Jacqueline Jones Royster, dean of the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts, concluded nine years of dynamic leadership on August 31, closing her term as the Ivan Allen Jr. Dean’s Chair in Liberal Arts and Technology. A leading scholar at the intersections of rhetorical, literacy, women’s, and cultural studies, she will remain on faculty in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication completing research and continuing also to work with undergraduate interns on her Building Memories project until she retires in August 2020.
From the outset in 2010, Royster worked to sharpen and refine the identities and roles of liberal arts at Georgia Tech. She championed possibilities for holistic innovation and problem-solving, enabled by working at the intersection of humanities, social sciences, engineering, computing, science, and medicine, as well as at the convergence of policy arenas and the liberal arts.
In remarks during the farewell celebration he hosted to honor Dean Royster on August 27, Georgia Tech provost Rafael Bras said, “Jackie, for all of us, its been a wonderful journey together. The College and its schools are standing high. Unquestionably, we are far better off than we were nine years ago. We are on the map, we are competing among the best, and we are in a great position to continue. We appreciate your dedication to excellence, the conviction that what we’re doing is important. You have set a standard. In my name and in the name of all the leadership at Georgia Tech, thank you very much.”
Royster nurtured a collective spirit built around priorities grounded in the core values of humanistic inquiry, respectful and inclusive collaboration, and the idea of socially accountable innovation that considers always the impact of science and technology on humans and the environments in which we function.
“Jackie brought a wonderful humanity to Ivan Allen College through initiatives such as Africa Atlanta 2014, the Westside Communities Alliance (WCA), and the Leadership and Multifaith Program (LAMP),” said John Tone, professor of history and interim dean of the College. “In addition, while the College has always taken great pride in the Ivan Allen name and legacy of fighting for civil rights, it is not a coincidence that curricular initiatives such as the minor in social justice saw the light of day on Jackie's watch. So much good happened under Dean Royster, and the College will miss her wise leadership very much.”
Advancing Key Strategies
Through Royster’s leadership and support, in 2015, the College exceeded the $35 million goal for fundraising under the Capital Campaign.
Philanthropic investments funded four new endowed professorships, one new endowed chair, as well as several undergraduate scholarships and graduate fellowships.
Undergraduate enrollment recovered with a trajectory of growth that more than doubled the numbers from a low point in 2012.
Tenure-line faculty positions were increased from 122 to nearly 150 to advance the College’s trajectory of growth in all areas from the support of top tier research, to equally high performance in undergraduate and graduate education, to the achieving of impact and value in various policy arenas.
Deliberate attention to diversity and inclusion helped to increase the number of underrepresented minorities among faculty, staff, and students, and helped to advance new programmatic areas, such as Black Media Studies, Global Development Studies, and a more coherent presentation of the College’s strengths in studies of race and gender.
Royster established a Dean’s Scholarship Program to fund five to six incoming undergraduates each year. She continued the funding of Dean’s fellowships for graduate students and instituted a substantial faculty research support program.
Under her watch, the College launched new degree programs: the B.S. and M.S in Applied Languages and Intercultural Studies; the M.S. in Global Media and Cultures; and both campus as well as the College’s first online M.S. degrees in Cybersecurity Policy and in Sustainability Energy and Environmental Management, and more. The number of accelerated B.S./M.S. programs were increased from three to five, and an array of new undergraduate and graduate minors and professional certificates were added.
The College celebrated the recognition of two new Regent’s Professors, a new Regent’s Researcher, and a Brook Byers Professor. Royster recognized the rising trajectory of excellence by establishing a new system of prestigious awards, including: Dean’s Professorships with significant stipends for senior faculty; recognition for high performance by faculty in research and in teaching; recognition for staff leadership and innovation; as well as Distinguished Alumni Awards, now in their sixth year, to re-engage alumni with the ongoing excellence of the College and to reinforce the College’s identity as liberal arts at Georgia Tech.
Stronger systems for faculty development enhanced the growth of externally funded research, with success rising from nearly $5 million in 2010 to over $7.5 million in 2017, a level that has been sustained for the past three years. The College now ranks sixth in national sponsored research funding among comparable institutions in humanities and social sciences. These systems also supported the faculty’s pursuit of prestigious national and international fellowships, from the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, and more.
Adding to this productivity and visibility, research centers in the college grew from ten to twenty, engaging new research foci (for example, health analytics) and new interdisciplinary strengths (for example, the digital humanities).
“Jackie’s leadership style was always direct and straightforward. She was a real fighter for the dignity and value of the Liberal Arts at Georgia Tech, and for resources to do what she saw needed to get done,” said Janet Murray, professor and associate dean for research. “Under her direction the College has advanced in its world-class research profile, hiring extremely creative and collaborative faculty, and in its raising of sponsored research funds.”
Royster emphasized operational effectiveness, developing a Pattern of Administration guide for the College. She required schools to update faculty handbooks and to develop strategic plans to ensure their alignment with the Institute’s and the College’s strategic planning processes and to encourage systematic long-range planning. In addition, in partnership with the Georgia Tech Office of Organizational Effectiveness, the College office established and implemented a workload and compensation review for all staff across the college in support of equity, efficiency, and effectiveness.
In addition to smaller renovation projects across all areas to accommodate the College’s growth, the College office also oversaw the renovation of the Stephen C. Hall Building and a new home for the dean's offices on the first floor of the Savant Building, bringing the total number of partially or fully occupied spaces by liberal arts enterprises to 12 buildings.
The College launched a first-ever marketing and communications campaign, including: a full array of tools and materials for advancing the general visibility of the College; direct outreach materials to employers, significantly strengthening career services for students; and an annual Impact Report to campus leadership, College stakeholders, and peer institutions to raise knowledge about accomplishments across the College.
Royster also expanded the College’s Advisory Board, encouraged the development of advisory boards for the schools, and encouraged the development and enhancement of services for undergraduate and graduate students with regard to recruitment, advising, retention, community spirit, career services, and the recognition of high performance among students.
An Ambitious Array of Signature Initiatives
These efforts to enhance community, and to raise visibility for and interest in liberal arts at Georgia Tech also took the form of signature initiatives. The projects were ambitious, complex, and far-reaching, and they significantly boosted the College’s profile – locally, nationally, and internationally.
“Dean Royster was inspiring in her commitment to incorporating higher public purpose with the educational and research mission of the college, expanding and deepening our understanding of the meaning of the Ivan Allen name,” said Murray. “She leaves a lot of vibrant signature initiatives behind.”
Two such initiatives were Africa Atlanta 2014, which operated from Fall 2012 through Spring 2015, and the Westside Communities Alliance, a high energy set of partnerships that thrived between 2011 – 2016. Africa Atlanta 2014 generated a huge amount of excitement around Atlanta’s international connections through the arts, business, education, global health, and international partnerships. Royster garnered funding to organize and promote collaborations from more than 50 organizations locally, nationally, and internationally. These collaborative efforts earned recognition for the College as a finalist in the Governor’s International Awards in Education and the recognition of Dean Royster as a Global Ambassador by Alliance Française of Atlanta.
With the Westside Communities Alliance, Royster built a dynamic model for campus-community engagement, making connections for faculty, staff, and students with community leaders and organizations on the Westside of Atlanta regarding research, classroom engagement, and service projects, partnering with the community on various initiatives of common concern, developing tools and strategies designed to enable new synergies for collaboration around urban development and sustainability. The WCA team was recognized for the quality of the program’s work by a Service Excellence Award from the University System of Georgia.
“One of Jackie’s great legacies will be her engagement of Atlanta neighborhoods on the Westside,” said Chris Burke, director of community relations for Georgia Tech. “Her leadership echoed that of Dr. King’s Beloved Community, allowing residents and the Georgia Tech community to stand in solidarity.”
Royster said, “I hope that Africa Atlanta has modeled what is possible, how to be a good citizen in our own neighborhood, how to work with the people impacted by our innovation. We can set a different framework for what it means to bring local and global together, which is also a part of the strength that we bring to Georgia Tech as a liberal arts college. We know how to do it with businesses, we know how to do it with government. How do you do it with a community? I think that Africa Atlanta and WCA showed a path.”
Royster continues her WCA work through an interactive Data Dashboard for Atlanta. The Dashboard is designed to encourage greater data-driven decision-making at the neighborhood and Neighborhood Planning Unit (NPU) level, particularly on the Westside, and supports research and policy making in areas such as education, economic development, transit and mobility, and public safety.
Other signature initiatives led by Royster include the establishment of the Digital Integrative Liberal Arts Center (DILAC), for which she is co-principal investigator and has secured $2.5 million in grants during the past four years from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The Leading Edge Digital Publications Series she launched showcases signature examples of College research at the intersection of the humanities, social sciences, and technology.
As the initial organizers of the Ivan Allen Jr. Prize for Social Courage, the College established an exciting model for the celebration of this prize that focused on symposia and related events and reflected the leadership qualities and courageous commitments of Mayor Allen. The Prize is now a signature dimension of the Institute’s stewardship of the Allen Legacy.
Another initiative that brings the Allen Legacy to bolder relief is the College’s creation of the Ivan Allen Jr. Digital Collection. As an archival researcher, Royster championed the College’s showcasing and making accessible links to various materials related to the Allen era in Atlanta. The College partnered with the Atlanta History Center to enhance and combine our own collection with other collections in order to create a distinctive set of digital resources about this important time in United States history. Led by history professor Todd Michney and emeritus history professor Ronald Bayor, the College recovered Mayor Allen’s official papers, stored at the time in the basement of Atlanta’s City Hall. With the support of the College’s IT Office and DILAC, the project group digitized records. From this springboard, Professor Michney, again with DILAC support, is developing a ground-breaking search platform to support visualizations and narratives about this time period. This platform makes a wealth of materials accessible to scholars and others interested in this era, and facilitates, as well, the use of these distinctive primary resources into the curricular offerings of the College and the Institute.
Yet another Royster-led initiative that has brought a new dimension to Georgia Tech’s excellence in educational innovation is the Leadership and Multifaith Program (LAMP), a joint initiative between the College and Emory University's Candler School of Theology. Inspired by donor Bruce McEver (IE 1966), LAMP addresses the need for students to enhance their knowledge and experiences with cultural differences to enrich their perspectives on what it means to be thoughtful leaders in our complex contemporary world.
“Faith traditions are intricately entwined within the cultural and societal forces shaping our world,” said Royster. “Deepening our understanding of these forces is critical to effecting socially and ethically conscious leadership.”
“Because of LAMP, Georgia Tech students have gained additional avenues to explore the relationship among science, technology, and faith, which will help them become better leaders,” said Tone. “A small group of them even had the opportunity to complete an eye-opening study abroad program in India.”
Student engagement has always been foundational to Royster’s efforts. Her door was always open to students and parents. Each of her initiatives afforded students opportunities to engage in research, education and civic partnerships, demonstrating how important it has been to her to be student-centered and to support their learning and development needs.
In response to the Scout Schultz tragedy and subsequent deaths on campus, Royster supported the Institute’s efforts to respond meaningfully in these trying situations by implementing a series of student-led listening sessions in the College. These sessions fostered discussion about crucial issues facing the university and helped the College to identify specific actions to address them. Royster believes that this action-oriented process helped to establish in the College a strong foundation for administrators, faculty, staff, and students working together to make Georgia Tech a positive living-learning environment.
“In everything Dean Royster has undertaken, she has brought an indefatigable sense of possibility: there was no idea that was too big, no undertaking too complex, no continent too far,” said communications director Rebecca Keane. “Each held the promise of innovating something that bettered both human experiences and enterprises. Each enlarged the College’s stewardship of the Allen Legacy, and often involved forging partnerships with organizations from the multiple dimensions that create a thriving city and global community – academia, arts and culture, governance and diplomacy, business, economic development, infrastructure, transportation, and leadership.”
A Distinguished Leader
In addition to the recognitions of excellence for initiatives that she has led, Royster has also received recognition herself for distinctive leadership. For example, she was named a Top Five Role Model in Atlanta by Women@The Frontier, Invest Atlanta, and the City of Atlanta. She received the Leadership Excellence Award at Georgia Tech’s Diversity Symposium; the Pioneer Award from the Georgia Tech Black Alumni Organization; an Outstanding Faculty Woman of Distinction Award from the Georgia Tech Women’s Leadership Conference; and recognition for professional achievements and distinguished services to the community from the Asian American Heritage Foundation.
Another distinction for Royster was that she was the first African American academic dean at Georgia Tech. Among her professional colleagues nationally, her decision to come to Georgia Tech was met by a sea of disbelief related to her being such a strong advocate for the liberal arts and choosing to become a dean of liberal arts at a technology-centric institution and specifically to become an administrator, as an African American woman, at such a male dominated institution. However, this doubt was countered, she says, by a welcoming spirit on campus.
“What I appreciated was that people here were pretty nice to each other, they liked working here, and there was a sense of collaboration and cooperation. There was a level of respect and a human-to-human kind of contact that I appreciated,” said Royster. “Not everything was peachy keen, but there was a tolerance and a focus on getting work done that seemed to inform the way that Georgia Tech chose to do business.”
A Perspective on Liberal Arts Past, Present, and Future
As a scholar in the history of rhetoric who directs attention to the ways and means of social change, Royster takes a long view of the changes in horizon over time of liberal arts at Georgia Tech.
“In the beginning, I think the most compelling benchmark for liberal arts at Georgia Tech was that the founders recognized that they needed to do more than teach people how to make things, so the liberal arts disciplines were here from the very first day. Other benchmarks along the way were part of our growing understanding of the intersection between needing to remake our world after the Civil War and needing to be very aware of the world in which we were making things in years to come. The evolution in our thinking about the mission of the Institute is marked well, in fact, by the evolution of our college, in particular. The intersection between the Institute as a very innovative and entrepreneurial maker space and the Institute as an exciting maker space within a human-centered environment marks the ever-changing excellence of Georgia Tech as a top tier 21st century university.”
“When you bring that view down to the college level, the College has grown up the whole time within a seriously scientific and technological environment, but we have not sacrificed the human-centered nature of our work. So, we're just as innovative and problems-focused as everybody else, and we are also still unapologetic about the converging values that give rise to our cutting-edge programs.”
“With regard to structure, for 100 or so years, it was engineering, and then everything else. When the decision was made thirty years ago to diversify the “everything else” into the colleges we have today, with the College of Liberal Arts as humanities and social sciences, our college had another quite formative moment.”
“Notably, in American higher education, we actually made up the notion of knowledge being divided into disciplines. Doing so made our work manageable and more convenient, but we know that this neatness isn’t really how problems work or how problem-solving works. Problems don't stay conveniently within a single discipline. They spill over, such that we understand well that it takes more than one head to solve a really complicated, complex, important problem. At Georgia Tech, we have operationalized this understanding in remarkable ways such that across the Institute we have a habit of working together, with a clearer inclusion now than ever before, of the liberal arts as a necessary and meaningful part of the team.”
“Some academic colleagues recently described the College as ‘non-traditional’ and ‘ambitious.’ I think those descriptors emphasize attributes that have been foundational to the success of this college. A huge amount of energy is required to blaze a new path, to imagine possibilities, and to demonstrate validity. Each day, Ivan Allen College faculty, staff, and students bring extraordinary energy to creating new theories, analytical and interpretive frameworks, and operational practices that demonstrate the relevance and value of the liberal arts in our highly scientific and technological society. That energy and creativity underlie the numerous transformative initiatives, programs, and projects that are constantly unfolding and evolving within the college.”
All to the good, Royster hears affirmations of the College’s progress from alumni.
“Over the last nine years, we’ve had an opportunity to build up our community of alums. Now, more than when I first arrived, I hear from them, whether long-term graduates or not, a great pride in the quality of the education that they have received. With our more recent graduates, I get this feedback from their parents even. Most affirming of all, our earliest alums frequently share with me, with a sort of nostalgic spirit, ‘I wish that you had had these kinds of programs when I was here.’ To me, that wish tells the best story. These alums are proud of their own experiences, but they appreciate how we are growing, and they still want to remain connected.”
“What I have garnered from these encounters is that the College has demonstrated what can be possible with a high performing, strong, very ambitious liberal arts college at Georgia Tech. What the Institute has to figure out is what the investment in this potential needs to be. How much should/will a technological university invest in the liberal arts? What level of excellence do they wish to secure and enable? What are the synergies created across the university? The answers to these questions are neither simple nor easy.”
“In the face of challenges, then I feel quite comfortable at this point in saying that my role as dean has been as a torch bearer. What I have managed to do, I believe, is cast a brighter light on incredibly talented people in Ivan Allen College who are doing magnificent work, and who really could set the pace in higher education for liberal arts for the nation.”
"The Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts is at a wonderful place in its long history at Georgia Tech, and it has been a great privilege to work with wonderful colleagues — faculty, staff, fellow administrators across the college and the Institute, students, alumni, partners and friends near and far to move us to the next level.”
“Looking ahead, I remain excited to be connected to the remarkable vision and mission of liberal arts at Tech as we continue to set an ambitious pace for what the liberal arts should be in our 21st century world.”
“There are of course other schools beyond Georgia Tech that do the kind of cross-disciplinary work we do. I would say, in fact, that much of the innovation in liberal arts is happening at tech universities. In my view, the quest for the relevance of the liberal arts came to technological institutions before such issues commanded attention in more traditional institutions. In Ivan Allen College, we offer a good leading-edge example: our liberal arts graduates are people who can translate the strengths of liberal arts within scientific and technological environments without missing a beat. This set of abilities is what the College is becoming known for. We were on this rising trajectory when I came to Georgia Tech in 2010, and I see no evidence that this effort has reached its limit. The work continues.”
Royster also emphasizes the College’s roles as trustees of Mayor Allen’s legacy.
“When I came to the College in 2010, we really needed to operationalize and normalize the Allen Legacy. During his leadership of Atlanta, Mayor Allen articulated a six-point strategic plan that has now come boldly into fruition. Atlanta is a vibrant international city. What became evident to me right away was that the College couldn’t align well with this powerful strategic vision of urban development and sustainability based on just six focal points. We needed to update, expand, amplify. Without setting aside the core fact that Georgia Tech is an institution in the center of a city, we needed to stretch, innovate, and evolve. We have.”
Royster believes that good things are ahead. She invites one and all to “Come take a look. Take a look and be surprised.”