Note from the Editors: In January 2015 Southern Polytechnic State University (SPSU) merged with Kennesaw State University. This article chronicles the history of SPSU from its founding until the time of the merger.
Southern Polytechnic State University (SPSU), a 230-acre campus, was located in Marietta, about twenty miles northwest of downtown Atlanta. A member of the University System of Georgia, SPSU in fall 2004 had approximately 3,700 students pursuing education in such career-based areas as architecture, computer science, physics, international studies, technical communication, engineering technologies, software engineering, construction, quality assurance, information technology, apparel/textile engineering technology, management, and surveying and mapping, among others. Students enjoyed individual attention from the faculty in small classes that averaged in size from twenty-five to thirty students. In addition, the Georgia Youth Science and Technology Centers were headquartered at SPSU, and the university was home to Georgia’s only NASA Teacher Resource Center.
SPSU was founded in 1948 as a two-year division of the Georgia Institute of Technology. It was established at the request of the Georgia Business and Industry Association to address the state’s technology-related employment needs. First called the Technical Institute, the school opened in Chamblee with 116 students, most of whom were World War II (1941-45) veterans. In 1949 the school became the Southern Technical Institute and was recognized as a college-level institution by the U.S. Office of Education (later, the U.S. Department of Education). The school moved to Marietta in 1961 and in 1970 became accredited as a four-year college, one of the first in the country to offer a Bachelor of Engineering Technology degree.
In the summer of 1980 SPSU achieved independence within the University System of Georgia by ending its ties with Georgia Tech and becoming the fourteenth senior college and the thirty-third independent unit of the university system. Another name change to the Southern College of Technology occurred in 1987 for the school often nicknamed “Southern Tech.” In 1996 the school became a university, with an accompanying name change to Southern Polytechnic State University. On-campus residential housing was available both in dormitories and in two- and four-bedroom apartments, which were the first privately developed, financed, and managed apartments in the University System of Georgia.
SPSU’s curricula covered a wide range of undergraduate and graduate programs, and the technology-related education was well balanced with liberal arts. The university offered both bachelor’s and master’s degrees, as well as continuing professional development, and focused on the practical application of knowledge and technology to solve problems and contribute to the state’s economic development. SPSU was known throughout Georgia’s business community as a school that responded to businesses’ needs by producing students qualified to enter the work force as valuable and productive professionals.
SPSU introduced a number of new programs and degrees into the University System of Georgia. The architecture program offered the university system’s only nationally accredited Bachelor of Architecture degree. SPSU also created Georgia’s first master’s programs in construction, technical and professional communication, and the management of technology. In addition, the university also offered Georgia’s only master’s programs in electrical engineering technology and in quality assurance. The quality assurance program, which trained students to provide quality control of products, processes, and systems, was offered on campus and via the Internet; it was the first Master of Science program offered online in Georgia. Finally, SPSU offered Georgia’s only bachelor’s degree in surveying and mapping.
SPSU consistently ranked among the top three schools in the university system in SAT scores of entering freshmen, and these freshmen ranked second in retention of their HOPE scholarships. Nationally ranked in the top ten for the number of engineering-related degrees earned by minority students, SPSU served a diverse student population composed of traditional and nontraditional students. SPSU offered many evening and weekend courses and a wide variety of certification programs for nontraditional students. About 26 percent of the students represented minority groups, and 16 percent were international students. Lisa A. Rossbacher, the school’s president from 1998 to 2014, was one of only a handful of women leading technology-related colleges and universities across the country.
SPSU was one of the original educational partners with Georgia’s Yamacraw initiative to attract high-tech businesses to the state. Georgia’s Intellectual Capital Partnership Program and SPSU partnered to bolster educational training for businesses, strengthening SPSU’s ties with organizations that furthered economic advancement. SPSU also worked with local companies, such as Lockheed Martin, to develop certificate programs and degrees that would specifically fill the training and employment needs of particular industries. The development of the Master of Science in Systems Engineering degree was a direct result of this partnership.