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USG vice chancellor touts Momentum Year to help students

Dr. Tristan Denley, University System of Georgia's (USG) executive vice chancellor for academic affairs and chief academic officer, spent time on University of North Georgia's Dahlonega and Gainesville campuses Jan. 23. He met with students, faculty and staff to explain the Momentum Year initiative and get a feel of UNG's identify and flavor.

Dr. Tristan Denley doesn't want University of North Georgia (UNG) students to enroll in college with an "undecided" major, take general classes and become disillusioned. When that happens, more than half of students drop out, he said.

Instead, the University System of Georgia's (USG) executive vice chancellor for academic affairs and chief academic officer aims for students to pick an academic focus area such as business, health professions or humanities. He also wants students to take at least 30 credit hours in their first academic year. Within those credits, he would like to see students take a core English and math and attempt nine credits in their academic focus area.

All of these elements are part of the Momentum Year that Denley is touting as he tours all USG campuses, including UNG, as a way to help implement the Complete College Georgia initiative.

"At UNG you have all of these ingredients to do this, but we need to determine what it looks like when you tie them all together," he said.

Tristan met with students, faculty and staff on UNG's Dahlonega and Gainesville campuses Jan. 23 to explain the Momentum Year as well as get a feel for both campuses.

"The University of North Georgia has a distinct flavor and identity, and I want to know what that is," Denley said before his trip Tuesday.

The students, faculty and staff responded in kind, agreeing with his ideas to reshape and improve higher education.

"I love his ideas," said Maxwell Bentley, a senior majoring in film. "I think it will help students who are not sure about what they want to do."

The 23-year-old Cumming, Georgia, student is even more excited about the discussion of a co-requisite concept, which could replace the current prerequisite system. Bentley explained when he changed his major from computer science to film, his progress through school slowed because he had to take lower-level courses before upper-level courses. Under a co-requisite system, he could take multi-level classes at the same time.

"In some instances, you have to learn certain concepts in one course before you can take another course," Tristan said. "But in some cases, you can learn some concepts in some courses at the same time. With some, it might be better to take the classes together."

Just the discussion along with other changes is music to Bentley's ears.

"I'm glad this is something being talked about, and it needs to be," Bentley said.

Terri Carroll, executive director of academic advising at UNG, agrees. She said she has wanted to eliminate the "undecided" choice at UNG for some time.

"Having students choose a focus area is helpful … because when students come in as undecided they often don't take the steps to meet with Career Services or push themselves into a focus area," she said.

Carroll explained by requiring students to pick a focus area, they start taking courses in that area to help them decide if it is a good match with their abilities and interests.

Kristie Kiser, student success coordinator at UNG, applauds the Momentum Year concept of 30 credit hours in the first year, especially since it complements the 15 to Finish initiative UNG is promoting as part of Complete College Georgia. She said it shows students what they can accomplish in a single academic year.

"They can look and see what they have accomplished, and think 'I can at least get my associate degree,'" Kiser said. "If more students accomplish that, then we would not have that traditional drop off of students between the first and second year."

The better educated students are, whether it is with an associate or bachelor's degree, the better the individual will be prepared for the future, Tristan said.

"It's anticipated that 10 years from now, two-thirds of jobs in the state of Georgia will require some kind of post-secondary training or higher education certificate," he said. "Unless we understand how to position higher education to serve that need, we will be caught flat-footed."

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