– Full Sail University –
– By Meaghan Branham –
Full Sail University President Garry Jones has always been a dreamer. Before the night of Feb. 9, 1964, those dreams were colored by a childhood running through the woods and creeks of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. “I wanted to be a forest ranger,” he remembered. “Until that night, the night the Beatles made their U.S. television debut on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show.’ I was glued to the screen — I could barely breathe. And I decided in that moment, ‘I have got to find a way to be around music, to play music.’”
Like many great loves, that chance came knocking when he wasn’t looking for it. Years after that pivotal night, Jones returned to college after taking some time off to pursue a career as a touring musician. Upon graduation, he was gearing up for “corporate” life when he was offered the opportunity to work at a little recording studio.
It was then that he met the founder of Full Sail, Jon Phelps. Both had spent time touring as musicians, working in studios, and taking every opportunity to learn more about their art and how to share it with
“One day Jon said to me, ‘Garry, we should start the school we wish we could’ve found during our college years.’ It became a bridge between what we wished we could have found and what we could offer other dreamers like us.”
First came a one-month workshop attended by 13 students. Over the years, a series of one-month workshops became the basis for a degree program that achieved accreditation for the school. Full Sail was launched in Orlando in 1979, relocating to its current home in Winter Park in 1989.
Under Jones’ guidance, in partnership with an engaged board, faculty and staff, the number of students has grown to more than 20,000, and rented facilities have been replaced and upgraded to the 210-plus-acre Full Sail University campus in Winter Park. The university has more than 115 high-tech studios, soundstages, simulation and visualization labs, a 3D fabrication lab, a Smart Lab and more. The curriculum still covers the ins and outs of recording but also provides numerous graduate and undergraduate degree programs in the arts, entertainment and emerging technology.
“Arts and technology are two partners with the same goal in mind,” Jones explained. “Students at Full Sail learn technology in order to better tell their creative stories.” This year, when both the arts and technology have become a lifeline for so many, Jones’ response to the COVID-19 crisis stands out as a source of inspiration.
While many schools were forced by the pandemic to adopt new models of virtual learning, Full Sail students were already equipped, thanks to a proprietary learning management system developed by the university more than a decade ago. Using degree program-specific laptops provided to all Full Sail students, a seamless transition to full virtual learning was accomplished within a matter of days.
Early on during the pandemic, Jones collaborated alongside community leaders in partnership with local hospital systems and government organizations to prepare for unknown effects on the area. That included finding large spaces to store personal protection equipment (PPE) as well as facilities to serve as field hospitals to accommodate any overflow. “It blessed my heart to see our community leaders standing together to assist a community in a time of crisis by lending themselves to the cause,” Jones said.
His ability to nurture the dreams of those around him seems to be deeply rooted in the fact that he never gave up on his own aspirations. He even became a forest ranger, in a sense, as chair of the board of trustees for The Nature Conservancy in Florida. In addition, he serves on the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center board of directors and the Orlando Economic Partnership Governors Council, among other community service roles.
After celebrating Full Sail’s 40th anniversary in 2019, the university and its president take pride in the school’s continued innovation, but more importantly, in how it remains a partner in the dreams of their students.
“Every person who is a creator, their goal is to share their creativity with the world. Students here learn technology in order to better tell their creative stories.”
— Garry Jones
Photography by Julie Fletcher
As seen in November/December 2020 i4 Business Magazine