The University of South Carolina Aiken celebrated its birthday on Sept. 10.
The institution first offered classes on that date 58 years ago in the former Winter Colony mansion downtown, known as Banksia, which is now the Aiken County Historical Museum.
Even in its infancy, USC Aiken had a students-first approach. The university's historically low student-to faculty ratio, allows for individualized attention. Currently, the university boasts a 14:1 ratio, much smaller than many other universities which may have 200 students, or more, in some classes.
"I was fortunate to have advice and guidance from former professors at Banksia," said Frank Thomas a member of the Class of 1970.
"After finishing high school and not knowing what career path I wanted to choose, I sought the advice and guidance of professors at (USC Aiken at Banksia)."
He followed their recommendations and started out focusing on general courses, especially the first semester. Thomas then found a part-time job in a local bank, giving him the opportunity to work, go to school and stay in Aiken.
Thomas enjoyed the banking industry and ultimately earned a Bachelor of Arts in the discipline. For almost 50 years, Thomas worked in the banking profession. He retired as president of Security Federal Bank.
Even now, USCA still finds ways to offer students experiential learning opportunities like internships. Not only does this dynamic and engaging approach to teaching and learning aid in understanding and retention, it also helps set students up for success beyond graduation.
In slightly more than half a century, USCA has grown to approximately 3,700 students, including online and graduate students. The university currently offers approximately 50 programs of study, master's degrees among them.
"Now when I look at the university, the student population is growing at an increasing rate," Thomas said. "The professionalism and dedication of the current and past chancellors, professors and staff have led to steady growth in all areas of academic life. The university is an active partner in the communities it serves, bringing the students to the community and the community to the school."
Not only is the university making a difference in the lives of its students, many of whom are first-generation, meaning they are the first in their families to go to college. It also contributes to the state and local community in myriad ways. For instance, the most recent economic impact study conducted by the Darla Moore School of Business in Columbia credits USCA with pumping more than $281 million into the state's economy annually, most of which benefits Aiken and Aiken County.
"The university is not only a substantial educational and cultural influence in the CSRA but also an important economic force," Thomas said.