All posts by Eric Johnson

Lyceum Series begins Sept. 22

The 2015-16 GRU Lyceum Series brings artistry, creativity and a whole lot of history to the Maxwell Theatre, with four shows that are guaranteed to please.

First up, on Sept. 22, is Step Afrika!, a nationally known step company that traces the popular, percussive dance back to its traditions in African and modern dance.

“You won’t just see a step show when you come to see Step Afrika!, you’ll learn about step as well,” said Maxwell Theatre Director Kelly Thomas.

Coming exactly a month later is the world-famous Vienna Boys Choir.

“When you think children’s choir, this is the choir you think of,” Thomas said.

Featuring young singers from over 20 countries, the Vienna Boys Choir performs in front of more than a half million people every year. Not only that, but the choir is old. Really, really old.

“They don’t just sing Mozart’s music,” Thomas said. “They were around to work with Mozart.”

In conjunction with the GRU Opera and American Musical Theater Institute, the third Lyceum Series event this year will bring “The Marriage of Figaro,” a full opera featuring professional baritone Mark Diamond, to the stage on Feb. 12.

“Starting last year, we wanted to find a way to more directly connect the Lyceum Series with the students, and part of that was a decision to not just link up the professionals with the students outside of the performance, but to actually link up the professionals with the students on stage,” Thomas said. “And this year, instead of inserting the students into the professional’s performance, we’re inserting the professional into the students’ performance.”

The final event of the Lyceum season will occur on March 4, when the Peking Acrobats wow audience members with a daredevil program presented in coordination with the Confucius Institute.

“For people who have been coming to Lyceum Series for a long time, they’ve probably seen different acrobat shows,” Thomas said. “This is the biggest acrobat show we’ve ever done.”

Company members were featured in “Oceans 11,” and their Human Stair Stack set a world record.

The price structure for this year’s events remains unchanged from last year, though Step Afrika! and the Peking Acrobats will have options that will allow audience members on the thrust stage.

Tickets are free for GRU students, $5 for staff, students and children, $10 for alumni and military and $15 for the general public. They can be purchased at the box office or online here.

Housing and Residence Life director lays foundation for housing program

Dr. Heather Schneller, Georgia Regents University’s director of Housing and Residence Life, is passionate about the benefits of the campus residential experience because she’s experienced those benefits firsthand.

“I have a brick from my freshman year residence hall,” Schneller said. “They tore it down, but I can trace everything back to that particular living experience – my RA and the influence she had with helping me through those moments of homesickness, how she cheered us on with our academic successes. That’s what my expectations are for us as we build this housing program – to be centered on the students and their successes here at Georgia Regents University.”

Schneller is the first person to hold this position, which was created with the understanding that the residential experience is becoming increasingly important as GRU grows into a destination campus. The commitment to providing high-quality residential opportunities was solidified in May, when ground was broken for 700-plus residential units that are currently being constructed behind the Student Center on the Health Sciences Campus. Part of a more than $500 million partnership between the Board of Regents and Corvias Campus Living, the new units will provide housing for both undergraduate and graduate students.

According to Schneller, the benefits of residential living are tangible and well documented.

“All of the research about residential programs shows that students who live on campus their first year are going to be retained at a higher rate and they’re more likely to graduate,” she said. “At my previous campus, we even did a comparison of GPAs, and our students who lived on campus that first year had higher GPAs than their counterparts who lived off campus.”

As the stair towers of the new units start to rise above the construction fence, it’s been tough for Schneller to contain her excitement. Her office is on the second floor of the neighboring Student Center, which is currently undergoing renovations to accommodate the impending influx of new students.

“It’s going to be an exciting July and August next year,” she said. “That’s when we get to open those facilities and move students into them and get the communities developed.”

Currently, freshmen live in Residence 4, and graduate students live in the Alumni Center and Residence 6, while University Village is a mix of freshmen and upperclassmen.

For Schneller, the value of living on campus lies in its ability to enhance the learning opportunities that are occurring across the university.

“To me, the residential experience is important for students because we complement what’s going on in the classroom,” she said. “We support academic success, and we also have the ability to provide memories for the students and help them develop an affinity for their campus.”

It’s those 3 a.m. hallway conversations that can be life changing, she said, and the full-fledged dining facility that will support the new residence halls will make a big difference in the way students interact with each other.

“Most community and relationship building happens over the concept of breaking bread, of eating meals together,” she said. “Our residential students will be able to develop even stronger bonds that will last beyond their time here.”

Faculty exhibition delights

Art lovers from GRU and throughout the community, including President Brooks Keel, packed the Mary S. Byrd Gallery of Art on the Summerville Campus last Thursday to experience the color and creativity of the annual Art Faculty Exhibition.

The exhibition, which included a scholarship presentation by gallery namesake Mary Byrd, followed a talk by faculty members Kristin Casaletto, Brian Rust, Scott Thorp and Janice Williams Whiting.

Drawing considerable attention, and not just because of the artist’s illuminated skirt and golden stockings, was a piece by Casaletto, who assembled her body weight in Twinkies.

A commentary on minimalist sculpture that echoed both pyramids and the gold bars at Fort Knox, Casaletto had the good fortune of starting the piece just before Hostess declared bankruptcy.

“The bankruptcy of an American icon,” she said. “I thought, ‘That’s even better.’”

Having amassed more than 1,000 Twinkies at the height of the nationwide run on the cream-filled cakes, she found herself fielding calls from interested fans hoping to buy up part of her supply. Rather than selling them – or eating them herself – Casaletto shellacked them instead.

The show continues until September 17.


Ribbons to go up in support of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

At approximately 3:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 28, pediatric cancer patients and their families will help hang gold ribbons on trees outside the Children’s Hospital of Georgia. The ribbons will be on display for the entire month of September, which is national Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

DSC_3431A representative from the mayor’s office is scheduled to attend with an official proclamation.

CHOG offers the area’s only Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorders Clinic, and it’s staffed with pediatric hematologists-oncologists, nurse practioners and other specialists who diagnose and treat children with hemophilia, leukemia, lymphomas, sickle cell disease, various tumors, rare pediatric blood and clotting disorders, bone cancers and more.

The objective of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month is to put a spotlight on the types of cancers that largely affect children, while helping raise funds for research and family support. The ribbon hanging offers a great opportunity to see the children and families who benefit from that support.

To donate to the pediatric cancer clinic at CHOG, please visit

‘The Fantasticks’ sprints to Maxwell stage

Just two weeks into the 2015-16 school year, the Georgia Regents University Department of Music and the American Opera and Musical Theater Institute present “The Fantasticks,” a staple of musical theater for more than 50 years.

“It’s a very small show,” said Patti Myers, a lecturer in music. “We’re using the original instrumentation – just a piano and a harp – which is why we thought that if we’re going to do something in a rush, then we’re going to do something like this.”

While the term rush might imply poor planning, starting so early in the school year was actually a deliberate, calculated decision.

“By doing it this early – and we’ve never done it like this before – we’re jumping way ahead of everyone else in the art community,” said Tonya Currier, director of the American Opera Institute. “There’s no symphony, there’s no Harry Jacobs, there’s no conflict.”

Performances are August 28 and 29 at 8 p.m. at the Maxwell Theatre, and tickets are still available for both shows.

The show, billed as the “World’s Longest Running Musical,” debuted in the 1960s and produced a couple of well-known songs, including “Try to Remember,” which has become a standard for vocalists of several generations.

“It’s actually kind of poetic, even a little Shakespearean sometimes,” Myers said of the show. “It’s kind of a fable about growing up.”

The cast, made up of students, community members, an alumnus and a retired professor, started rehearsing about three weeks before school started.

Next semester, the Institute will mount a production of Mozart’s opera, “The Marriage of Figaro,” which will take place over Valentine’s Day weekend.

“We actually have two love stories this season, which is part of what we want to stress,” Currier said. “Come fall in love with us.”

The American Opera and Musical Theater Institute is an educational training program designed to prepare young vocal talent for professional careers in musical theater and opera performance.

“We’re hopefully bringing professionals together with our students and creating beautiful music and theater that they can learn from,” Currier said. “We want them to experience what it’s like to be in the real world while at the same time protect them.”

Protecting young voices is something that’s actually built into the program. Besides the music department, the Institute includes professors from the Department of Kinesiology and Health Science as well as physicians from the Department of Otolaryngology.

Tickets for “The Fantasticks” can be purchased online here or at the Maxwell Theatre box office, which is open Monday-Thursday from 1-5 p.m. and Friday through the start of the show. The box office will be open an hour before the Saturday performance.

Tickets are free for students with a valid JagCard, $5 for faculty, staff, non-GRU students and children, $8 for GRU alumni, seniors and military and $10 for the general public.


Faculty prepares for upcoming year at kickoff event

As provost, Dr. Gretchen Caughman frequently addresses faculty concerning issues involving the university, but seldom does she get the opportunity to speak to as many at one time as she did last week at the faculty kickoff meeting at the Maxwell Theatre.

There, Caughman kicked off the new academic year by presenting a long list of priorities while also emphasizing the importance of teamwork and getting to know fellow faculty members.

“No matter how long you’ve been here, and I might have been here longer than anybody, there’s somebody you don’t know,” she said. “And I think you should try to speak to at least five people you don’t know before you leave today. Make some new friends. These are colleagues, and we are in this together.”

Later, after talking about the importance of the University Senate, introducing new faculty and sharing the stage with Augustus, the new Jaguar mascot, Caughman presented President Brooks Keel.

“The opportunity to come back home and be the main cheerleader for both your undergraduate and your graduate universities is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I’m excited to be here,” he said. “And I really do see that one of my primary roles is to be a cheerleader, to try to serve as the mouthpiece to tell the world about the wonderful things that you, the faculty of this great university, do here.”

When it came to the point where he would normally start talking about vision, however, Keel stopped.

“I don’t have a vision,” he said. “I can’t bring you a vision for this university – that’s something that we together have to decide. We together have to work on the vision of Georgia Regents University, and we together have to be in the position to carry out that vision.”

Then, he highlighted some areas of importance, including the Cyber Institute, making GRU a destination campus and using the strong performing arts culture on the Summerville Campus as a driver to help recruit business and industry to the community.

“You are the heart and soul of this university,” he concluded. “We have a lot of challenges ahead of us. But I’m up for the challenges, and I know you are, too.”

Click here to watch a video of the entire presentation.

IGRU kickoff raises over $250,000

160x90_IGRU_button_GReportThe IGRU kickoff last week was an overwhelming success, with first-day totals up 20 percent from last year.

After each kick off event, faculty and staff contributed $253,310.51 toward the $325,000 goal.

Special accolades go to the following five departments, which had 100 percent participation: the Dental Hygiene and Physician Assistant Programs in the College of Allied Health Sciences, the Maxwell Theatre, Career Services and the Office of Advancement.

Over the next several weeks, faculty and staff who have made an IGRU gift are encouraged to wear their blue IGRU T-shirts as part of IGRU T-Shirt Fridays, which will continue until Friday, Sept. 11.

Augustus welcomed as new mascot for the Jaguar Nation

After a long rollout that included a series of videos chronicling the career-ending injury of former mascot Al E. Cat and the search for his replacement, Georgia Regents University’s new mascot, Augustus, was welcomed to Jaguar Nation Tuesday in an energy-filled ceremony at the Jaguar Student Activity Center.

“This is a very important day for Jaguar Nation,” said Athletic Director Clint Bryant, who followed his opening remarks by touching on the history of the Jaguar mascot.

Only four universities in the nation are known as the Jaguars, Bryant said: GRU, South Alabama University, Southern University and Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis. And though the Summerville Campus has been the Jaguars since the 1930s, it wasn’t until 1992 that the school had its first mascot: Al E. Cat. The name, chosen from 250 entries, earned the winner $50.

President Brooks Keel, a graduate of both Augusta College and the Medical College of Georgia, noted the consolidation of the two schools while giving a nod to its binding traditions.

Al E. Cat
An early version of Al E. Cat

“I wasn’t here back in the 30s, but I was here back when it was Augusta College. And it was Jaguar then, it is Jaguar now, and it’s Jaguar even bigger than I could have ever imagined as an undergraduate student,” he said. “It’s bigger than I ever could have imagined as a graduate student of the Medical College of Georgia. It is now the combination of two of the greatest universities around into one university, one Georgia Regents University, and we are all one Jaguar Nation.”

Shortly after Keel spoke, Augustus made his big entrance.

Brian Marshall, a marketing specialist with the Division of Communications and Marketing, was instrumental in the creation of the new mascot, which was developed with the help of Weir/Stewart, an Augusta advertising firm. Having actually performed while wearing the innovative new suit, Marshall has a unique insight.

drawing2“The first thing you think about when you’re going to be a mascot is what the vision is like,” he said. “With this suit, there are actually two different places where you can look out. You’re not looking 20/20 out of the eye holes, but you’re able to see out of those two places, so you can get a better sense of what’s around you.”

Another unique aspect of the suit is the feet, which he said are worn like slippers.

“You’re not covering up your shoe; you’re actually putting your foot in there, so you don’t have to worry about your foot slipping off, because it’s built to keep it there,” he said. “I’ve run in it, I’ve jumped in it, I’ve danced in it – you name it.”

drawingAnd because many of the larger schools utilize multiple mascot suits, GRU actually has two Augustus suits.

“That way we can do recruiting off campus, but still have him available here for a game,” Marshall said. “However, because we want to make sure there’s only one Augustus, we have a strategy in place to make sure that if he’s going to be on live TV, he won’t be performing somewhere else at exactly the same time.”

While the design process was intense, it was fun and rewarding for all involved.

“We’re pretty proud of him and would like to thank everyone over at Georgia Regents University for trusting us to bring the new mascot for the Jaguar Nation to life,” said Alex Wier, creative director at Wier/Stewart. “Going from looking at the sketches to seeing a real Augustus pumping up the GRU faithful has been a very cool experience.”

The suit was delivered in late April, which was a little too late in the school year for a proper rollout, so the team decided to wait to officially welcome Augustus until the first week of the 2015-16 school year, though Augustus was busy over the summer filming videos and interacting with students during different orientation sessions.

Photo credit: Phil Jones

Photo credit: Kim Ratliff

Campus pageantry promotes Jaguar pride

As Georgia Regents University prepares for the beginning of a new school year, campus branding is giving the institution a new, and very tangible, sense of identity.

First came the addition of Jag heads on the campus street signs. Then came the rollout of the wrapped buses, which brought GRU and the “I Chose” campaign out into the community. Now, the campus itself is starting to exude the blue and grey of Jaguar Nation.

“It’s there to do a couple of things,” Dr. Mark Allen Poisel, vice president for enrollment and student affairs, said of the pageantry. “One is to build that sense of community and excitement around the university. And it is also key to our recruitment piece, because I want students, parents and visitors to know where they are whenever they’re on tours or walking around on campus.”

It also helps those already on campus to embrace who they are, he said.

Jag head aCurrently, Jag heads are already up at the D. Douglas Barnard, Jr. Amphitheatre, and by mid-September just about every building on the Summerville campus should be resplendent with some piece of Jaguar pageantry.

The more contemporary buildings, like the Jaguar Student Activities Center, will have modern-looking wall stickers and floor graphics, while the older buildings will have appropriately historic-looking flags and bunting. All, however, will have something that makes it clear they’re on the campus of Georgia Regents University.

According to Poisel, having a unified look is particularly important to the new arrivals, who are anxious to feel a sense of pride in their new institution.

IMG_5930-copy“We’re bringing in a new kind of freshman that expects this kind of displayed identity and whose parents expect it,” Poisel said. “We have more students coming from out of the area, so they don’t know a lot about GRU, but I’d also argue that we’ve got a lot of people in the area that don’t know a lot about the new GRU, so that identity piece is really important.”

“I still remember the first time I saw a bus with the ‘Success is a Choice’ theme ‘in the wild’” said Jack Evans, vice president for communications and marketing. “I was rushing between meetings, and feeling pretty stressed out. The bus pulled up next to me, and my mood completely changed. It made my day to know that people all over the area could see that message. In the same way, I think the environmental graphics will amplify the sense of pride and excitement people feel for GRU and really reinforce a sense of place.”

Poisel agreed.

“The reality is, people notice it,” he said. “If you see 100 people in grey shirts, you notice. If you go into an office and everyone’s wearing blue shirts, you notice, and that says something to the community. It makes a presence, and that presence is something people identify with, and that gives a sense of pride.”