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University of North Georgia visits with local community leaders for annual education, economic development tour
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FoCAL Center Director Dawn Phipps takes University of North Georgia leaders on a tour of the performing arts facility during the Regional Education and Economic Development tour on Tuesday, June 21, 2022. - photo by Sabrina Kerns

University of North Georgia leaders visited community and business partners in Forsyth County on Tuesday, June 21, learning more about how they can prepare students for a career in the county.

UNG President Bonita Jacobs took a bus along with college deans and department heads to six different businesses and agencies in Forsyth County as part of the Regional Education and Economic Development, or REED, tour.

The purpose of the tour is to make sure UNG’s leaders know each of the communities the university calls home. Since UNG has five campuses — in Blue Ridge, Cumming, Dahlonega, Gainesville and Oconee — Jacobs said that can sometimes be a challenge.

The tour allows them to visit the community in person and learn more about economic and career opportunities that they should be sharing with their students.

“It's important that we have a good understanding of the regional economic development,” Jacobs said.

The tour’s six stops in Forsyth County included the UNG Cumming campus, Siemens Mobility, Solvay Specialty Polymers, the Junior Achievement Discovery Center, the Forsyth County Arts and Learning Center and Northside Hospital Forsyth.

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University of North Georgia Leaders visit Northside Hospital Forsyth during the Regional Education and Economic Development tour on Tuesday, June 21, 2022. - photo by Sabrina Kerns

At each stop, community leaders gave a presentation and had a discussion with representatives from UNG about what they would like to see them take back to students.

For example, leaders at Northside Hospital emphasized the expansive career opportunities in local hospitals.

“So much of the time, we think of the nurses and the doctors when we talk about health care …. but there are so many opportunities in healthcare that we don’t even think about,” said Joyce Siegele, director of Campus Financial Operations for Northside Hospital Forsyth.

Siegele has a background in finance and focused on her discussion on leading STEM students to think about careers in health care and hospitals, pointing to the lab of scientists situated on the hospital’s campus.

But other Northside leaders spoke about positions that students could consider including those in information technology, engineering, research and architecture and construction.

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Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden speaks to University of North Georgia Leaders about what students have struggled with following the pandemic during the Regional Education and Economic Development tour on Tuesday, June 21, 2022. - photo by Sabrina Kerns
Community and business leaders updated UNG officials on what they have been doing and what progress they have made in recent years. This was an important conversation for representatives from the college when they visited with Forsyth County Schools leaders at the FoCAL Center.

FCS Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden and other district leaders spoke about how much the district and students have changed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and what UNG can expect from students once they graduate and head to college.

According to Bearden, one major issue is the students’ phone usage and lack of social interaction.

“They are more addicted to [their phones] now than ever before,” Bearden said. “COVID had a lot to do with that. I think learning virtually for a period of time and not having that social interaction with their peers has caused them to somewhat distance themselves. I think they struggle now more than ever in relationships.”

Sarah Taylor, assistant superintendent for student services, also warned that they have noticed in students is a significant drop in reading and comprehending words. She said school systems have seen this across the nation, with 60% of students in the U.S. not reading at grade level. In Forsyth County, about 40% of students fall in that category.

“That’s a big deal for Forsyth County,” Taylor said. “And a lot of that is gaps in education over the last couple of years.”

By the end of the tour, Jacobs said she and the other UNG leaders learned a lot about Forsyth County and are excited to plan programs, activities and community development around what the county needs “so that we can prepare our students to work in these great cities.”

The REED tour is an annual event for UNG with Forsyth County being its second stop after visiting Hall County last year. They plan to visit other communities in the future as they prepare students on each of the college’s five campuses.

For more information, visit the university’s website at www.ung.edu.

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FoCAL Center Director Dawn Phipps takes University of North Georgia Leaders on a tour of the facility during the Regional Education and Economic Development tour on Tuesday, June 21, 2022. - photo by Sabrina Kerns