Dr. Bonita Jacobs ’71 & ’73 said she never imagined herself with a career in higher education, but through life’s twists and turns, she has discovered and answered her calling, currently serving as president of the University of North Georgia.
Recently named among the 100 Most Influential Georgians by Georgia Trend magazine and an Atlanta top education leader by the Atlanta Business Chronicle, Jacobs’ unexpected career in higher education has led to more scholarships, expanded curriculum, increased research and other notable accomplishments.
A Huntington, Texas, native, Jacobs first found her feet on Nacogdoches soil when she attended SFA as an undergraduate student, receiving a Bachelor of Science in Spanish in 1971, followed by a Master of Education in counseling in 1973.
After graduation, she and her husband moved from Texas’ Oldest Town to Beaumont, Texas, but returned a short time later when he was transferred back for work. Once settled again in Nacogdoches, Jacobs applied for a staff position at SFA and was hired as a counselor in student affairs.
“I quickly learned two things,” Jacobs said. “First, I loved higher education, and second, I was drawn to working with students, particularly the planning, programming and supervising side.”
Keeping this knowledge in mind, Jacobs learned of a position within SFA’s Residence Life Department and applied. She was hired and began work as a coordinator. Working her way up the ladder, she advanced to the role of director in 1983, a position she held until 1986 when she temporarily moved to College Station to complete her doctoral degree.
With her doctoral degree in educational administration under her belt, Jacobs and her family again relocated, this time settling in North Carolina, where she joined Western Carolina University as assistant vice chancellor and later served as interim vice chancellor. Twelve years later, she came back to Texas to serve as vice president for student development and professor of higher education at the University of North Texas.
In 2011, an opportunity arose for Jacobs in Georgia that would lead to her current position. Jacobs, hired as president of North Georgia College and State University, directed the consolidation of NGCSU and Gainesville State College, when the two combined in 2013 to form the University of North Georgia.
During her presidency, Jacobs has worked with staff members to increase alumni giving and scholarship funding by 500 percent. Another area she is particularly proud of is her involvement with the success of transfer students.
Jacobs founded the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students, which she said bridges knowledge, policies and practice by bringing together a wide range of stakeholders to explore the issues related to the transfer process to facilitate student success and degree completion.
Additionally, she authored The College Transfer Student in America: The Forgotten Student, a book presenting research and efforts that share the intent of boosting transfer student success. She also has served as the editor of the Journal of College Orientation and Transition.
Although her career has led her to various higher education administrative positions throughout the South, Jacobs said she still recalls fond memories of her time at SFA and the influence the university and its faculty members had on her career.
“When I look back at my time as a student at SFA, what stands out to me is that the university possesses faculty and staff members who genuinely care for the students, and the students know that,” she said. “During the time I was there, SFA was growing very rapidly. It was a busy time, but the faculty never lost sight of the fact that the university was a student-focused institution.”
Jacobs said her involvement as a member in the Chi Omega sorority chapter at SFA also greatly contributed to her success both as a student and professional.
“I have to point to Chi Omega as a turning point for me,” she said. “I was involved in Gamma Sigma Sigma National Service Sorority as well as Chi Omega, and both gave me opportunities for student leadership and to learn more about how to lead and how to follow. I have great memories of my time with those organizations.”