While the dynamics of Georgia Southern’s multi-campus university may be new, Georj Lewis’ return to the institution as the University’s Vice President for Student Affairs feels like a homecoming.
A 23-year veteran of higher education, Lewis spent almost 11 years on the Statesboro campus. First joining as the director of the Multicultural Student Center in 2002, he led diversity efforts until he was offered the role of dean of students a year-and-a-half later. Catapulting his career timeline goals, Lewis entered the leadership team that oversaw a 15,000-plus student body at that time.
“It was very exciting, and it was a significant jump,” said Lewis. “It was a challenge, but Georgia Southern is an easy place to work. People want you to be successful. The job wasn’t easy, but people were very helpful during my growth process. Over time, I really became connected to the campus, to the community and definitely to the students. It was a family.”
During his nine-year tenure as dean, he earned an Ed.D., and a strong strategic planning skill set while directing multiple departments during the unchartered Facebook-era in which the campus experienced consistent growth. Yet, Lewis stayed focused on what inspires him most: students and their success.
“I love seeing the difference you can make.”
“I love seeing the difference you can make,” noted Lewis. “As the dean of students for several years, I was able to see several classes go through. What’s exciting is seeing the students’ transformation over four years. You feel extremely fortunate when you have direct interaction with the students and you can see the impact you may have had on them. When you have a breakthrough with a student, it’s something that you can’t put a price or a title on.”
Lewis was also active in Statesboro, sitting on the board of directors of the Hearts and Hands Clinic, Inc., which offers free primary health services to uninsured Bulloch County citizens, and the Boys and Girls Club. He was also a member of Rotary Club and NAACP and volunteered as a Bulloch County football and baseball coach.
In 2009, Lewis was honored with the Deen Day Smith Service to Mankind Award, and in 2012, when he accepted the role of vice chancellor for student affairs at Indiana University Northwest, the Dr. Georj L. Lewis Leadership Scholarship was established on his behalf. Citing his stewardship and innovation in the Office of the Dean of Students, the naming was also a nod to his support of “the development of the University’s diverse student population and assisting with the advancement of one of the most successful and influential Student Government Associations in Georgia Southern’s history.”
Lewis’ growing list of accomplishments added another block to his family’s legacy in education.
A Family of Educators
Lewis’ mother and grandmother were teachers and his father was an elementary school principal. Currently, his brother is the principal of The American School in Mexico City. Yet, growing up among the coal mines and steel mills of Connellsville, Pennsylvania, where football is king, Lewis dreamed of scaling corporate ladders among the skylines of nearby Pittsburgh.
He played football in high school and on scholarship at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, where he earned an accounting degree that would lead him, he thought, to an executive oak desk with a prestigious accounting firm in Steel City. But two or three years into the program, crunching numbers felt static. Lewis craved interaction with colleagues who would exchange ideas and inspire others. Still, he dutifully completed his four-year undergraduate program, an internship and a yearlong finance job. But when an admissions position at his college alma mater opened up, he leapt and landed the job. From day one it was a fit.
“I knew something was right,” remembered Lewis. “I really enjoyed working with students and helping people connect to their dreams. That’s what I liked most about it. I wasn’t selling anything. It was an opportunity for me to help students move closer to their goals.”
Lewis stayed in place for five years while also earning a master’s in counseling.
“I kind of stumbled into it all,” said Lewis. “I come from a family of educators so this was a natural transition to where I should have been in the first place.”
A New Opportunity with Georgia Southern
By the time a colleague who worked at Georgia Southern invited Lewis to apply for the Multicultural Student Center directorship in 2001, he was a family man with three young children. The interview was in December and there were 30 inches of snow on the ground in western Pennsylvania. The job offer on the Statesboro campus was a no-brainer, he joked, with Georgia’s sub-tropical weather. In reality, he and his wife, Anchelle, were excited about moving South for the new opportunity.
After more than a decade at Georgia Southern and two years as vice chancellor for student affairs at Indiana University Northwest, Lewis was persuaded to return South in 2013 when he accepted the position as Armstrong State University’s vice president for student affairs, where he remained until the consolidation with Georgia Southern.
Realigning with Georgia Southern peers is a boost for Lewis, who has kept in touch with many of them over the years, and he is appreciative of their support and talent.
“They have been very welcoming,” he said. “I’m excited to come together with an established division of some strong, strong people who have expertise in their functional areas.”
Educating a larger and highly diverse body of traditional and first-generation college students, who range in age from 15 to 90 and include a solid base of military members and their families, inspires Lewis.
“The diversity that we have between all of our campuses only makes us stronger,” he noted. “Both campuses have done some great things, particularly with Student Affairs, and I’m excited about that.”
“And there’s football,” he said, with a grin.
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