Outside Views of Brenau's Jacksonville Campus.

Brenau-In-Jax: ‘A Natural Fit’

Some of the most prominent and most visible names in Florida’s largest city also show up on Brenau University’s alumni rolls.

When Brenau staged an open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony  Sept. 1 at its new facility on the booming south side of Florida’s largest city, Jacksonville City Council President Greg Anderson, in his official remarks, welcoming the university shared an interesting personal note. From his days as a University of Georgia student, Anderson noted that he certainly had been aware of Brenau, which is based about 40 miles from his alma mater’s campus. However, he learned more about Brenau from his wife, Beville. Her grandmother, Nathalie Lorraine Beville Fant, was a late 1920s Brenau alumna. Nathalie’s husband, Julian,  and her son, Hickory Fant (Beville Anderson’s uncle), were also Jacksonville city council members.

Brenau University President Ed Schrader cuts the ribbon at the school's new Jacksonville campus along side, Patty Wolfe, Brenau Trustee; Greg Anderson, Jacksonville City Council President ;Charles Moreland, Director of Community Affairs in the Office of the Mayor of Jacksonville; and David Barnett, CFO of Brenau University.
Brenau President Ed Schrader cuts the ribbon at the university’s new Jacksonville campus alongside trustee Patty Wolfe; Jacksonville City Council President Greg Anderson; Charles Moreland, director of community affairs in the office of the mayor of Jacksonville; and Brenau CFO David Barnett.

That kind of connection, however, is one of the key reasons Brenau picked Jacksonville as its first location outside of the state of Georgia since the early 1900s, said Brenau President Ed Schrader. With more than 700 alumni currently living in or around the Florida city, not to mention hundreds more members of the Brenau family who have passed on, you do not have to look too far to find such connections.

For example, another guest at the ribbon cutting, Susan Davies, an interior designer with Pond & Company architects in Jacksonville, said that her grandmother, Dr. Elizabeth Heimers, had served as a professor at Brenau College in the late 1930s. Indeed, Schrader said, some of the most recognizable names in the city connect to Brenau, including the late Freda Grunfest Stein, WC ’33, matriarch of the Jacksonville-based Stein Mart family, and Grace Hambrick Osborn, whose husband was Prime F. Osborn III, the business and philanthropic leader for whom Jacksonville’s convention center is named. Prime Osborn played a key role in the merger of Atlantic Coast Line and Seaboard Air Line railroads in 1967 and served as chair of the merged company, CSX Corp. In fact, the Brenau Jacksonville campus is located just a few hundred yards from the CSX corporate headquarters, and four of the first five students admitted to the MBA program scheduled to begin this fall are CSX employees.

Left to right: Nathalie Lorraine Beville Fant, Freda Grunfest Stein, Grace Hambrick Osborn
Left to right: Nathalie Lorraine Beville Fant, Freda Grunfest Stein,
Grace Hambrick Osborn

‘All Local Businesses Will Benefit’

“I am certainly excited that my alma mater is in town and more folks will have an opportunity to take advantage of their programs,” said Leo Kreisel, who earned both his bachelor’s degree and M.B.A. in project management at Brenau’s Kings Bay, Georgia, campus in the 1990s while he was still in the U.S. Navy. He is now the director of track testing at CSX. “All local businesses benefit from having choices, and I think Brenau is a great choice for Jacksonville.”

The other “great fit” for Brenau in Jacksonville, said Schrader, is the university’s growing reputation as a military- and veteran-friendly institution located in a city where more than 50 percent of residents have some past or current military relationship.

“One of Brenau’s biggest strengths has been its ability to provide quality education for nontraditional and adult students,” said retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Patty Wolfe, BU ’87, a Jacksonville resident who is also a member of the Brenau University Board of Trustees. “I am thrilled that same high-quality education is now coming to north Florida.”

Brenau Trustee Patty Wolfe, a retired Navy admiral who lives in Jacksonville, tells the crowd about the exciting new chapter in Brenau's history as the school opens a campus in Jackonsonville, Florida.
Brenau trustee Patty Wolfe, a retired Navy admiral who lives in Jacksonville, speaks at the opening ceremony for the university’s latest campus.

The new northern Florida site at 6622 Southpoint Drive South is the university’s sixth campus and its first outside the state of Georgia in more than 100 years. Dr. H.J. Pearce, who had acquired full ownership of Brenau in about 1900, and his co-president A.J. VanHoose opened a Brenau campus in Eufaula, Alabama, in 1905 at the behest of the Chattahoochee river town’s citizenry, who sought to fill space occupied by the defunct Union Female College, which had shut its doors after 50 years of operation there. Although that campus did not survive long, Schrader is infinitely more bullish on Jacksonville because of its enormous population of nontraditional students who are underserved by higher education.

“We know how to offer programs for working adults who are pursuing professional degrees,” he said. “Jacksonville is the best spot for us to be.”

Brenau plans to offer the M.B.A. program first, before the first classes that lead to a two-year Associate of Arts degree commence in early 2016. Other programs will begin as interest picks up, pending all required accreditation and licensing for the Florida location.

‘Flexible, Convenient Opportunity’

Dr. Charles Moreland, the city’s director of community affairs, represented Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, said Brenau’s M.B.A. programs offer working professionals a flexible, convenient opportunity to advance in their careers.

“The more educated we are, the better we will be,” he said. “This community will benefit greatly from having this university available.”

Sarah Perez, BU ’10, a former Navy electronics technician from St. Marys, Georgia, who received her undergrad business administration degree in 2010 at the Brenau Kings Bay, Georgia, campus, was one of the first graduate students to be admitted at the Jacksonville campus.

“I went to an alumni dinner and heard about the new Jacksonville campus and, lo and behold, it’s going to be right across the street from my office,” said Perez, who is a a corporate real estate service assistant for CSX Real Properties, Inc. However, Perez said she chose Brenau for more than its convenience.

“At Brenau, I know I’m getting the knowledge and tools I need for moving forward in my career,” she said, adding that she is looking forward to experiencing the same high-quality, academics-focused experience on the master’s level that she got as an undergrad.

One of the faculty members she will encounter in Jacksonville also came to the new operation through Kings Bay. Dr. Deane A. Desper, a former U.S. Navy logistics officer who now works as a project manager for the defense contractor BAE Systems-Fleet Support Logistics, will be teaching on both campuses in graduate and undergraduate programs.

“I really like the variety and quality of the students that I have encountered at Brenau,” the Woonsocket, Rhode Island native said. “Every one of them I’ve encountered seems to be driven by the desire to do their best and get the most that they can from their educations.”

Accommodates Professional, Personal Obligations

Brenau's Master Artist Dennis Campay speaks with trustee Parry Wolfe during the open house for the new Jacksonville campus.
Brenau’s Master Artist Dennis Campay speaks with trustee Parry Wolfe at the open house for the new Jacksonville campus.

Aliette Richard said she decided to apply to the Brenau M.B.A. program after spotting one of the Brenau “Now in Jax” billboards and visiting the university website.

“When I went online, I was very excited because Brenau has an M.B.A. specializing in project management, which is exactly the degree I am looking for,” said the assistant district manager for a company that provides government-related claims assistance for hospitals. The Brenau graduate school program, she added, easily accommodates her professional schedule and personal obligations.

“I want to learn as much as I can to make myself more marketable,” she said. “With the Jacksonville campus opening up, there’s no more waiting. It’s a great time to do just that.”

David L. Barnett, chief financial officer and senior vice president over all administrative operations of the university, said that Brenau’s educational format enables the university to offer programs at the convenience of the students. Adding to the convenience, he said, Brenau Jacksonville campus students also will have access to Brenau’s catalog of highly regarded undergraduate and graduate online programs.

Several months ago, Brenau completed the $210,000, 4,380-square-foot build-out for leased space on the top floor of a former Bank of America four-story office building on the south side of Jacksonville. The location is near the I-95 interchange at J.T. Butler Boulevard.

Schrader said that the heavy population of military personnel, veterans and their families in the Jacksonville area was a major factor in the university’s decision to locate there. Last year U.S. News & World Report ranked Brenau the 12th most veteran-friendly institution among comprehensive universities in the Southeast.

The Jacksonville site will not have an impact on the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base, which is only 47 miles away. Although Brenau at Kings Bay continues to meet needs of students in and out of the military, its location on the base restricts growth potential for the university.

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