KENNESAW, Ga. | Mar 24, 2022
As senior manager of education programs at Georgia Aquarium, Kennesaw State University alum Bailey Dawson has a more vibrant classroom than his days as a Cobb County and Marietta City school teacher. But he says even a few years ago, he never would have expected to be teaching among schools of fish.
For 11 years, Dawson taught in Cobb County and Marietta City schools, most recently as a middle school teacher at Marietta Middle School. During that time, he earned both a master’s in instructional technology and a specialist degree in education leadership from KSU’s Bagwell College of Education.
Now, he oversees all education activities at the aquarium, including programming, developing curriculum, securing grants, running professional development for educators and establishing partnerships with community organizations, as well as with other aquariums and zoos.
Under his leadership, Georgia Aquarium has become the world’s only STEM-certified aquarium and has added classroom space packed with interactive technology, such as small underwater drones, microscopes and interactive boards.
Dawson said the instructional technology education he received at KSU has helped guide him in his role at the aquarium.
“I was able to use everything that I learned through my master’s program and carried it over with some of the programs that I’ve implemented here – everything from virtual programming to the interactive boards that we have here at the aquarium,” he said.
An Alabama native, Dawson grew up in an educator’s household, watching his father work as a teacher and eventually retire as a principal. He said when he began pursuing an education career, he didn’t see the possibilities for what he refers to as informal education. Growing up in a low-income area, Dawson said most people idealized following money over their true passions. But, he said, he decided partway through college that he would take a leap of faith and follow his love for education. Dawson graduated with a bachelor’s degree in health education from Alabama State University in 2008, an accomplishment he said played a “major role” in his future.
It was only by happenstance years later, he added, that he was introduced to the director of Georgia Aquarium while teaching in Marietta and learned not all educators are in the classroom.
“I never visited an aquarium growing up and didn’t know the world of informal education. I didn’t know there were so many opportunities for those who want to educate in different ways,” Dawson said.
Shortly after that chance meeting, Dawson was offered a job as a curriculum specialist at Georgia Aquarium and began work at the downtown Atlanta attraction in 2019.
Dawson said he loves to see the eyes of children who visit Georgia Aquarium light up as they watch Beluga whales swim by, or touch a stingray in the interactive tanks, because he said he can see their excitement to learn.
Adrian Epps, dean of the Bagwell College, said he’s watched with pride as Dawson has excelled and moved Georgia Aquarium’s educational goals forward.
“In our partnership efforts with Georgia Aquarium for the past several years, I have observed Bailey's leadership influence in broader educational communities,” Epps said. “He has increasingly earned the respect of others and been given the opportunity to lead more responsibilities in the aquarium's educational operations.”
Brian Davis, president and CEO of Georgia Aquarium, said Dawson continues to impress and is recognized nationally for his innovation, including serving on the board of the National Marine Educators Association.
“He is committed to building partnerships that engage students and provide innovative learning opportunities, including remotely operated vehicle workshops for girls and integrating aquaculture systems in classrooms,” Davis said. “His commitment to community, education and conservation is refreshing and a testament to the positive role educators play in shaping the future for us all.”
– By Thomas Hartwell
Photos by Jason Getz
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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.