A Century of Enterprise

From its modest beginnings, Georgia State has flourished into a premier institution with global influence

When I think about the 44 young men who gathered a century ago in a classroom in the newly named Evening School of Commerce, I wonder what they would make of Georgia State University today.

Those first pioneers came to learn from Atlanta businessmen — accountants, bankers and lawyers — as they worked toward advancing their careers and making key connections in the city. They came to build better lives for their families and to gain practical knowledge in the then-new science of management.

They would see how Georgia State has changed in so many ways. Their tiny evening business school is now a thriving research university with more than 250 degrees in 100 fields of study. That 44-student class is now a university of 32,000 students from every state in the nation and most countries in the world. Our footprint in downtown Atlanta, once consisting of a rented room in a small building on Walton Street, now spans dozens of city blocks from Peachtree to Piedmont, and beyond.

The changes at Georgia State have been stunning, but I think those first graduates would see how much has remained the same. We’re still providing relevant, practical education for students who are driven to succeed. The spirit of perseverance, pragmatism and independence that defined our founding continues to shape our future. Our connection to and impact on the city have grown even stronger, and our students continue to benefit from having Atlanta as their classroom and laboratory.

Our ability to adapt is in our DNA. We’ve had seven names since our founding, and at every step we have redefined what it means to be an urban university. We have never been afraid of rolling up our sleeves to get the job done, sometimes in remarkable ways. George Sparks, our first president, cashed in his life insurance policy to pay the light bills during the Great Depression. After World War II, as the university struggled financially, he opened a sawmill on the fourth floor of Kell Hall to generate revenue. Throughout our history, we have pushed hard to earn the recognition we deserve as an outstanding public university that is making a difference in its community and for its state.

Some might call us scrappy. I call us enterprising. As Georgia State moves into its second century, we have much to celebrate. Our university has earned national recognition for our ability to graduate students from all socio-economic, ethnic and geographic backgrounds. Our strategic plan creates a path to achieve our vision for leadership in student success, education and research. We will continue to be a national center in addressing the complex challenges of cities, using Atlanta as our laboratory. Our professors continue to find innovative ways to teach students. We will achieve distinction in building partnerships around the globe.

We may look markedly different than we did 100 years ago, but our enterprising culture remains the same as it was a century ago. And we will remain a campus for students from all walks of life who see higher education as the key to a better life for themselves and their families.


Mark P. Becker