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Grand opening of Mike and Lynn Cottrell JA Discovery Center at North Georgia set for Aug. 23

August 20, 2018

The partnership forged between the University of North Georgia (UNG) and Junior Achievement (JA) of Georgia years ago has grown stronger in the past year as both institutions committed to building a brick-and-mortar Career Exploration Center inside the newly constructed Mike and Lynn Cottrell JA Discovery Center at North Georgia.

The community will see their collaborative efforts, along with many other businesses and agencies, at the grand opening of the newest JA Discovery Center, set for Thursday, Aug. 23, at 1100 Lanier 400 Parkway, in Cumming, Georgia. 

"We felt that we could have the biggest impact on middle-school students by sponsoring the career center to give students the opportunity to explore different career options and the education programs available at UNG to help them to reach that career goal," said Dr. Richard Oates, vice president of UNG's Gainesville Campus.

Oates, who is on the JA Discovery Center advisory board, is anticipating the grand opening event, which is by invitation only. However, he is looking forward to the first time sixth- and eighth-graders step inside the center to take advantage of the experiential learning environment.

"They get to apply the concepts and ideas that they have talked about in the classroom," he said. "That's where education comes to life."

Lee Highsmith, executive director of the North Georgia District of JA of Georgia, said the center will serve 15,000-plus middle-school students from Forsyth, Hall, Lumpkin, and Dawson counties, along with students from the cities of Gainesville and Calhoun, Georgia.

In the center, sixth-graders will participate in JA BizTown, which teaches the students about running a business. Eighth-graders will participate in JA Finance Park, which teaches them about personal financial literacy. Before they arrive, students will perform in-class lessons to prepare them, followed by a half-day simulation at the center.

UNG's Career Exploration Center will welcome students with its interactive board at the center's entrance. Using an iPad or a computer tablet, students will hold the device over a picture and a person with connections to UNG appears on the screen to talk about a specific career pathway such as nursing, business or one of 15 others.

"It's an augmented reality experience," Highsmith said. "Students can ask questions and get answers from UNG students, faculty, staff, or alumni."

Oates said the interactive Career Exploration Center encourages the students to ponder their future.

"It gets students thinking about 'What can I do after high school?'" he said, adding the career center is accessible to all. "It will be constantly accessible when the center is open. Students, parents and adults can explore the options UNG has."

Oates and Highsmith said this partnership is one of many future collaborations. Both are hopeful to utilize the JA Discovery Center to suit arising needs, especially since it is across the street from UNG's Cumming Campus.

"We hope to have several students, faculty and alumni from UNG volunteer here," Highsmith said.

Oates agreed, saying it would provide the ideal outreach effort for UNG to the Cumming and Forsyth County community.

"These volunteer opportunities are encouraged, because it gives us a chance to interact with the community," he said. "We can ask them 'What can we do to improve the community and create a better workforce? Because we want them to think of UNG as their university."

Jason Pruitt, executive director of UNG's Cumming Campus, said he is working with Junior Achievement's director of volunteer partnerships to create a process allowing UNG faculty, staff and students to sign up to volunteer.

Sponsored by lead investors Mike and Lynn Cottrell, the JA Discovery Center is attached to the Alliance Academy for Innovation. The newest magnet school in Forsyth County has partnered with UNG to allow students access to the university's programs and dual-enrollment option.

The JA Discovery Center also will be an integral facility for the Cumming Campus as it continues to grow. Highsmith explained the center has a classroom and conference room space available to UNG.

Oates said he also could envision UNG students participating in a modified version of the JA Finance Park experience, which is similar to the personal finance simulation by UNG's Student Money Management Center.

"We look forward to expanding the opportunities, because I don't think we have yet begun to realize the potential of this symbiotic relationship of the center being there," Oates said.

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