For Dr. Rani George—professor of statistics and research methods in the Department of Criminal Justice at Albany State University, and a researcher of behavioral health among college students—a belief in whole person education started from an early age.
Born in Kerala and raised in Chennai, Dr. George’s core values were influenced by her family’s strong Christian roots and, in particular, by her mother, Aleyamma George, who worked tirelessly to raise her children after her husband passed away at an early age.
“I have such lovely memories of my mother,” Dr. George said. “She was people-oriented. She was always eager to assist, guide, and support our extended family, friends and neighbors. I think God must have sent her on earth with a counseling degree. She was so very loving and caring. People both young and old, family and friends, even folks who just met her, would lovingly call her ‘mummy.’”
Although she had never gone to college herself, Dr. George’s mother was a fervent advocate for education. She was actively involved in her children’s academic success by attending school and college events, getting to know their teachers and professors, and learning about their educational programs.
“My education when I was young—from nursery school to high school—focused on the whole person. I might never have thought of taking a nutrition course, or thought I could sing. But I was fortunate to have a well-rounded education that included eastern and western music, and Christian education and scripture and Gandhian thought. This focus on whole person education grounded me for my higher studies.”
Those higher studies began at the Women’s Christian College, affiliated with the University of Madras, where she learned about psychology for the first time. She was so fascinated by the subject that she went on to complete a bachelor’s in psychology and a master’s in applied psychology, complimenting her education with internships at mental health institutions.
After completing her master’s in 1983, Dr. George became assistant professor of psychology at Lady Doak College in Madurai, one of the United Board’s network institutions.
“The four best years of my career were at Lady Doak,” Dr. George recalled. “It was my first teaching job and it made a deep impression on me. I lived on campus and had close contact with students. It helped me to master the art of teaching.”
Dr. George with husband and the Carters (2011)
A focus on behavioral health in students
Eventually, Dr. George moved to the United States to pursue graduate studies at the University of Delaware. Under the tutelage of world-renowned researcher Dr. David Kaplan, Dr. George developed an interest in research while receiving a PhD in measurement, statistics and evaluation and a master’s in applied human development.
In 1999, she began teaching in the Department of Counseling and Educational Leadership at Albany State University. She then had the opportunity to serve as Chair of Counseling and Educational Leadership, Dean of the Graduate School, and Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities. She currently teaches in the Department of Criminal Justice. In addition to teaching, she also leverages her research expertise and on-campus experience to further meet the needs of the community.
“At Albany State, I became interested in behavioral health because I’d be able to work with students who were there on campus,” Dr. George explained. “Being in a semi-urban, semi-rural area, we don’t have many of the facilities you find in big cities and I knew we could provide a much-needed service for our students.”
Dr. George would go on to contribute to dozens of publications, papers, and grants on student-focused topics such as HIV/AIDS prevention in rural areas, substance abuse, and suicide prevention. She is currently co-principal investigator on a grant focusing on violence against women, with her husband Dr. George Thomas, who also teaches at Albany State University.
Dr. George officiates at a graduation as dean (2010)
Supporting higher education in India
Although Dr. George now lives in the United States, she remains connected to higher education in India. She maintains a close friendship with Ms. Shanti Manuel, the United Board’s first Indian trustee and the principal and professor of psychology at Lady Doak while Dr. George was teaching there.
“Ms. Manuel has played a big role in my life. She was my mentor, a good friend, a philosopher. We used to take walks in the night to talk about all kinds of things and solve the world’s problems in a couple of hours. I still talk to her.”
Dr. George remains connected to Lady Doak through charitable donations through the United Board.
“One of the things that attracted me to the United Board is their philosophy about whole person education—it aligns so closely with what I learned in school. I don’t think many people know how much of an impact the United Board has had on education in India.”
Dr. George gives lecture to psychology students at Madras Christian College (May 2022)
Ms. Shanti Manuel gives her remarks after Dr. George’s lecture
Through that charitable giving, Dr. George also honors the memory of her mother and the role she played in instilling the value of knowledge and learning in all her children.
“Even though it was before the cell phone and social media age, my mother always knew what was happening to us but was never a ‘helicopter mom.’ She was a gentle yet strong mother, a teacher, a guide, and an anchor in my life. She is still my best role model,” Dr. George said. “That’s why I am dedicating my future donations to support high-quality education for young women in Tamil Nadu, in memory of my mother.”
While Dr. George and her husband are now preparing for retirement, she plans to continue to give back to higher education.
“For the past 12 years, whenever we have gone back to India, I find opportunities to talk to students at high schools and colleges. We will be spending a lot of time in India when we retire in the next year or so, and I plan to keep interacting with students. I want to keep sharing what God has given me with other people.”