April 10, 2013

VSU Signs Employer-Educator Compact

VSU students Darryl Taylor, standing, works with Drew McCall at Azalea Health in Valdosta. The computer science majors are serving as interns and gaining valuable work experience.

VALDOSTA --President William J. McKinney announced today that Valdosta State University has joined the national Liberal Education and America's Promise (LEAP) Employer-Educator Compact initiative sponsored by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U).

The LEAP Employer-Educator Compact recognizes that quality learning is a national priority for employers who are seeking college graduates with a broader set of skills and knowledge.

This national movement includes more than 100 college and university presidents, along with business and non-profit leaders that have pledged to work together to ensure that college students have access to a quality liberal education that fully prepares them for work, life, and citizenship.

"The Employer-Educator Compact is a commitment to the learning outcomes that will educate 21st century leaders and citizens," said McKinney, who is a member of the LEAP President's Trust. "It is a commitment to the belief that all college students deserve an education that not only helps them get to their first job but also prepares them to learn for the rest of their lives in a rapidly changing world."

A firm believer in the value of a liberal education, McKinney has been actively involved with the AAC&U since 1994. In 2011, he represented the State of Indiana in the AAC&U's Quality Collaboratives Project. This collaborative, funded by the Lumina Foundation, seeks to refocus the national higher education dialogue on matters of quality and student learning outcomes by reemphasizing the centrality of faculty and liberal learning.

"I am proud that VSU is one of the first universities nationwide, and the first public university in Georgia, to be part of this bold and innovative initiative," said McKinney.

As part of the Employer-Educator Compact, Valdosta State is partnering with Azalea Health, South Georgia Medical Center and the Valdosta-Lowndes Chamber of Commerce to promote the economic value of liberal education and to provide students with more hands-on learning opportunities to connect their campus learning with real-world contexts and problems.

Baha Zeidan, co-founder and chief executive officer of Azalea Health, understands the importance of providing valuable learning opportunities to college students.

"Every business wants to both attract and retain a highly qualified team of individuals," said Zeidan, who graduated from Valdosta State University in 2002 with a degree in computer science. "VSU offers the largest pool of talent in this region and, as community leaders and business professionals, we need to foster this talent by working alongside the university. We look forward to working with VSU to ensure the student talent is streamlined from the university to the workplace."

Currently, Azalea Health has five VSU interns working in its Valdosta office and has plans to expand internship opportunities within the areas of computer science and business.

"One of the largest problems facing business leaders today is the lack of qualified employees," Zeidan said. "We want to work closely with the computer science department to help them attract those students with a passion and aptitude for technology and web development."

Azalea Health, a model for innovation in the workforce, was started in 2008 by Zeidan and fellow VSU alumni Doug Swords and Dan Henry, and has grown to more than 40 employees in three locations across Georgia.

"My vision is to create an 'innovation zone' in South Georgia," said McKinney. "Having a close relationship with innovative companies like Azalea Health will help us achieve that vision."

Valdosta State will continue to develop partnerships with other businesses in the region as means to ensure that more college students gain the broad outcomes of a liberal education and concrete experience by applying their learning in real-world settings.

McKinney said the ultimate goal is for Valdosta State to become a premier university that educates its students equally for the world of innovative work and engaged citizenship.

"I want to keep an open dialogue between VSU and our regional partners," said McKinney. "VSU has a role to play in South Georgia's economic and cultural well-being."