Laurent Ditmann is one busy person. He now has worked for Perimeter College of Georgia State University for nearly six months, and already has three jobs there.
Perimeter College includes five campuses and serves more than 21,000 students. As associate dean for the Fine Arts and Humanities Division, Ditmann provides leadership to the arts and humanities students, faculty, staff, and programs on all five campuses.
Ditmann is also “senior administrator” for the Newton Campus. That is where his office is located, and where he works with students and deals with their issues — though he says there are few of those. He supports the campus’ faculty, staff, and programs, serving as lead spokesperson and liaison to the Newton Campus service region.
“Over the past 3-4 years student numbers have fallen and activities have dwindled,” Ditmann said. “My job is to develop this campus in a business sense. That is, to work with communities, schools, businesses, municipalities, and others to ensure growth. Not necessarily growth in size, but growth in terms of doing more.”
Finally, Dittman, who was born in Paris, France, is an assistant professor and teaches French language classes.
In 1986 he came to the United States to attend graduate school. His plan was to stay four years. But, while at Portland State University, he met and married his American wife and has lived and worked in the United States ever since. His wife is currently a project manager for an engineering firm. They live in Tucker.
Ditmann’s work experience and interests are varied. After completing a doctorate in French Studies at Brown University, he took a faculty position in the Department of Foreign Languages at Spelman College in Atlanta. Starting as an assistant professor, he later became chairperson for that department.
After nine years at Spelman, he left higher education to work as a small business and education consultant for Nine Lives Knowledge Management in Tucker. He is still involved in that work.
For most of the years between 2006 and 2013, he was principal for the International Community School, a multi-cultural charter school operated by the DeKalb County School District for kindergarten through fifth grade children. About 50 percent of the school’s students are children of international refugees; American children make up the rest of the student body.
When asked why he returned to higher education he said, “Serendipity. When I left Spelman in 2000, I thought I was done. But I was told about a position teaching French at the Clarkston campus and I realized that many of the students from the International Community School would eventually attend Georgia Piedmont College. Then they announced the position of Associate Dean. I applied and was hired, perhaps because I have been around, outside of academe.”
Under the leadership of Peter Lyons, vice provost and dean, as well as Ditmann’s supervisor, Perimeter College is beginning a strategic planning initiative. Ditmann says the College needs to reconfigure itself, but the Newton Campus “will serve the needs of this community first and foremost.” He reported that the College will involve students and the community in the strategic planning process, but because the process has just begun, it has not been determined how that will happen.
Ditmann calls the Newton Campus “a gold mine.” He noted that the Campus is close to its community, has a mission and culture of providing an affordable education, and enjoys a diverse and committed student body. He said, “Our students know that education is their path to success.”
He envisions the creation of new associate degree and certificate programs to meet the needs of students and local employers as well as the development of training opportunities for current workers.
“The key word in higher education these days is flexibility,” he said. “If you cannot adapt to the market, you are doomed. Students do not buy an education, they invest in it. Colleges must be business savvy.”
“In cooperation with businesses, we can provide their human power, training people for specific goals and positions,” he said about the Newton campus.
When asked to make a list of things that the Newton Campus of Georgia State University needs to do to become better, Ditmann mentioned, “New classes and programs, more community-based events to draw the community to campus, more marketing to help people know exactly what the school does, and more opportunity for faculty members.”