Armstrong: A Powerful Legacy

old photo showing vintage cars parking outside of the Armstrong House in Savannah, GA

From its start as a junior college in the historic Armstrong House, located alongside Savannah’s Forsyth Park, to the vibrant Savannah and Liberty campuses of today, Armstrong has a range of impressive accomplishments. For those that are new to this fantastic heritage, here’s a quick trip down Armstrong’s memory lane.

Savannah Mayor Thomas Gamble founded Armstrong Junior College during the height of the Great Depression, and opened its doors in 1935 with 175 students. The original goal was to help stimulate Savannah’s economy and advance opportunities for local youth. Later, as World War II grew nearer, war preparation, military and aviation courses were added.

Building the Academic and Physical Foundation

photo from 1937 showing a man in clothing like the three musketeers sitting next to a woman in a long flowing dress talking to a woman standing next to them

SERIOUS ABOUT PLAY: In 1937, actor Stacy Keach Sr. formed the university playhouse. This group was the forerunner to the Masquers student theatre troupe, which now features more than 12 student-produced plays annually.

In 1940, Armstrong received its first accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), and in 1959 became a two-year unit of the University System of Georgia (USG).  Major changes occurred in the 1960s. Former Savannah Mayor Otis Johnson entered as the first African-American student in 1963. In 1964, the USG Board of Regents conferred four-year status on Armstrong State College, and in 1968, SACS granted Armstrong accreditation as a senior institution. This change in status enabled the college to award its first baccalaureate degrees. Advancement continued. In 1971, the Board of Regents authorized Armstrong and Savannah State to offer joint graduate programs leading to the MBA and the M.S. in Education. Most importantly, in 1996, the institution gained state university status.

photo from 1965, two men standing around a street sign that reads: Science Hall, Student Center

DUE SOUTH: Campus markers point to new Southside campus in 1965.

While they were building the academic foundation, Armstrong was expanding its physical foundation as well. Donald Livingston and the Mills B. Lane Foundation donated a new campus site of 250 acres in southside Savannah in 1962. Four years later, in 1966, the college moved to the current location of the Armstrong Campus leaving the Armstrong House behind. Eight original buildings, known as the campus quad, were constructed. The beautiful Armstrong Campus is renowned for its abundant flowers, ferns, magnolias and Spanish moss-draped oak trees scattered throughout the arboretum-style campus.

Military Advancement and Cybersecurity

a shot from 1940 of 11 men standing in front of a small plane

SOLDIERS: Armstrong’s Aviation Club prepared students for World War II deployment in 1940.

Armstrong has long been considered a pioneer in educational services for the military and national security-related programs. In 1998, Armstrong collaborated with other USG institutions to create the Liberty Center, to offer degree programs in Liberty County, serving Fort Stewart and surrounding areas. In 2012, Armstrong was named a Military Friendly School by G.I. Jobs Magazine and opened the campus Military Outreach Center. During 2014, groundbreaking took place for the new and expanded Liberty Center, a 21,000-square-foot, leading-edge facility which opened its doors in 2016.  The facility serves Liberty County’s growing student population, with special services for military affiliates and dual-enrollment options for local high school students. That same year, Military Times honored Armstrong, ranking the institution fourth in the nation among four-year schools on its Best for Vets Colleges list, and Military Spouse named Armstrong a Top 100 Military Spouse Friendly School.

1980s photo of two women students sitting in their shared dorm room talking.

LIFELONG FRIENDS: Residential life on campus in the 80s included shared rooms.

Another major milestone was achieved in 2015 when the National Security Agency (NSA) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security recognized Armstrong as a National Center for Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education. This was followed in September 2017 with the Department of Defense Cyber Crime Center (DC3), designating Armstrong as a Center of Digital Forensics Academic Excellence. Armstrong became one of only 14 schools in the nation that have both the NSA and DC3 designations.

Achievement for Latinos and Other Underrepresented Minorities

Latinos are one of the fastest-growing student populations in America and in southeast Georgia.  Consequently, in 2003, the Hispanic Outreach and Leadership at Armstrong (HOLA) program was established under a generous grant from the Goizueta Foundation. In 2011, Armstrong earned a $600,000 grant from the Lumina Foundation for Education, and was one of only 12 institutions nationally selected to serve as the lead in developing regional partnerships to promote Latino student enrollment in college. Additionally, in 2015, the Education Trust, a Washington, D.C. organization that shapes and influences national and state policy, named Armstrong a top performing school for underrepresented minority students.

Focus on Health Care Professions

Health care professions have been in high demand for years. To fill the educational need for health care training in southeast Georgia, beginning in 1978, the Board of Regents designated Armstrong as a Regional Health Professions Education Center. Armstrong gained approval to offer a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree in 2009. After only two years Armstrong’s Doctorate of Physical Therapy was ranked in the top third in the nation by U.S. News and World Report. 

Health care grants soon followed. In 2013, the College of Health Professions received a $1.5 million grant to implement an interprofessional care model at St. Mary’s Health Center in Savannah, allowing students to provide care to the underserved. In October 2017, Associate Provost for Academic Affairs and Graduate Studies Donna Brooks, Ph.D., received a four-year U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration’s Scholarships for Disadvantaged Students Program Grant valued at $5.2 million. The program provides grants to universities who use the funding for scholarships for students from disadvantaged backgrounds enrolled in health professions programs.

To accommodate the resulting planned growth, in 2017, Armstrong broke ground on a 63,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility to house the Waters College of Health Professions.

Consolidation and Future

group of seven students sitting outside studying as a group

2018 IS HERE: Students gather on the Student Union porch on the Armstrong campus.

A landmark event occurred in 2017 when the USG Board of Regents voted to consolidate Armstrong State University and Georgia Southern University. The consolidation brings two noteworthy institutions together, combining the best of both into a powerful new unit. From expertise with military-friendly and cyber-security programs, to accomplishments in health care professions, serving the underrepresented student population and more, Armstrong’s credentials are noteworthy. This history of impressive accomplishments will continue on the Armstrong Campus.

Liz Walker

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