked around, I was like, ‘This place is awesome.’ They have great study rooms, great work rooms and just the teachers, they actually care.”
He said one big appeal was small class sizes.
“I took some classes at Gainesville during the summer and it’s still a good campus, but I think this one’s better,” he said. “Because it’s smaller classes, the teachers, you get to see them more.”
Joshua Causey, also a Gainesville State College student and a 2012 graduate of North Forsyth High, said University Center also made sense for him.
“It’s very small, so it’s small classes and it’s close to my home and it’s brand new,” He said. “Time management has become a lot easier and the teachers are all very hands on.”
Sherman Day, director of the campus, said about 500 students are enrolled for this first semester.
They range from Gainesville State and North Georgia students working on core undergraduate requirements to masters of business administration students, who take evening classes.
There are also nursing students and some Forsyth County high school students taking part in a joint enrollment program.
That mix is a positive for Diane Cook, who teaches introduction to psychology classes at the campus on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“We have some from the local high schools and some traditional students and then some non-traditional students who maybe have kids of their own in school so they come to classes during the day. So it’s a really good mix,” she said.
Cook noted that she enjoys teaching in a brand-new facility.
“It’s a nice new building, a nice facility,” she said. “It has a lot of the kinds of amenities that are pretty nice and so far the students have been patient as we worked out a few kinks.
“[The opening] has gone very smoothly. Everyone just works together and goes with the flow.”
John Roberts, a biology instructor, said that as with anything new, there have been a few challenges but faculty have had a lot of support.
“It’s kind of challenging when you come into a new school … you don’t know who you’re administrators are and you don’t know where to turn,” he said. “But [administrators here] have been extremely helpful in keeping us straight and letting us know where our classes are going to be and all that. So it’s been fun.”
Day agreed there have been a few snags, but overall, he called the opening “very smooth.”
“The students and everyone have been very cooperative,” he said. “There have been a few little things we don’t have.”
For example, he said, a student who had signed up for classes and then dropped out wanted to return his books.
“We have the people here to sell the books, but after a week they go away, so now in order to return his books, he’ll probably have to go to Gainesville … we’re talking about how we can help with little things like that.”
Another “little thing” that the campus has worked on is adding more seating outside of classrooms.
“You’ll notice seat walls outside,” Day said. “That’s an addition that’s been good because when everybody’s here at lunch, there’s not enough seats. So with those, people can go outside and sit in the sun.”
Probably the biggest issue at the campus, he said, is parking.
Since it was initially projected to only have about 200 students during the first semester, its 500 are making the parking lot, with about 100 spots, a little small.
Jason Pruitt, assistant director of the campus, joked that he and other staff members have to be strategic in running errands.
“I look at the schedule of classes and I determine when I need to leave to go to the post office or the bank so I’ll know I can get a parking spot when I come back,” he said.
Day said while a new parking area is “one of the first priorities” for the new campus, the center’s neighbor, the Cumming Aquatic Center, has helped a lot.
“That’s really been a godsend, because we’ve had times — like the other morning when we had 40 human resources directors from around the county here and each one drives — … you’re full in [the parking lot],” he said.
“The aquatic center has been very helpful to us with overflow parking for those types of days, and at the same time, there are times when they have [swim] meets on the weekends that their parking lot is full and we’re plenty willing to let them use our lot as an overflow.
“It’s very cooperative.”
For student worker Sandra Sullivan, who’s also enrolled in the campus’ MBA program at night, parking isn’t a concern.
“I actually live right across the street, so I just walk over,” she said. “I have this little roll away case that my laptop fits in so I just walk right on over.”
Sullivan said the campus and the MBA program were a big relief for her.
“I have a fine arts [undergraduate] degree, so when I apply for higher level jobs people kind of look at that and go, ‘What can you do?’ I’ve done human resources work since I got out of undergrad and I really wasn’t going to move any farther without the actual business degree,” she said.
“Without this campus, I’d have to drive into downtown Atlanta and that isn’t fun … also it’s nice because you’re not in a giant auditorium with 1,000 other people that you don’t know.”