Right on Track
Keel Committed to Optimizing State’s Sole Dental School
As passionate as newly installed President Brooks Keel is about every component of the university he oversees, he has a unique commitment to The Dental College of Georgia based on the college’s unique role.
“Having the state’s only dental school is a big obligation,” said Keel, who joined Augusta University in July as the university’s new president. “The Dental College of Georgia plays a vital role in the well-being of our university, our community and our state.”
He is heartened that he has inherited such a strong foundation for the 48-year-old college, including a highly committed faculty, a student body that consistently exceeds national averages on board scores, alumni vigorously engaged in their alma mater and a strong track record in research.
“I like to say that even though I gave up my lab when I moved into administration, I gained 800 new ones,” said Keel, a past Augusta University Distinguished Alumnus Award recipient who served as president of Georgia Southern University for five and a half years before joining Augusta University. “I now live vicariously through the success of others. My job is not just administrator but facilitator of other people’s goals and dreams. I had a National Institutes of Health-funded lab for many years before moving into administration, so I’ve got a broad experience base on which to build.”
He envisions Augusta University becoming a top-50 research institution nationwide and considers the dental college a key component of that goal. “We need about $40 million more in National Institutes of Health funding,” he said of the university-wide research initiative. “That’s going to be very, very heavy lifting. It won’t happen overnight, but I’ll make sure we’re on track to get there.”
Keel also plans to vigorously promote more research collaboration. For instance, “I’d like to see us capitalize on engineering research at Georgia Tech and Georgia Southern.”
He applauds the dental college’s existing efforts on this front, including several ongoing collaborations between The Dental College of Georgia and Georgia Institute of Technology researchers. Drs. Chris Cutler, David Pashley and Franklin Tay, all members of the dental faculty, are pursuing research with Georgia Tech engineers. The projects include developing a computer model to test the bond of solvents and adhesive monomers used in restorative dentistry; studying the use of bioactive glass fibers to repair the effects of certain oral bone-wasting diseases; and developing technology to image oral soft tissues.
Keel is also fiercely committed to enhancing the educational experience of all Augusta University students, including those earning dental degrees.
“I feel very strongly about making education affordable for all of our students,” he said. “In addition to addressing state subsidies, both achievement-based and needs-based scholarships are key. Alumni are looking back and realizing they need to lend a hand to those coming behind them. I hope to help inspire them to act on that. Of course, we already offer an excellent education at an exceptional value, and I plan to build on that.”
‘A Real Electricity’
He is gratified that dental students have such cutting-edge educational facilities. “The new dental building has allowed us to increase the class size while creating incredible clinical and research opportunities, and that growth will continue,” he said. “The Harrison Education Commons also provides exceptional facilities for our dental students. And buildings like that are a constant reminder to our undergraduates that that’s where they want to be.”
Keel plans to increase pipeline opportunities offering a smooth transition into graduate or professional school for deserving Augusta University undergraduates. This synergy between undergraduate and graduate educations was a major attraction to his new position, noted Keel, who earned his undergraduate degree from Augusta College.“The opportunity to be president of both my graduate and undergraduate alma mater is incredibly unique,” he said. “I find it enormously fulfilling to oversee a major biomedical research university, and I really appreciate the wonder of an undergraduate campus. There’s a real electricity in this environment. One of the great benefits of consolidation is that we’re able to bring undergraduates and graduate/professional students together as never before. I find that those in the health sciences have a natural love of creative pursuits, and we have greater opportunities than ever to bring art and science together. Appreciating both the art and science, and finding ways to complement the other: that’s the future of Augusta University.”
30 Years in Training
Keel has been tremendously gratified to find such a welcoming faculty and staff. “They are outstanding, and morale is very, very good,” he said. “I’ve heard nothing but good things about consolidation. This is a unique opportunity to move forward. I want to address barometers of faculty and staff satisfaction such as salaries and workload, for instance by making sure faculty have time to pursue their research interests.”
He also looks forward to making alumni feel more invested than ever in their alma mater. “We want our alumni to feel like the value of their diploma is continually increasing,” he said. “And when we approach them about helping us advance our mission, I want to change the focus. Rather than asking for financial assistance for, say, a particular program or need, I want to ask potential donors, ‘What are you passionate about?’ The donor will be the one driving the train. The deans and faculty will be pivotally involved; we want to put them front and center. After all, who better relates to alumni than those working in the trenches to advance the mission of their alma mater?”
Community relationships are vital as well, he stressed. “I understand and appreciate the Augusta community,” Keel said. “I’ll spend a lot of time engaging with community members. Augusta University can’t succeed without Augusta, and Augusta can’t succeed without Augusta University. We want to contribute to the economic development of the community and serve as a magnet for the best minds nationwide and beyond. We have to make sure we live up to our obligation to make Augusta a better place.”
His overall outlook is one of tremendous enthusiasm. “I’ve spent the last 30 years in training for this job, and I’m tremendously excited to be here.”