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University of North Georgia celebrates its inaugural year
0111UNG Cumming2
Brooke Smith, left, helps hand out T-shirts displaying the new University of North Georgia Nighthawks mascot Thursday at a ceremony honoring the merging of North Georgia College & State University and Gainesville College into the University of North Georgia at University Center | GA 400 in Cumming. - photo by Autumn Vetter | Times regional staff

The University of North Georgia did not waste much time in celebrating its final approval, as a rolling tour of university dignitaries hit the road to each of the institution’s four campuses.

On Thursday, the university kicked off its inaugural semester with four on-campus pep rallies, starting with the flagship campus in Dahlonega.

“This campus has gone through a lot of work,” President Bonita Jacobs told the hundreds of students, faculty and staff in the Memorial Hall Gym. “This is a great day and we have a lot of celebrating to do.”

The crowd heard from Jacobs, along with school and local government officials, and were treated to performances by the cheer and dance squads.

During the presentation, Gary McCullough, Daholonega’s mayor, and Chris Dockery, the Lumpkin County Board of Commissioners chairman, named Jan. 10 as University of North Georgia day for the city and county. Each of the other three communities with campuses — Gainesville, Watkinsville and Cumming — did the same.

“The city of Dahlonega has always had a great working relationship with North Georgia — whatever it is now — University of North Georgia,” McCullough said.

Dockery said the consolidation, which was announced in September 2011 and given the last stamp of approval on Tuesday by the Board of Regents, came with “mixed emotions.” But he said both schools — North Georgia College & State University and Gainesville State College — showed “teamwork” and “compromise” to reach the goal.

During the pep rally, students were officially introduced to the new logo and the new mascot. Their reaction to the finalization of the merger has been laced with “excitement.”

“I think it’s great,” said Amanda Hotop, a junior on the Dahlonega campus. “We were not really sure about it at first but I think all the changes they’ve made — it’s not really a change as much as it’s an addition to our school.

“(We were unsure how) adding all these new people to something that we love and we know, how it was going to affect our daily lives. But, so far it’s been good, and what I can see and what they’ve told us for the future, it sounds like the school that we still love.”

Free T-shirts, which were given away to a horde of students after the event, helped the cause.

“Everybody’s excited about it because it’s something new,” said Ray Dean, a junior on the Dahlonega campus. “I’ve never heard of anything like this before so it’s something really big.

“I really enjoy the logo, too. I’m really excited about that, and I like the Nighthawk thing, too.”

The rolling pep rally tour, following the opening event in Dahlonega, made stops on the Oconee, Gainesville and Cumming campuses.

In Cumming, students, faculty and leaders of University Center | GA 400 gathered with community members.

Jacobs told a crowd of about 300 in the University Center’s community room that they have much to be proud of.

“There are a number of things that make this college very, very unique,” she said. “We are four campuses and we’re 16,000 students strong, but we are also the military college of Georgia.

“We will be one of six senior military colleges in the United States and we are the No. 1 Army ROTC program in the nation.”

Also during that ceremony, Sherman Day, director of the campus, spoke briefly about its accomplishments.

The site, off Pilgrim Mill Road near Ga. 400, opened in August and began offering classes during the fall 2012 semester.

“We kind of hung out a sign, the building was not quite complete last fall, and we had almost 500 students attend,” Day said. “And we’ve increased that to where we’re quite a bit over 500 right now, and we’re excited about the students we have.”

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools approved the consolidation plan in December.

The merger brings the student body to 16,000 students, making it the seventh-largest public school in the state.

“We are exceptional,” Jacobs said. “The University of North Georgia is exceptional. We will continue to be exceptional.”

The system also approved consolidations for Augusta State University and Georgia Health Sciences University; Waycross College and South Georgia College; and Macon State College and Middle Georgia College.

The plan reduces the number of state institutions from 35 to 31.

Times regional staff writer Crystal Ledford contributed to this report.

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