KENNESAW — Betty Siegel, Kennesaw State University’s president emeritus, says the rapid growth and success of the institution during her quarter-century at the helm is what continues at Kennesaw.
“We had everything going for us,” Siegel said. “We were a college on the move and began to receive a lot of recognition globally. It was fun and we found it fascinating.”
As the first woman president in the University System of Georgia, serving from 1981 to 2006, Siegel is the distinguished chair of leadership, ethics and character at Kennesaw State.
Siegel and her family were welcomed to what was then Kennesaw College with open arms from her job as Dean of the School of Education and Psychology at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, N.C.
Siegel said she and husband Joel Siegel knew that the college and county were the place they’d like to be after visiting the Marietta Square and speaking with shop owners.
“Here’s a place where people are hospitable,” she remembered. “They were so pleased to have Dr. Sturgis as the president and of Kennesaw, and that’s pretty good when a community rallies around a university. Politicians, teachers, artists and consumers, all wanted us to prosper and grow.”
Horace Sturgis was Kennesaw’s first president.
When Siegel became president Kennesaw had an enrollment of about 3,500 students.
During her 25-year presidency, student housing was added, sports programs were introduced, the college was renamed twice — Kennesaw State College in 1988 and Kennesaw State University in 1996 — and enrollment jumped to almost 20,000. KSU’s enrollment is now approaching the 25,000 mark.
“We were creating a new kind of college,” she said. “The students wanted to be a part of something. … It was the right time and the right place and Dr. Sturgis had built a great faculty. Let’s give credit where it’s due.”
She took time to be a part of the Kennesaw State community, too. Siegel ate breakfast at Waffle House near the campus on a regular basis, visited with students, and even slept over in the student dorms at times, taking notes about what they wanted to see change on campus.
“Everybody was involved and it was kind of neat because it means that you involve everybody as a member of the university,” she said. “Staff, students and faculty were all together.”
“You want the things that make life full,” Siegel continued. “A university is not just a collection of courses.”
Students appreciate Siegel’s legacy
It was because of her commitment to the university and her high expectations of students and staff that alumni today continue to respect what she did for the school and continue giving back to it.
“I think Dr. Siegel helped create that whole family-oriented feel, from students all the way up to faculty,” said Ted Parrish, who graduated from KSU in 1995. “Kennesaw has become like my family, so Dr. Siegel is my family, too. She was a glowing figure during that time … her facial expressions, energy and effort.”
Parrish, 41, transferred to KSU from South Georgia Junior College in Douglas in 1993 and played basketball for the college, which served about 10,000 at the time.
“My coach encouraged me to go to KSU,” he said. “It was a pretty energetic campus and I haven’t turned back. It was a wonderful experience. I get chill bumps just thinking of all the growth.”
Parrish earned a Bachelor of Business degree with a concentration in finance. He stayed in Kennesaw after graduation and is a partner at Henssler Financial in Kennesaw. A former professor at KSU, Gene Henssler, started the firm.
He is a trustee for the KSU Foundation, vice chair of the school’s finance committee and was invited in 2012 to deliver a graduation speech.