Former mayor brings skills, passion to college post
Aug. 25, 2014
Jeff Lukken, Administrative Director of Graduate and Degree Completion Programs, knows something about the importance of community.
As mayor of LaGrange for 16 years, Lukken was instrumental in creating initiatives that improved public services and quality of life in the city, leading to many regional and state awards. His peers credit Lukken's collaborative spirit with much of that success.
But Lukken said he never fully understood the power of community until he started his work at the college last fall.
“Here, we are all so connected in a mission where everyone wants us all to succeed,” he said. “I bet I have 10 mentors on campus. Everyone is constantly working to elevate our goals and make what we’re doing here a success. The support is amazing, and my co-workers Terri Bassett and Fayedra Mumme are huge parts of that.”
Lukken’s job includes an expansion of what was previously known as Evening College, as well as developing more graduate and online content, certification programs and continuing education courses, as well as increasing student enrollment.
Strengthening articulation agreements with two-year colleges is one of his objectives.
“I’m trying to enhance our relationship with schools like West Georgia Technical College and Georgia Military College, as well as several others who want to reconnect with us,” he said. “Our goal is to make it a seamless transition from a community college directly to LaGrange College.”
He also is looking at ways to make it easier for nontraditional students to enroll in courses.
“The first thing we want to do is make sure that our LaGrange College standards remain high,” he said. “But that can be a little more complicated for a student who is returning to school.”
For example, he said, a student may have had a 2.5 grade-point average when he graduated from high school, which meant that he would not have been accepted at LaGrange.
“But now this person has been an assistant human resources director for 14 years. We need to find better attributes and factors that will allow us to say ‘Yes, this person is LaGrange College material and has a real chance of success.’”
One possibility would be to develop a standardized assessment of prior life-learning skills for prospective students.
Another area of growth involves certification programs for area businesses.
“PowerTech recently asked us to do personality type testing for their executives,” Lukken said. “After that, Dr. Lydia Rosencrants and Cindi Bearden conducted classes for 70 more of their employees. This is important because PowerTech is a leading and progressive supplier for Kia. A certification program would bring executives from the entire region, and not just from the manufacturing industries but also from medical and business groups.”
Lukken said there is a great demand for such an initiative.
“These companies realize that their people do their jobs very well, but for those employees to move up in the ranks, they will need more education,” he said. “Sometimes that’s not necessarily a degree, but better skills in management, communication and leadership. And we will be in the position to offer those kinds of opportunities.”
He said the efforts of co-workers have been amazing as they have put together the certification courses.
“Lydia and Cindi have done a great job creating the communication classes, while Todd Prater in the SOURCE Center and Dr. Christi Hu did the personality type testing,” he said. “Dr. Jon Ernstberger and Dr. Josh Van Lieu have been invaluable, as well. This is a full-time, long-term vision, and we think we have the makings of something really special.”
Lukken also said he sees an increase in online courses in the near future.
“Whether they are certification courses or work on a bachelor’s degree, we want to offer our customers another option to help them further their education.”
Building on the successes of community-oriented programs like 3D Journeys, Lukken said Ernstberger and Mumme are looking at ways to bring the public to the Hill.
“As you age, you don’t want to stop learning,” he said. “Whether it’s basic computer skills, workforce computer skills, starting a small business or investment strategies, we would like to offer topics that would be attractive to the general public, as well as executives and industry employees. I am excited to see us explore different areas to see what is possible.”
Lukken said he has been inspired by the college’s leaders, students, faculty and alumni during his first nine months on the job.
“The administration does a fantastic job of keeping everybody well informed, engaged and involved in the big picture and the direction of the institution,” he said. “Everybody works as a team to find a solution to an issue, and it always boils down to one question – what is best for the students? That is a very powerful thing.”
The college’s students and alumni are a constant source of wonder, he said.
“These young people seriously want to make an impact,” he said. “It’s not just about making money, it’s about making a difference. And the alumni believe in and support the college like I've never seen. They are proud of everything we do, and are always willing to roll up their sleeves and help, whenever they are asked.”
Although his work as mayor and his new position in higher education are much different, there are still some similarities.
“Both jobs have allowed me to work with dedicated people who are singularly focused on their customers, whether they are citizens or students,” he said. “But here at LaGrange College, the passion for helping our students is contagious. Every day you’re able to see the difference you’re making, and everyone here plays an important role in fulfilling that mission. “I really am blessed to be part of this LaGrange College team.”