Name: Michelle R. Johnston

Family: My better half, Gene Pierce, and I moved to the Golden Isles in 2018. My daughters – Rae (24) and Abi (21) – are in college in Alabama but take every opportunity to visit Mom at the beach!

School: My degrees are from the University of Alabama, Louisiana State University, Mississippi State University and the University of Florida. It was a whirlwind tour of the SEC … and alumni and fans of other SEC schools make sure to let me know that I attended the wrong ones! College campuses are such special places. Each one has its own unique character and spirit. I love it!

Occupation: President at College of Coastal Georgia

Favorite Places in the Golden Isles: After my No. 1 favorite place – our college campus – my list of “go-to” spots is long. I’m drawn to the water and love to spend time inshore fishing on our little boat. Downtown Brunswick has so much to offer, the beaches at Jekyll Island are hard to beat, and the Coastal Georgia Historical Society’s World War II and Lighthouse museums offer incredible experiences. And I never want to take for granted how lucky we are to have the abundance of walking/biking paths and trails in the area.

How did you end up in the Golden Isles? I was drawn to the strong reputation for excellence at the college, which in my opinion has the most powerful and best mission of any institution in the University System of Georgia. I jumped at the opportunity to work with the extremely talented and dedicated faculty and staff at the college to transform students’ lives in a way that only College of Coastal Georgia can. To be a part of the Mariner family is such a privilege, but it is also a responsibility that everyone at the college takes incredibly seriously. We are laser-focused on students, their success and their futures. I can’t wait to get to campus each day to be part of that!

What are you most excited for as the new school year begins? The start of a new academic year is always full of hope and excitement. Watching students settle into their residence halls, get involved in campus organizations and activities and share excitement about what they are learning is something special. I wish we could bottle that! Our mantra is “every student, every time” and we surround students with lots of support as we challenge them with rigorous courses and programs.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job? Hands down, the best days are when our students walk across the graduation stage and are awarded their degrees. Our graduates are our mark on the world. To be a part of building a better educated community, state, nation and world is a driving force. To make an average annual economic impact in this area of $100M and to offer a robust service learning program that works with over 190 local agencies and organizations are important aspects of our community-minded values. And our students are just incredible human beings, which is why I am so thankful to serve at a college where the president knows students by name, knows about their career goals, and also knows about challenges or roadblocks that exist. I hear day in and day out from our students that they may have initially chosen the college because of our location, our academic program options, our size, our value and affordability, our competitive athletic teams or our reputation for excellence, but they stay at the college largely because of their strong relationships with faculty, staff and their peers. It’s a family!

What are some of your goals for 2021? We are engaged in many important planning efforts to chart the course for the next era of the college. With lots of campus and community input, we are developing a new five-year strategic plan and a 10-year facilities master plan. We have campus improvements in the works at our Brunswick and Camden locations, and we are moving forward toward the design phase for a new Center for the Arts building on our campus in partnership with the Glynn County Schools.

What advice do you have for incoming college students? I always encourage students to find their “lifelines” – free tutoring on campus, around-the-clock library assistance, 24/7 mental health services, academic and career counselors, diversity initiatives staff, and so much more – and lean on those early and often. Also, it’s so important to get involved in student groups and clubs, get out of your comfort zone and interact with other students who come from throughout Georgia, over 30 states and 38 countries. And, as a college student, remember to work hard but also have fun. Enjoy everything the Golden Isles has to offer!