'Catalysts for a better future': Fuchko invested as sixth Dalton State College president

May 6—Standing on a stage in Dalton State College's Bandy Gymnasium and looking toward a sea of colleagues, family members, community leaders and students, Dalton State President John Fuchko III said everyone has a purpose.

"Not for ourselves alone are we born," Fuchko said, echoing words from the ancient Roman philosopher Cicero. "I believe our highest purpose is served when serving others and putting others' interests above our own."

Now, after almost one full year on campus, Fuchko said he will strive to continue that purpose after he was officially installed as the sixth president of Dalton State during an investiture ceremony on April 26.

A tradition in colleges and universities dating back centuries, investiture ceremonies are held during a president's first year as a way to celebrate new leadership while honoring the past and looking toward the future.

During the ceremony, local elected officials, Dalton State representatives, delegates from other Georgia universities and members of the University System of Georgia's Board of Regents offered greetings and remarks to Fuchko, including Dalton Mayor Annalee Harlan Sams, state Sen. Chuck Payne, state Rep. Kasey Carpenter and Georgia Supreme Court Justice Charlie Bethel.

In between musical numbers performed by the Smitty Barnett-directed Dalton/Whitfield Community Band, guests including University of Georgia President Jere Morehead, Georgia Southern University President Kyle Marrero and Maj. Gen. Tom Carden of the Georgia National Guard gave words of encouragement and congratulations while sharing stories about Fuchko, a colonel in the Georgia Army National Guard.

Fuchko, who was named president of Dalton State on Oct. 5, 2023, after serving in an interim role beginning that June, has been a familiar face in Georgia higher education for almost two decades. Fuchko has served as the University System of Georgia chief audit officer and vice chancellor of organizational effectiveness and as interim president of Columbus State University.

A 'servant-leader'Following an introduction by presiding Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia Nels Peterson, whom Fuchko said has been a close friend for 40 years, the investiture was conducted by former Georgia governor and current University System of Georgia Chancellor Sonny Perdue.

Perdue said the ceremony symbolizes a "commitment to the pursuit of knowledge and confers the authority and the symbols of high office to the person chosen to lead this institution."

"More importantly, it gives me and many others you heard from today an opportunity to tell you why this person was chosen to lead one of the best colleges in the South," Perdue said. "John Fuchko is an amazing person. It'd be simple to say John's a servant-leader, and that's true at home and in all of his other areas, from military experience and service to certainly academia as well."

Perdue said a strong commitment to public service is "in (Fuchko's) DNA."

"John spent his life being committed to learning and understanding how important it is to communicate effectively and transparently," he said. "He's done the work."

Perdue said Dalton State College plays an important role, "not just in the Dalton community but in all of Northwest Georgia and in parts of Tennessee and Alabama as well."

"It's a great gateway for students in higher education," he said. "Students don't feel like a number here, they feel like they belong."

The 'secret to leadership'After thanking the Lord, Perdue, members of the Board of Regents, the National Guard, his children and his wife Sherie, among others, Fuchko began his inaugural address by providing insight on his path to becoming Dalton State's sixth president.

"If there is a secret to any of the things that I've done, it's been that I've striven to truly, sacrificially love other people," he said. "That's the only secret to leadership. If you love other people, you love your faculty, your staff, your community, your students and your God, then you're going to do the right things the right way."

While Fuchko is a parent to 12 children with his wife, he said he likes to believe that number is much higher.

"I would like to say I have 5,000 new children with the students here at Dalton State College," Fuchko said. "They are a tremendous group of leaders. They're coming from the area and from multiple countries, they're staying in the area and they're serving our communities. That's what it's about."

Fuchko stressed the importance to "measure what matters."

"Data, metrics, analysis and intelligence all require the use of judgment and prudence," he said. "But as Chancellor Perdue is fond of saying, we're just playing around if we're not keeping score. We will and must use data to inform our decision-making and to provide an objective perspective on where we are doing well and where we can improve."

A worthy investmentFuchko said in moving the needle for students and the community, he wants the college to be a "net importer of talent" to fuel the economy, culture and communities.

"We are catalysts for a better future for everyone with whom we engage and we serve," he said. "With our large Latino population and our over 50% first generation college students, we have the ability to profoundly impact generations of college students and their families for lives to come."

Fuchko said that can only be accomplished with support.

"But we're not asking for support out of a sense of obligation," he said. "We're asking for an investment in Dalton State as an investment in your and our collective futures. It's an investment with a return reflected in the overwhelming majority of our graduates who come from this community and return to it to work and to serve as productive citizens."

As he addressed former Dalton State presidents who came before him, including Margaret Venable and John Schwenn who were in attendance, Fuchko said he has been able to build on a "tremendous foundation of leaders."

In measuring the value that Dalton State has to the area, Fuchko asked the attendees to imagine a scenario in which it did not exist.

"What would we do if something was not there?" he said. "Imagine we didn't have automobiles, modern medicine, electricity and so on. Scores of people would be working day and night to invent it. Imagine for a moment if the founders and supporters had not convinced the governor and the Board of Regents to support a junior college being chartered in 1963. What would this community look like? What would this region look like?"

Fuchko said he believes the "very first order of business would be to convince them that we'd need a college right here, because regions and communities will not thrive without higher education."

"Thankfully, we are blessed with Dalton State right here, right now," he said. "And I am convinced that this is our time to thrive, to grow and to usher in a next generation who will serve and do so knowing that 'Not for ourselves alone are we born.'"