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Dr. David Bridges Begins 13th Year as ABAC President

TIFTON—Dr. David Bridges has never let superstition stand in the way of progress.  When he begins his 13th year as president of Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College on July 1, that will not change.

“I know hotels don’t have 13 floors because some people are superstitious,” Bridges, the longest serving president in the University System of Georgia (USG), said.  “But you can’t stop the clock at 12.  We have much more to accomplish at ABAC.”

Since he became the 10th president in the history of ABAC on July 1, 2006, Bridges has kept ABAC on the cutting edge of accomplishments, most notably by trumpeting the charge for bachelor’s degrees at an institution which offered only associate degrees for 75 years.

ABAC now offers 13 bachelor’s degree programs, and almost 2,200 of ABAC’s 3,394 students are enrolled in four-year degrees.  That enrollment figure should rise this fall when ABAC’s consolidation with Bainbridge State College affects the ABAC headcount for the first time.

The USG Board of Regents approved Chancellor Steve Wrigley’s recommendation to merge Bainbridge State and ABAC on Jan. 11, 2017.  Huge chunks of Bridges’ time since then have been spent on the consolidation process.

“It has been challenging, and it has kept us from doing a few other things,” Bridges said.  “But it’s almost over, and we’ll continue to move forward.”

When the fall semester begins on Aug. 15, ABAC will cover more territory than at any other time in its 110-year history with instructional sites in Tifton, Moultrie, Bainbridge, Blakely, and Donalsonville.  ABAC already attracts students from 24 countries, 18 states, and 155 of Georgia’s 159 counties.

But the past year has been about much more than just consolidation for Bridges.  He waved the green-and-gold flag of ABAC long, hard, and often under the Gold Dome during the past legislative session to let lawmakers know the importance of funding an ABAC project to build a Fine Arts building and rehabilitate the Carlton Library.

When Governor Nathan Deal signed House Bill 684 at the Henry Tift Myers Airport in Tifton on May 2, Bridges breathed a tremendous sigh of relief since the state budget covered in that bill included $17.7 million in funding for the Fine Arts/Carlton project.  As the icing on the cake, Governor Deal also signed HB 951, which created a statewide Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovation which will be housed at ABAC.

“Thanks to great support from Governor Deal and the legislators, ABAC continues to invest in the arts,” Bridges said.  “Since the new building is on the front of campus, it will also raise the visibility of the arts at ABAC.

“I looked back at my notes from 2007, and I said then that no college can be complete without the arts, and I still believe that.  The arts are essential to the community and to the body of learners.”

Bridges believes the Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovation will be a difference maker for the entire state.

“The Center is a part of ABAC,” Bridges said.  “It will be the central part of public service for the College in years to come.”

Talking about the future, the trustees of the ABAC Foundation helped to brighten the future for students in the School of Agriculture and Natural Resources this spring when they purchased 1,000 acres in Tift County which will become the ABAC Teaching Forest.

“Those trees will take the forestry program from good to great,” Bridges said.  “It will put ABAC’s program on par with the finest forestry programs in the United States.”

Forty years ago this month, Bridges graduated from ABAC.  Although he is the only ABAC president who was once an ABAC student, he has said often that becoming the president of his alma mater wasn’t a lifelong dream.  His career path, which included many years in leadership situations with the University of Georgia, put him in a position to seize the opportunity when it developed.

“I have basically been on a college campus since I left Parrott to come to ABAC,” Bridges said.  “I can remember every step of the way but time doesn’t have a lot of meaning to me.  I take life one day at a time.”

Bridges recently celebrated his 60th birthday.  Even that significant lifetime event didn’t phase him.

“Just a number,” Bridges said with a grin.  “I still feel like I’m 25.”

Bridges is now the third longest tenured president in the history of ABAC.  Dr. George King served as president from 1934-47 and George P. Donaldson was the ABAC president from 1947-61.  Bridges shows no signs of burnout even though the average tenure of a college president is usually three to six years.

“As good as ABAC is, it can always be better,” Bridges said.  “Our mission is to change lives and prepare young people for a brighter future.  Those are strong motivators for me.”

Bridges’ top priority in his 13th year as ABAC’s chief executive is quite simple.

“Spread the good word about ABAC,” Bridges said.  “To know ABAC is to love ABAC.  But too few people know about ABAC.  We must focus on our strengths in both recruiting students and raising money.

“ABAC was a great two-year college when I graduated in 1978.  Today, it is a strong, highly respected four-year college.  I am pleased with our accomplishments but there is still much to do.  ABAC is poised for a very bright future.”

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