It will be a series of firsts this week for Augusta University President Brooks Keel, from his first town hall to the first commencement for the newly renamed university. But beyond that will be changing the name of the health system and its affiliates, establishing a brand and identity and heavily recruiting more undergraduate students, particularly from the Atlanta area.
Keel will host his town hall meeting Monday at 4:30 p.m. in Lee Auditorium. And then Saturday the university will host its fall commencement at 2 p.m. in James Brown Arena, an event Keel is eagerly anticipating.
“Of all of those things, commencement is without question the most important thing we do,” he said, adding that it was the most fun. “If you can’t get excited about commencement, you really are in the wrong business.”
While the university officially became AU last week, the name of the health system and its affiliates has yet to officially change but that is in the works as well, Keel said. The boards governing the health system and medical center won’t meet again until January but Keel has been e-mailing board members about new proposed names that will bring them in line with the university.
“It will probably be AUHealth, as it is GRHealth now,” he said, and other entities will likely adopt a similar shortened form of AU.
The university has gotten permission from the .edu domain manager EDUCAUSE to begin formally using augusta.edu for its new online presence and e-mail addresses. That will likely govern what people call the university and health system, Keel said.
“The slang will probably be Augusta,” he said.
Even after all the names are changed, the Georgia Regents name will likely be visible for months, Keel said, in part to ease the cost and disruption to those working at the school and in the health system.
“Even for the next three or four months you will see instances where GRU will be used and that’s OK. That’s fine,” he said. “We don’t want people to instantly start throwing away business cards and stationery if they can still be used. We want to be smart about this, as smart as we can. But as we go through this next three-four-five months, you will see less and less of GRU used and more and more of Augusta University used.”
Exactly how much that will cost is difficult to say at this point. Business cards, stationery and name tags are things that get routinely replaced so it is part of the normal cost of business, Keel said. And even sign changes don’t necessarily mean changing a whole sign, such as the brick arch that defines the main entrance to the Summerville campus, he said.
“We’re just going to take the letters off and put new letters up,” Keel said. “That is a heck of a lot cheaper than building a big old sign.”
Part of it also is a rebranding of the university that began even before the name was changed, to try to bring everything “under one single universal brand,” he said. “The name change gives us a great opportunity to do just that, not only change everything to AU but unite everything we do under one brand, one mark and one logo.”
The school has been working with local design firm Wier/Stewart on a new “iconic” logo that it is very close to unveiling. For a university that has had four names in the past five years, Keel said he knows people need to be reassured this one will last.
“It clearly is an issue and we all recognize that,” he said. “I would certainly hope that people would understand, we’ve gone through this enough, enough is enough and this is it. I don’t ever see that happening again. Which I think is another reason why I am excited to see what the iconic logo will look like because it will be timeless.”
That new logo and rebranding will be part of an aggressive marketing plan to appeal to prospective undergraduates, particularly in the Atlanta area. The school is making unprecedented recruiting efforts in Atlanta, from recruitment fairs and receptions for high school students to meeting with and educating school counselors, Keel said.
“You can’t even get that student in Atlanta to come here unless you go recruit that student in Atlanta,” he said.
He hopes that will help reverse what has been a steady dip in enrollment, a 12.8 percent decline since fall 2012. That includes 248 fewer undergraduate students from fall 2014 to this fall semester, a 4.7 percent drop, according to figures the school provided. But Keel believes part of addressing that is giving undergraduate students what they are looking for in a residential campus feel, including new residence halls that will provide apartment-like housing for about 750 students beginning next fall.
“It just feels like an undergraduate campus,” he said.
But the school should also use its affiliation with the medical, dental, nursing, allied health and graduate schools to attract prospective undergraduates interested in those fields, Keel said.
“If you want to go to medical school, dental school or whatever, I want students to see that Augusta University is the best place for them to get their undergraduate degrees because it puts them in the best position to get their graduate degrees here,” he said.
However, he also doesn’t want students to “pigeonhole” AU as just a clinical training ground because it has “amazing liberal arts here, too, at the undergraduate levels.” That includes new leadership in the Department of Art and Hull College of Business as well as a music program “that will knock your socks off,” Keel said.
The clinical programs are clearly going to be a great opportunity to attract students but “another opportunity is going to be cybersecurity,” he said.
The university is looking to draw synergy from the coming Army Cyber Command at Fort Gordon and has talked with developers looking to turn Sibley Mill into a technology campus that could accommodate education, research and private development, Keel said.