For Director of Nursing and Professor Rebecca (Becca) Maddox, retiring from Georgia Highlands College after two decades of service and during COVID-19 remote operations is a bittersweet experience, but her family’s roots with the college, her time mentoring and helping cultivate the next generation of healthcare workers, and her unwavering pride for GHC culminate, for her, as a long career of success and happiness.
A “Virtual” Retirement Celebration
As the college moved to remote operations during her last year at GHC before retirement, Maddox wasn’t sure exactly what her retirement celebration may look like or if it could even happen at all. However, her friends and colleagues made sure to provide her with a sendoff she will always remember.
It all started with a proposal for a virtual “going away” party.
“When we started the Zoom session, I was told to go to my front door,” Maddox said. “When I opened the door, there were gifts, chips, salsa, guacamole and margaritas waiting there for me. The gifts were awesome! They had put together a scrap book covering my 20-plus years at [GHC]. They had also had a wall hanging and quilt made. Each faculty member had been given a square to decorate however they wished. They had also tracked down many faculty who taught with me in the past. Some of the squares were embroidered, some were hand drawn with fabric paint and some were transfers of photos. They were about my personal life and hobbies, represented good memories from throughout the years, relationships and friendships formed and the family we have all become.”
Teaching and Mentoring Over the Years
Maddox has seen GHC change names and grow across the region over the past 20 years, transitioning from a junior college to a two-year unit of the University System of Georgia and then to a state college.
“When I first started teaching, we were on the Floyd campus. When I returned in 1998, the nursing program had moved to Heritage Hall,” Maddox said. “That has been my primary location, but I taught a few classes when the college was located on Gilmer Street in Cartersville, taught occasionally when we taught nursing on the North Metro campus in Acworth, taught a few classes when we were located on the Southern Poly campus, and finally taught some classes when the nursing program was offered at the WellStar Development Center.”
Running the gamut of instruction formats, Maddox has said she always sought the same result from her students.
“I love teaching, both face-to-face and online. I enjoy watching the light bulb come on when students begin to grasp difficult concepts and start putting all the pieces together,” Maddox said. “I enjoyed being in the clinical setting working with students and caring for patients with them. I had high standards in the clinical setting, but the students knew what those standards were and strived to meet and exceed them.”
Maddox said she also appreciates the experiences she has had serving as a mentor for students, helping them to find their path in higher education. She said students would occasionally enter health-based programs that may not fit their personal strengths and skillsets, but she enjoyed helping students find the right program to bring them academic and professional success.
“I enjoy advising students. I strive to be the person for them that my father was for me,” Maddox said. “Navigating the educational system can be difficult for students. Not everyone understands the ‘ins and outs.’ Many students declare nursing as their pathway because that is what they know, what they have heard about. Occasionally I ran into students who didn’t really want to be a nurse, but who didn’t know what other healthcare options were available. Some were there because their parents wanted them to be a nurse. Nursing school is hard — too hard if you don’t really want to be there.”
One Student’s Token of Thanks
In another example of Maddox making an impression on a student was when a student took a page from the traditional exchange of military challenge coins.
“Typically, military exchange coins are presented by unit commanders to recognize a special achievement by a member of the unit. The presentation is made by passing the coin during a handshake,” Maddox said. “Somehow, challenge coins became a topic of conversation with one of my clinical groups one semester.”
During the college’s spring 2012 pinning ceremony, nursing students were awarded the Georgia Highlands College Nursing pin to acknowledge academic work well done, entry into the profession of nursing and as a reminder of nursing’s historical mission to serve the sick.
“It is a very emotional ceremony. Many students hug me after receiving their pins,” Maddox said. “During this ceremony, one of the students came across the stage to get her pin, but instead of hugging me, she stepped back and shook my hand. At first I was a bit perplexed, then realized that there was something in that handshake. I looked down at our hands and then back up to her face. She was just grinning the biggest grin. She had tracked down a Nursing challenge coin and had passed it to me in the handshake. It brought me to tears and still does remember it. I still carry that challenge coin with me. It was one of the most meaningful moments of my career.”
A Family Tradition
Maddox said she will always be thankful for the lessons she has learned and skills she obtained on her path to being successful as a teacher, an assistant director, an interim chair and a director.
For Maddox, her family’s history echoed through the halls of Georgia Highlands College, often bringing back memories as well as inspiration to continue a tradition of excellence.
GHC’s Heritage Hall location is named for the late Judge James D. Maddox, whose family once owned the property where the building now sits. He is known for being one of the individuals who helped establish Floyd Junior College, now GHC, by spearheading the effort to pass a $3.2 million bond issue to begin construction on the institution in 1970.
“It wasn’t too long after the plaque of dad’s picture was hung in the building. I was sitting at the desk in Centre Stage while students were taking a final,” Maddox said. “I was thinking about everything that had been going on at the college. All of the changes. All of the changes in my life since dad had passed away. I looked up, and there he was. The plaque is hung so that incidentally his picture lines up with the little window in both the outer and inner doors to Centre Stage and lined straight up with where I was sitting. As I said, Heritage Hall is my home away from home and dad was looking over us.”
Keeping the GHC Spirit Alive
As many of her colleagues continue on at GHC and as future educators and staff come on board, Maddox shared some advice to help keep them motivated as they help others achieve their goals.
“Be proud of the college. Be proud of your contributions to the college and to the students,” Maddox said. “It takes each and every one of you to make this college the great place that it is. The home that it is for many of us and our students. Keep looking after each other and keep being family. Those of us who have been here a while will be leaving the college in your hands. From what I have seen over the past few years, the college is in great hands and will continue to grow and excel in providing affordable, quality education to meet the needs of the communities we serve.”
She said this type of attitude and approach to overseeing the execution and growth of an educational institution is what helped GHC grow to what it is recognized as today.
“If it had not been for that citizens’ committee and the strength, foresight, and drive of its members, if it had not been for the bond referendum to provide funds for the establishment of the college, the college would not be here to afford us the opportunity to make a difference. I look forward to seeing how the college grows.”
She continued, “My goal was to be an integral part of the college, to make a difference in the lives of students, to contribute to the nursing program being the best program in the area. I definitely feel that I have made contributions to the program along the way, but more importantly, I feel I have made a difference in the lives of students. I feel I have done my best to live up to my father’s legacy.”