When asked how to address her, “Dr. Joseph, Madam President (that is my favorite) but no… it is just Jann. Most of the time, I am just Jann,” said the president of Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC), an accomplished scholar with a PhD, active leader at both national and local levels, Gwinnett Chamber board member, and mom to three adult sons. Being “just Jann” is a lot! She laughed in jest for a moment at what could be her bragging rights, but it is quite evident that Dr. Jann Joseph lives and breathes the art of being fully invested in those around her.
Dr. Joseph was finally able to celebrate her investiture as president of GGC, three years – and one global pandemic – after she originally took office. And how did she feel about that? In her words, nothing but normal; perhaps because she is used to being an outlier. According to the American Council on Education (ACE), only 5% of all college presidents are women of color1. So, this next step in her career was about as normal as it could get for Dr. Joseph, albeit still admirably significant. What added to the significance of this official ceremony, however, was the message she brought to the community. After all, how many newly appointed college presidents get to speak to visionary action – and point to results – at their own investiture? But that’s exactly what Dr. Joseph did.
For years, GGC had been built, grown, advanced and heralded as Georgia’s most innovative and fastest-growing college. So, when that momentum took a sudden halt due to COVID, Dr. Joseph saw an opportunity to look inward and bring structure to that rapid growth. She sought to understand present circumstances, manage existing responsibilities, and begin to foster a culture where “access” was not just a word to describe enrollment, but rather a pathway to achieving success in life. The focus shifted to creating a sustainable institution that could leverage the strength of its open-access and community minded foundations and propel GGC into a new type of “first-choice” academic institution for aspiring scholars, athletes, and liberal arts enthusiasts. In other words, she saw the opportunity to invest in people.
Joseph reinvented the staff structure to focus on this vision for ‘access to success,’ recognizing that her own ability to succeed truly rested in those around her. Human resources needed to be strong, stable, and capable of finding new talent while creating upward mobility for existing employees. Being an innovation hub required the college to lead in technology best practices. And student success, beyond the campus, demanded the human capital sufficient to deliver purposeful and lasting relationships with the student body. Dr. Joseph invested in building a staff, leadership team, and trusted consultants to effectively execute this vision. Her advice to each one of her team members centered around trust, “We are all valued in our roles–knowing when to lead and when to follow, because leaders must always know when to follow.”
Outside of her role as a big-hearted, pioneering community leader, Dr. Joseph is clearly invested in her family, and proud to be just Jann, just mom, and just grandmother. She encourages her children to know the heads and hearts of others, looking beyond external appearance. She keeps herself humble, tempering any inclination for pride with gratefulness and thankfulness. She said it also helps to have a son who is not afraid to remind her of her ‘just’ positions. Her late husband, Dr. Edwin Joseph, who she describes as her ‘rock’ among an ocean of mentors and influencers, still frames her decisions, even today, because of the bond that they shared in life. And the Joseph Family Scholarship at GGC is a personally endowed fund that honors her late husband and offers financial support for full-time GGC social sciences students.
Perhaps her biggest investment of all is yet to come. You see, Dr. Joseph is also investing in GGC’s legacy; one built around excellence, responsibility, humility, and vision. Her goals for the school include maximizing retention rates, reducing debt, and shaping the college’s reputation for being a ‘campus of choice,’ a top-3 school on every Gwinnett student’s list of college options. But this will take a village, and there is no better village than her peers at the Gwinnett Chamber to help shape that reputation for GGC. “I’m working for that next cabinet… that next president to leave GGC with as little as possible for my successor to have to fix; that will be my success.” So, whether it is her investiture, her people, her family, or her legacy, make no mistake about it. Dr. Joseph is fully invested in Gwinnett and ensuring that GGC remains a vital part of educating and developing our community for generations to come.