DOPP Executive Director to Step Down in March

Executive Director Tom Akins will not be completely walking away from the Division of Professional Practice (DOPP) when he retires in March.

Executive Director of Division of Professional Practice Thomas Akins
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Division of Professional Practice Executive Director Thomas Akins

Akins, who has worked in the experiential education arm of Georgia Tech for 33 years, plans to continue his work in arranging a centennial celebration for the co-op program in 2012.

An alumnus with a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering and a former co-op student, Akins returned to Tech as assistant director of the Cooperative Division after a few years as an engineer with First National Bank of Atlanta. In 1977, Akins also earned his MBA from Georgia State University. Students participating in DOPP's cooperative education opportunities typically alternate semesters of work and semesters of school. During this time, they are paid for their work.

"There weren't as many scholarships then," Akins said, referring to his own co-op experience in the early 1970s. "Today, there are more students with scholarships. Experience is the main motivator-which is probably how it should be." His varied experience with DOPP includes counseling students during their co-op experience.

In 1990, Akins became director of the Cooperative Division, and in 2002 he was named executive director of the now-named Division of Professional Practice. Under his leadership, the division added undergraduate internships and work-abroad opportunities for students. He was elected to multiple terms on the Institute's General Faculty Assembly, Academic Senate and Executive Board. Akins also has served on several search committees and standing faculty committees.

In 2002, Akins proposed to the Office of the Provost an expansion of DOPP by adding an internship program. "This brought more students in because now they didn't have to commit to every other semester," he said. "It also helps students satisfy the work component of the Tech Promise scholarship. We have well more than 1,000 students participating in internships." More than 2,700 are classified as co-op students, Akins said. When the graduate co-op program was added to DOPP in 2004 through reorganization, DOPP added 500 students each year, plus 150 or more with the recently created Work Abroad Program, resulting in roughly 4,000 students participating in DOPP programs at any given time.

Akins, who grew up in East Point, recalls that his father was a Western Union employee who worked at Georgia Tech football games to ensure the teletypes functioned properly.

"That was my first exposure to Georgia Tech," Akins said. "I don't think my dad would have thought bringing home all those programs from the Tech games would lead to my retiring from this place."

A few years ago, Akins said, his wife asked if he really enjoyed his work. "I told her I didn't want to do anything else," he said. "I truly believe this is what I was supposed to do. I have enjoyed this more and more the longer I have been here." And he says this quality is present in other members in the DOPP office. "People in this office have a real heart for students," he said. "That's what I look for when I hire."

Akins says he tells people that Georgia Tech doesn't have any peers, relative to cooperative education programs. "If you look at our program compared to other tier-1 research universities, none has the variety and quantity of experiential education opportunities or quality and number of students [participating]." He adds that taken all together, DOPP students easily earn more than $20 million a year in wages-which Akins adds is more than likely spent at Tech and in Atlanta.

"I have other things I want to do," Akins said about retiring. "I want to do more volunteer work and give back. I have traveled to Mexico on some missions trips, so I want to do more of that. I'm hoping to go to Romania to aid on a medical mission."

And retirement is where some of his most important work is starting, Akins says. He will work with a retired School of Economics professor to author an economic impact study on DOPP, as well as with School of Modern Languages Chair and Professor Phil McKnight on a grant from the Department of Education. "I will probably still teach one class, 'Preparing to Work in the Global Economy,'" he said.

The bulk of his "off time," he says, will be spent on preparing for the year-long centennial celebration of cooperative education at Tech, timed for fall semester 2012. Some of his plans include publishing a book, in addition to collating some archival information. "I also hope to raise about $5 million in endowment funds for this office-get a good start for the second century."

"I want to thank Provost Gary Schuster, [Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs] Andy Smith, President [Bud] Peterson and [Vice Provost for Graduate and Undergraduate Studies] Ray Vito," Akins said. "Because of them, I'm able to stay on and help with the centennial."

Akins also has been active in the Cooperative Education Division (CED) of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), serving one year as chair-elect and one year as chairman. He served two years as secretary-treasurer. He has conducted workshops and presentations on the state, regional, national and international levels, and serves as chairman of the Awards Committee. Recipient of the CED's 1998 Borman Award for outstanding service to the field of cooperative education and the Freund Award from the ASEE in 2003, he also served as president of the Accreditation Council for Cooperative Education.

Other professional involvements include the World Association for Cooperative Education, the Cooperative Education Internship Association and the National Association of Multicultural Engineering Program Advocates.

"Tom's leadership over the years to DOPP has been excellent," Vito said. "He's led the charge to offer new opportunities for students-not just here, but also abroad. He'll definitely be missed for his contributions to Tech."

"We've accomplished a lot since 1976," Akins said. "I don't have any regrets. I believe I have accomplished what I set out to do, and it's time for someone else to build on what we started."

The Georgia Institute of Technology is one of the world's premier research universities. Ranked seventh among U.S. News & World Report's top public universities and the eighth best engineering and information technology university in the world by Shanghai Jiao Tong University's Academic Ranking of World Universities, Georgia Tech’s more than 20,000 students are enrolled in its Colleges of Architecture, Computing, Engineering, Liberal Arts, Management and Sciences. Tech is among the nation's top producers of women and minority engineers. The Institute offers research opportunities to both undergraduate and graduate students and is home to more than 100 interdisciplinary units plus the Georgia Tech Research Institute.