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Gainesville State College's Nesbitt wins statewide character award
Martha Nesbitt
Martha Nesbitt


Hear Penny Mills, executive dean of the Gainesville State College Oconee campus, detail why she nominated Gainesville State College President Martha Nesbitt for the Turknett Leadership Character Award.

Gainesville State College President Martha Nesbitt has been named one of six Georgia leaders of the Turknett Leadership Character Award.

The Turknett Leadership Group is a management consulting firm based in Atlanta. For the past six years, the company has recognized Georgia individuals who demonstrate character in leadership through integrity and respect for others while maintaining a culture in which everyone takes responsibility for achieving results and upholding the organization’s core values.

Nesbitt was honored in the Turknett award’s education category.

Penny Mills is the executive dean of Gainesville State’s Oconee campus and also serves as the school’s interim vice president for academic affairs. She said she nominated Nesbitt for the award last year and this year, and was glad the panel named Nesbitt a winner.

"To me, Dr. Nesbitt just epitomizes what we look for in leadership today," Mills said. "She’s very collaborative when she makes a decision. She doesn’t do it without consulting the shareholders on campus or in the community who need to be included."

Nesbitt said she is honored to be awarded for her character leadership, and said her personal policy of dealing with issues head-on is the cornerstone of her leadership style.

"It really is a tremendous honor because character is so important," she said.

Mills said Nesbitt has been a professional mentor for her for years, and the Gainesville State president has made great improvements on the college campus since she became president in 1997.

Nesbitt has been the driving force behind growth and change at the institution, which now boasts enrollment of more than 8,200 students on two campuses. Nesbitt also oversaw the opening of the college’s Oconee campus, which relocated to the old site of Truett-McConnell College in 2003.

"She was a visionary in realizing there was a group of student in North Georgia being underserved," Mills said of Nesbitt’s move to open the Oconee campus.

Nesbitt also transitioned the college to a tobacco-free campus. In May 2003, Gainesville State became one of the first colleges in the country to be tobacco-free. The college provides smoking cessation courses for students, faculty and staff.

Mills applauds Nesbitt’s commitment to the community. She cites the summer programs for middle and high school minorities Nesbitt facilitated at the college as examples of her widespread commitment to better the opportunities and successes of North Georgia students.

Nesbitt said the character award meant even more to her when she found out another college educator was on the four-person award panel.

Betty Siegel, who was president of Kennesaw State University from 1981 to 2006, helped select Nesbitt as one of Turknett award recipients. Siegel was the first female president of any institution in the University System of Georgia. She also is distinguished as the longest serving female president of a public university in the nation.

Siegel said after working with Nesbitt in education for about 20 years, she knew Nesbitt was worthy of the award.

"This is a very, very high honor for a very good person," Siegel said. "I’ve know Martha for years, and she’s very deserving of this award. ... Her interest in faculty, her interest in the community, her interest in success — that’s what makes her such a leader of integrity."

Nesbitt is now one five female college presidents in the University System of Georgia, she said. Nesbitt said in January, Valerie Hepburn was appointed president of the College of Coastal Georgia and Virginia Carson was appointed president of South Georgia College.

Nesbitt said that although there are a handful of female college presidents, it remains a challenge for female administrators to reach the president’s office. She said she believes that remains the case because tradition dictates a man to be in that position, and the Board of Regents responsible for appointing college presidents is typically male-dominated.