Georgia Tech Celebrates Dean Griffin Day

Thank A Professor Program Allows Students To Praise Professors That Embody Spirit Of Former Dean Of Students

Wanted: The Original Mr. Georgia Tech. Applicant should be an alumnus who is a friend to every student and excels at coaching freshman football, track and cross-country, and instructs mathematics courses. Degrees in civil engineering and industrial management and experience as a distinguished naval captain during World War II are preferred; applicants should expect to be memorialized as a statue.

Dean Griffin Statue
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A statue of Dean Griffin sits on the bench outside of Georgia Tech's Ferst Center for the Arts.

To date, only one individual has met all of these qualifications: George C. Griffin.

Many on campus may know him by the contemplative statue of his likeness that sits outside the Ferst Center for the Arts. The former dean of students was exceptionally influential in shaping the Georgia Tech we know today, earning him many superlatives including “The Original Mr. Georgia Tech” and “A Friend to Every Student.” His impact was so widely felt that former Governor Carl Sanders declared May 16, 1964, Dean Griffin Day.

Though Griffin died in 1990, his spirit still imbues many on campus with a sense of passion and pride. His contributions are honored each year at the Dean Griffin Day Luncheon—held this year on Friday, April 23—through recognition of faculty who, through their actions, best emulate him.

“Although the date has varied in years since, [Dean Griffin Day] has been celebrated annually with the purpose of remembering his awesome legacy and impact on Georgia Tech,” said Dean Griffin Day Luncheon Chair, Georgia Tech Ambassador, and industrial systems engineering student Zack Higbie.

Arriving at the Georgia School of Technology in 1914, Griffin began a lifelong commitment to the Institute that spanned more than seven decades. Among his many notable contributions, he served as the executive secretary of the Alumni Association, founded the Georgia Tech Placement Center and the Alumni Career Services Program, and started an emergency loan program that he called the “Hip Pocket Fund” that enabled many students to remain at Tech when their money ran out. In his many roles at Georgia Tech, Griffin’s preoccupation with helping students always emerged as a priority. In his final role at Tech, he served as dean of students from 1946 to 1964.

“The addition of a luncheon [to the day’s festivities] did not come until many years later, but it has been used as a method of recognizing the faculty, staff and teaching assistants who still embody this legacy today,” said Higbie. Sponsored by the Georgia Tech Ambassadors and the Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning (CETL), the luncheon brings together more than 300 students from across campus to thank professors that have been influential in shaping their Georgia Tech experience.

Throughout the school year, CETL collects letters written by students to their professors through their Thank A Teacher program. “All of the notes written to these outstanding members of the Tech community [are] presented at the luncheon or sent via campus mail to let them know how much the students value their contributions,” said Higbie.

“[Griffin] was a team player, willing to do just about anything Georgia Tech asked him to do," said President Bud Peterson at the luncheon. "But he was best known for his passion for students, and would do anything he could to help them succeed. If he had just invested in programs, we probably wouldn’t be celebrating him today. His real legacy is about the people he touched, and specifically, students.”

This year’s letters consistently expressed gratitude for teaching assistants’, instructors’, and professors’ prompt responses to e-mails, a knack for making material interesting, and accessible and inspiring success. In true Georgia Tech style, today’s professors and instructors innovated on the lessons of the Original Mr. Georgia Tech to inspire future generations of progress and service.

  • A student from Raghu Pucha’s Mechanical Engineering 1770 class wrote, “I want to thank you for reminding me that school is not all about the grades, but about the experience and the learning I get from it. I will always remember some simple, yet important advice you told me: figure out what I want to do, figure out what it takes, and do it.  You have encouraged me to know that I am capable of succeeding at Tech. Thank you for encouraging me to find my passion and work for it.”
  • In regards to Kristin Marsicano’s Computer Science 1315 class, one student wrote, “If anyone deserves this, it is you. Thank you for truly being a friend of the student and investing not only your skill and expertise, but also your heart and soul into your work. You are one of the most hardworking professors out there, and I wanted you to be acknowledged for it.”
  • Another student wrote a letter to teaching assistant (TA) Russ Krenek: “You are simply the best TA I have ever met. Almost every TA knows the information; there is no question about that. However, you excel above all others with your ability to explain the information in a way that the students can understand it. You can also tell when the class understands or when we need another round of explanations, something that never ceases to amaze me. There is a great difference between knowing and teaching. Few appreciate that fact. Here’s to you for being one of the few.”
  • Dr. Alan Erera was praised by a student in his Industrial and Systems Engineering 3103 class: “Thank you for taking the time to really teach this class even though it is double the size it is supposed to be. I can tell it is a challenge to hold a class of 140 when it really is only supposed to be 70 students, but I think that it’s great that you still try and stay on a personal level and teach a class versus a lecture!”

The 2009-2010 academic year saw the largest student enrollment in Georgia Tech’s history—20,000. “Those of you who we are celebrating today are here because you don’t see 20,000. You see individuals,” said Peterson. “You have been nominated by students because you care, you’re willing to go the extra mile, and you have a passion for teaching and helping students get everything they need to succeed.”