Furman University Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost George Shields was one of three professors from across the nation to be named a 2018 Cottrell Scholar TREE Award recipient.
The Transformational Research and Excellence in Education awards are presented by Research Corporation and recognize the "outstanding research and educational accomplishments" of the organization's Cottrell Scholars. George, who is also a professor of chemistry at Furman, was named a Cottrell Scholar in 1994 and is the first professor from a primarily undergraduate institution to receive the TREE Award.
This is an exceptional honor for George and for Furman," said President Elizabeth Davis. "George is a notable scientist who has made highly significant, internationally regarded contributionsto the field of computational chemistry for decades, even while serving as Furman's provost."
As Furman's chief academic officer, George is responsible for the faculty and related administrative departments that support all undergraduate, graduate and continuing education programs.
George received his Bachelors, Masters and Doctorate all from Georgia Tech in Chemistry and was a four-year Lacrosse Player. None of this is a success is a surprise to former Head Coach Matt Linskey and his former staff where George was recognized as the ultimate team player. Matt Linskey observed, "George was so focused on doing whatever we asked him to do and continually improving his skills to help the team. He was rock solid dependable as a player which was what we needed". Linskey went on to explain, "Back in the early 1980's there was limited club teams to play and we were trying to build a program which back then meant consistently beating Division 3 Varsity teams. Early defeats convinced us we did not have enough talent at Georgia Tech from students with prior Lacrosse experience and we needed to augment what we had with excellent athletes that we developed into lacrosse players over time. George was a perfect example as a track guy he could outrun everyone on the team and we needed to leverage that skill set. What made George was special in his "team first" attitude and work ethic that lifted everyone up. It's no surprise to us he is a great success in life!
We recently sat down with George to discuss his life now and reflect upon his time and experiences at Georgia Tech:
How did you end up at Georgia Tech?
I grew up in a small town outside of Syracuse, Marcellus, New York. One of my friends was going to Tech and I was thinking about studying engineering at either Carnegie-Mellon, Case Western Reserve, or RPI, and when my friend told me about Atlanta, I decided that I would really like to explore a different part of the country while I was in college. Plus, I was happy to escape from the cold and snow for a while.
What path took you to become President for Academic Affairs and Provost at Furman University?
I was a chemistry major at Tech, and then stayed for graduate school, and the people skills I learned through off field activities for the Lacrosse team and leadership activities on the Student Center Programs Board had me thinking about leading organizations from an early age. After a postdoctoral stint at Yale University I started my academic career in 1989 at Lake Forest College, north of Chicago. My last two years I was department chair, and I was recruited to Hamilton College in central New York to chair their department in 1998. I was the founding dean of the college of science and technology at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah from 2008-2010, and dean of the college of arts and sciences at Bucknell University from 2010-2016, before moving to Furman.
What are you hoping to achieve in this current position?
We have embarked on an ambitious project to provide each and every student who enters college with a four-year pathway for lifetime success, guided by a team of advisors and mentors, that includes high impact transformative experiences such as research with a professor, study abroad opportunities, and mentored internships, so that our students can figure out who they are becoming and what they want to do when they graduate. The four-year pathway finishes with a connection to the career center early enough, so they don't struggle to find a job. We call this, The Furman Advantage. It is an ambitious project, requiring excellent institutional assessment to make sure no student falls through the cracks, and if we pull it off it will be an idea that others will want to emulate.
You are among the rare people who obtained a Bachelors, Masters and PHD from Tech, how did that come about?
My senior year the chemistry department didn't have enough TAs to teach lab, so I got a chance to TA general chemistry lab in the Fall, in Lyman Hall. I noticed that when I gave my prelab lectures that many students from other sections were coming in to hear me explain what was going on, and I interpreted this as, I must be a good teacher, so I decided I would get a master's degree and then teach High School. During my MS program I became enchanted with research – it was just so cool to be able to use your brain and instruments and equipment in the lab to figure out nature's secrets. When I went home one summer and talked with my high school chemistry and physics teachers and told them that my professors thought I should stay in school and earn my PhD, they told me to go for it, since I could always teach High School with a PhD, but my options to teach college would be limited without one. So I stayed for my PhD. It was great advice.
How did you end up coming out to play lacrosse?
I ran cross-country with Jose Gonzalez, and yes, I was MUCH faster! Jose talked me into trying out for the Lacrosse team. I started playing as a sophomore and played four years including my first year in graduate school. Lacrosse was great because I met a cross section of students who were different from me, and I learned how to work with them on and off the field. I didn't know it at the time, but this gave me more people skills that are essential if you are trying to lead an organization like a college or university. I wrestled and ran cross-country and track in high school, so Lacrosse was my first team sport, and I really enjoyed it.
George #24 at Midfield in early 1980s
Any Memories stick out?
Both good and Bad. The most tragic thing that has ever happened at Tech was at the end of my Sophomore year, when Alex Kiehl died. That tragedy is seared across my brain, and I think of Alex often. On the good side I had a lot of fun with my midfield, Eddie Krikorian and Bill Parsons. Bill almost always won the face-off and Ed and I would do our best to pick up the ball and head downfield. One of my favorite memories was when we were in a very close game, and our midfield only went in 4 times, and we scored three or maybe all four times. Afterwards the opposing coach thanked Coach Schack for not sending in his number one midfield very often so that the game stayed close. We thought this was hilarious since we were either the third or fourth midfield. I also really enjoyed watching Nick Lizzo, Paul Van Slyke, and Tim Kehoe play. They were three outstanding student-athletes with exciting styles. Seeing them again, along with Bill Parsons, TJ Elberty and Jose Gonzalez when we dedicated the stands for Alex was another great, more recent memory.
What do you think of the Lacrosse program at Tech now?
Program is outstanding. It is nice to see that they are so competitive every year.
What advice do you have for current players?
Have fun and keep the game in perspective. Your life will be filled with options you can't even imagine now, so make use of your time at Tech to learn as much as you can about everything, and not just what you learn in classes. The best learning often occurs outside of the classroom. Go Jackets!