Whether you label him a Renaissance man or a Swiss army knife, Mike Fulford truly is a person of many talents.
At UGA alone, Fulford’s sphere of influence includes daily work as the assistant dean for institutional effectiveness and strategic initiatives in the College of Pharmacy, serving on the graduate faculty in the Mary Frances Early College of Education, and teaching ballroom dance in the Department of Dance, where he is co-director of the UGA Ballroom Performance Group. Like a well-choreographed dance number, Fulford skillfully executes an encore performance for all the organizations he serves.
Originally from Atlanta, Fulford attended UGA as an undergraduate pursuing a BBA degree in accounting. While serving as a resident assistant and a student employee in the Registrar’s Office, he discovered his true passion for student affairs. He went on to earn a Master’s of Education in student personnel in higher education at UGA while working as a graduate resident in Creswell Hall.
Fulford spent the next 15 years in traditional student affairs roles at Oglethorpe University, the Georgia Institute of Technology and Lanier Technical College. Along the way, he earned a Ph.D. in educational policy studies with an emphasis on higher education and social foundations at Georgia State University. His dissertation, “Failing at College Football Reform: The Jan Kemp Trial at the University of Georgia,” focused on college football reform across the country, especially at UGA.
A desire to shift to a faculty position and lend his expertise in academic affairs led Fulford to UGA’s College of Pharmacy in 2011, where he started out as the director of assessment and an academic professional. During the past decade, he has shifted and molded into various roles at the colleges, all with the focus of serving students.
“I’m not a pharmaceutical scientist nor pharmacist, and I don’t pretend to be,” Fulford said. “What we do at our college is pharmacy education. My job is to be the education expert in this critical equation.”
He added, “I never thought I would find a professional home in the College of Pharmacy, but during my 10-plus years here, I have been overwhelmed by how hard my colleagues work and how much our faculty and staff genuinely care about each individual student. All the rest we figure out by collaborating and working together … and keeping our students in the spotlight.”
Taking the stage
Speaking of spotlights, Fulford shines in the performance beam of dance and theater. He was introduced to ballroom dancing when he needed a physical education credit as an undergraduate.
“I was a bulky ex-football player who found his way into dance and theater … and I immediately fell in love with all of it,” he said. “Mark Wheeler, then head of the dance department, founder of the ballroom dance program, my original ballroom dance instructor, and a true mentor, met me where I was in life. He was present with me; he genuinely cared about my life and my health. He pushed and challenged me, and drastically changed who I was. I try to model the way I work after him.”
He remained connected to the ballroom dance program, even after he left UGA to launch his professional career. When he returned to Athens and UGA, the dance program wasted no time in asking for Fulford’s expertise and experience to teach beginning and advanced ballroom dancing.
“Ironically, the dance department is across the street from the College of Pharmacy. When the opportunity opened at the college, it was a sign that this is where I was meant to be,” he said.
He added, “I take mental breaks from pharmacy and go teach dance. Plus, it keeps me connected to different types of students.”
Along with teaching dance, Fulford is active in the local theater scene. Minoring in theatre at UGA, he began his long connection with the Town and Gown Players, where he serves on the board of trustees. He has choreographed musicals for various groups and universities locally and regionally throughout the years.
Fulford is quick to point out the driving motivations in his sphere of work and leisure. “Certainly, the mentors in my life have been a source of support, such as Mark Wheeler, who I mentioned. Dr. George Francisco, who retired a few years ago as the College of Pharmacy’s associate dean for academic affairs, remains a mentor, friend and constant force in my life. And of course, my family is my rock.”
Speaking of which, UGA’s dance program gave him much more than a toe-tapping skill set. It is where he met his dance partner for life, Jennifer, also a UGA alumna. The Fulfords have three children—the eldest is a freshman at UGA—and the family’s favorite pastime is numerous trips to Disney World each year.
“I’ve been lucky. I’ve found a place and a position where I’m able to provide and give a lot, not only to students but also to staff and faculty,” said Fulford. “I’m also able to feed my creative passions, pretty much every day. If that makes me a Swiss army knife or a jack-of-all-trades, I’ll gladly accept those labels.”