Sharon Nickols is not retiring. And, she’s not stepping down as dean of the College of Family and Consumer Sciences.
“I’m stepping up to the faculty,” she emphasizes as the end of her nearly 15-year tenure as dean draws closer.
In fact, Nickols is looking forward to returning to a teaching and research position for the first time in 20 years when she ends her tenure as dean on June 30.
“I’m excited about the opportunity to learn how to conduct historical research,” she says. “I want to explore what was occurring at Midwestern universities in the field of home economics prior to the Lake Placid conferences in 1899, which have generally been viewed as the birthplace of our field.”
Although she has made plans for her future research focus, the months since she announced her retirement as dean have been too busy to allow much time for quiet reflection and contemplation.
Among recent accomplishments have been the endowment of a new distinguished professor position in the textiles; merchandising and interiors department; the establishment of a new master of arts degree in teaching for those focused on pre-kindergarten through grade five; a commitment to UGA’s Griffin campus to provide the consumer economics major and new areas of emphasis in residential property management and soft goods merchandising.
“The credit for these accomplishments really goes to the faculty for being innovative and ready to respond to industry and consumer needs,” Nickols says.
She also has seen progress in a long-term goal with the announcement of additional space being allocated to FACS in Barrow Hall within the next year. Since arriving at UGA in 1991, Nickols has overseen a 96 percent growth in undergraduate enrollment in the college coupled with a 15 percent growth in tenure-track faculty. Juggling that explosive growth has required creativity.
“I can’t say enough about the support the faculty has provided as we’ve grown,” Nickols says. “They have readily accepted teaching larger classes in locations outside of Dawson Hall. And they’ve done this while still maintaining their other duties.”
The support of the faculty is broader than just teaching, however, according to Nickols. She also points to their accomplishments in research, Cooperative Extension and public service.
“Our college is in the top five nationally in external research funding among colleges of family and consumer sciences,” she says. “But more important than the numbers of dollars is the quality and relevance of the research.”
Likewise Nickols is passionate about the college’s Cooperative Extension and public service efforts.
“It takes special skills to determine the content and the best way to educate the citizens of Georgia,” she says. “Our Cooperative Extension and public service faculty are among the best in the country in both areas. The land-grant mission requires a special balancing act between research, outreach and teaching. I’m proud that our college’s faculty have that balance.”
Although being dean requires many hours of attending to administrative concerns, Nickols has made a point of staying in touch with students. In addition to co-teaching the introduction to FACS course since 1998, Nickols also has organized and led the annual Leadership FACS retreat and served as the faculty leader of the FACS Ambassadors, a student group that provides support for a variety of college activities.
“Working with students and seeing their accomplishments, both while they’re students and after graduating, and bringing in new faculty and nurturing their talents, those are the areas that are so important to me,” Nickols says.
Late last month, various celebrations were held in Nickols’s honor. But it’s the final graduation and convocation ceremonies in May that Nickols knows will be toughest emotionally.
“I have always gotten a great deal of joy from congratulating the students on their accomplishments, so I’m sure it’s going to be bittersweet to go through that ceremony for a final time as dean,” she says. “But it’s exciting to think about beginning new projects and new opportunities in the academic realm.”