Mercer Strikes Gold…Again

Macon — The reintroduction of football in Macon. A NCAA record 10 wins by a start-up program. A 2014 March Madness victory over Coach K and powerhouse Duke.

To the outside observer it would appear that much of the recent enrollment success of Mercer University could be attributed to the buzz surrounding the success of revamped sports programs and especially the win over Duke, but David A. Davis, Director of Fellowships and Scholarships at Mercer, would say differently.

“I think our increase only has a little bit to do with Duke. The Duke game was great. It gave us a level of national exposure that we couldn’t possibly purchase in any way,” Davis said. “But the reasons that people come to Mercer are primarily because of Mercer. Because of this place, because of these people, because of this faculty and because of these experiences.”

For the second straight year Mercer has earned both a Goldwater and Fulbright scholar. This is also the third year in a row the university has won a Goldwater scholarship and the second year in a row earning a Fulbright scholarship.

Coincidentally, this is also the third year in a row the university has broken its personal record for enrolled students for the fall semester with 807 freshmen, according to a university news release.

Mercer has seen a significant increase in enrolled freshman classes over the past several years going from 565 students in 2011 to the 807 statistic for the 2014 fall semester, an increase of over 40 percent according to a university news release.

Davis said that many of the investments that Mercer has made in the past several decades are coming to fruition now and it is reflected in the increase in inquiries and enrollment of students.

“We’re incredibly fortunate to be in this position when many other universities are seeing a decline either in inquiries or in student quality,” said Davis. “The university has a diverse set of offerings. A student knows they can come into Mercer and they see the possibility of going from here into a school of medicine, into a school of law, into a physician’s assistant program…”

The Goldwater and Fulbright scholarships awarded over the past several years are a large part of that. They reflect well on the reputation of the university, which Davis said is “a very squishy, abstract idea.”

The Goldwater scholarship for instance reflects well on the emphasis the university has placed on its undergraduate research. Mercer wants to create for its students an environment that attempts to solve real world problems with potential real world solutions according to Davis.

The philosophy is that students who are writing their own research proposals and finding their own results find much more responsibility in their work rather than being in a classroom where they’re simply assimilating information fed to them by a professor.

“Which class would you rather take?” asked Davis.

One student who has taken that philosophy by the horns is Kirsten Brown. Brown, 21, and a junior at Mercer university won the Goldwater scholarship in 2014 as a sophomore.

Brown currently conducts research in the lab of Dr. Garland Crawford, working on a biological protein called OGA that binds without breaking the sugar off. They are conducting research so they can use it as a technique for identifying that sugar and figuring out where in the body it is and what it’s attached to in order to manipulate it and understand its functions.

“It’s a good bragging right for Mercer because ‘look now we have four Goldwater scholars,’” Brown said. “Obviously our scientific research is very advanced and recognized nationally which is really cool.”

The scholarships are indicative of the prestige and accreditation of the university. This indicates to science and even non-science majors that the school is “pretty good” according to Brown.

Kaitlin Schlosser, Associate Director of Admissions and Director of Campus Visitation at Mercer, agrees.

“I think that it certainly adds to the prestige of the University as well as serves as a wonderful narrative to share with our families,” Schlosser said. “It allows for prospective students and their parents to see what they, too, could be doing on our campus and how successful our teaching methods are.”

Many of the major competitive scholarships and fellowships support opportunities for students to engage in service opportunities and this is what Mercer is attempting to instill directly into the teaching methods at Mercer according to Davis.

This can immediately be seen in Mercer’s new Quality Enhancement Plan or QEP. “Research Reaching Out” is an initiative that Mercer is implementing to increase the already impressive service characteristic of the university.

“Most fellowships and scholarships support opportunities for students to get engaged by dynamic, real world research. We’re embedding that directly into the pedagogy,” said Davis. “We’re gonna expect every single student who comes through Mercer to be exposed to real world problems and to engage with finding potential real world solutions.”

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