June 13, 2013

Jessica Pope
Communications and Media Relations Coordinator

Dr. John C. Gaston to Retire as Dean of VSU’s College of the Arts June 30

VALDOSTA — When all is said and done, Dr. John C. Gaston will miss the students at Valdosta State University. He will miss meeting new students who are really excited about education, as well as those who have yet to find their way.

Gaston arrived at then-Valdosta State College in August 1992. He had been hired as the new head of the Department of Communication Arts, a position he held for three years. He taught for several years within the department, developing a kinship with the first-generation students.

“I was the first person in my family to go to college,” said the retiring dean of VSU’s College of the Arts. “I know how difficult it can be.” Because of his experiences as a first-generation student, students from all across campus, both in and outside the College of the Arts, who are also the first in their families to pursue a demanding college education, have sought Gaston out as a mentor.   

By 2002, Gaston was named interim dean of the College of the Arts, which offers a number of undergraduate and graduate degrees in art, music, mass media, theatre, dance, speech communication, music education, art education, interior design, and music performance. The following year, he was named dean. He will officially retire at the end of June. However, he expects to be out of his office a little sooner to allow for a smooth transition for his successor, Blake Pearce, who has served VSU as head of the Department of Art for over a decade and as an art professor for 18-plus years. 

At the helm of the College of the Arts, Gaston has spent much of his time filling out forms, attending meetings, and putting out proverbial fires. He helped the campus develop an image-enhancing outdoor art collection, worked to help strengthen the university’s relationship with the community through such programs as Peach State Summer Theatre and Valdosta Symphony Orchestra, and strived to expand graduate degree opportunities in the arts. He has also helped develop a strong collaborative relationship between the college and other programs on campus and the community and supported the professional development and passion of the faculty. He believes that one of the best examples of his success in these areas is the quality of the new faculty the college has been able to attract.

With the strong support of and good working relationship with his faculty, Gaston has strived to make the College of the Arts better each year by expanding its goals, increasing faculty research, publication, and creativity, and more. He has worn many hats, and even though he had many responsibilities as dean, he continued to teach a class each semester and never let anything get in the way of his desire to help students.   

“I frequently stop what I am doing and solve student problems,” he said. “Some on campus may criticize me for how I use my time, but I believe it’s my job to listen to the students and help keep them in school. That’s what’s really important. Often, if a student is told to come back later, they do not and often end up dropping out of school.” He hopes his level of concern has made a positive difference and broken a few negative family cycles.

Because of his commitment to the students, to the College of the Arts, and to the university as a whole, Gaston has been known to arrive on the VSU campus early, to stay late, and to take work home. He said that retirement will be interesting.

“I’ll be able to wake up every day with no pressure to do anything,” he said. “There are only two things I’ll have to keep my eyes on — staying healthy and a ‘Plan B’ if I outlive my money.”

Gaston, who will turn 70 in August, noted that he looks forward to finally getting to focus on his “someday” list. He said that he has several in-progress artistic projects he hopes to finish, a pile of stuff he always said he would get around to one day, and a few creative ideas that he has been playing around with. He also looks forward to having the time to do more storytelling with area children.

“I have learned a lot from little kids,” he said. “They have some good ideas and ask interesting questions.”

Regional theatre fans will be happy to note that Gaston will revive his role as Hoke Colburn this summer in Theatre Guild Valdosta’s production of “Driving Miss Daisy” at the ’Dosta Playhouse. He described performing as “fun and challenging” and said that he has been doing something theatre-related since he was a child. It began with church productions and continued when he took his first theatre class in college and developed his first one-man show.

Born in South Carolina, Gaston and his family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, when he was just 6 years old. He joined the United States Air Force after high school, where he worked as a medic, which he referred to as being “an interesting job.” He initially entered college with the intention of becoming a high school speech teacher.

“I have been fortunate to do lots of different things and to work in lots of different areas,” he said, adding that teaching has been his greatest reward. He wishes he could have seen the construction of a new Fine Arts Building to house the growing population of College of the Arts students, which has doubled during his tenure as dean. However, he is confident that such a project will happen in the not-too-distant future and will play a major role in helping the college to expand its programs and move to the next level.

Gaston plans to remain in Valdosta following retirement. After growing up in Ohio and living for several years in Kansas, he said that he much prefers the warmer weather; snow is not high on his list of favorite things.  

Dr. John C. Gaston can be contacted at (229) 333-5832 or jgaston@valdosta.edu for more information.