UGA digital marketing boot camp helps rural businesses compete in global economy


A digital marketing workshop to help South Georgia entrepreneurs and small business owners expand their client base is scheduled Tuesday, Sept. 25, in Douglas, Georgia.

The UGA Small Business Development Center’s (SBDC’s) Digital Marketing Boot Camp is an interactive workshop where small business owners learn how to build their digital brands, expand their market and acquire new customers through social channels.

“The great thing for small firms with the advent of social media is their footprint can be much larger than just their local marketplace,” said Allan Adams, SBDC director. “Customers don’t have to be right there in town, or even in driving distance. The region, the state, the country and beyond can become their customer base.”

At the digital marketing training, participants learn the basics of SEO.

Participants learn how to leverage social media channels into sales, use search engine optimization (SEO) to gain a larger audience on the web and learn what tools are available to help them grow engagement on Facebook and Instagram.

Most importantly, business owners will understand how to create and implement a digital strategy, a must-have for small businesses to succeed in today’s digital world.

“(Digital) is part of marketing today,” said Debbie Finney, director of the UGA SBDC office in Albany. “You can’t ignore it. You have to have a digital strategy.”

For Bruce Roberts, the owner of ShotKing, a company based in Adel, Ga. that manufactures machines needed in heavy industry, he knew there was no way he could just sell his product locally.

Bruce Roberts, owner of machine manufacture Shot King in Adel, Ga. The SBDC helped him take his small town business to 22 countries around the world.

“It’s absolutely necessary for us to cover the planet,” said Roberts “I literally had no clue about selling internationally.”

With the SBDC’s help, Roberts was able to revitalize ShotKing, which builds machines pioneered after World War II to clean metal parts. The machines use shot blasting, a technique similar to sand blasting, where small steel pellets are fired at high speeds to clean metal surfaces. Today, nearly half of ShotKing’s sales come from exports to 22 countries.

“Having these folks at the SBDC to call on is great,” Roberts said. “We would’ve just muddled through without them. We’d be a lot smaller operation.”

This social media marketing program is sponsored by the Douglas-Coffee County Chamber of Commerce.

“For most chambers, especially in rural communities, the majority of their membership is small businesses,” Adams said. “We both had an interest in helping small businesses thrive. It’s a natural connection.”

In the last five years, SBDC-assisted clients have:

  • Opened 1,700 new businesses.
  • Created 12,000 jobs.
  • Generated over 9 billion in sales.

For more information or to register for the Digital Marketing Boot Camp in Douglas:


Photographer: Shannah Montgomery,, 706-542-3638

Institute of government helping rural Georgia address healthcare needs

The Carl Vinson Institute of Government has launched two regional partnerships in south Georgia to address the growing need for healthcare workers in rural communities.

WorkSource Southern Georgia, which includes 18 counties, and WorkSource Southwest Georgia, with 14 counties, bring employers, educators, government agencies and potential employees together in a targeted approach to meeting the human capital needs of the communities.

Eleven of the 15 fastest-growing jobs in south Georgia this decade are in the healthcare sector, according to the Department of Labor.

The two regional sector partnerships are funded by the Governors High Demand Career Initiative grants through the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s Workforce Division.

Counties in WorkSource Southern Georgia include Atkinson, Bacon, Ben Hill, Berrien, Brantley, Brooks, Charlton, Clinch, Coffee, Cook, Echols, Irwin, Lanier, Lowndes, Pierce, Tift, Turner and Ware.

Counties in WorkSource Southwest Georgia include Baker, Calhoun, Colquitt, Decatur, Dougherty, Early, Grady, Lee, Miller, Mitchell, Seminole, Terrell, Thomas and Worth.




UGA helping women in southeast Georgia grow as leaders

As a counselor in the Upper School at Bulloch Academy in Statesboro, Kinsley Baker has a great job and a good quality of life.

It wasn’t always this way. In fact, when Baker began the 2017-2018 Lynda Brannen Williamson Foundation Women’s Leadership Academy she also had a “great job,” she said. “But it was a challenge to manage work-life balance.”

The leadership program, developed by UGA’s J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development for the Lynda Brannen Williamson Foundation in Statesboro, helped Baker realize she needed a change.

“Each session really hit home for me and was so relevant to where I was in my life and in my career,” Baker said. “I learned so much about myself, how I work with others and how I manage conflict. What I learned had a lot to do with me taking that step forward.”

Lynda Williamson, a civic leader in the Statesboro community, established the foundation before her death in November 2014 to help guide and mentor young women in southeast Georgia. The leadership academy focuses on servant leadership, mentoring and developing a personal leadership style.

“Women in leadership roles face unique challenges and situations,” said Lisa Lee, president of the Lynda B. Williamson Foundation. “We wanted to create a program that would address those specific issues and provide a safe space for women to discuss leadership, learn from each other and grow together.”

Lisa Lee, president of Lynda Brannen Williamson Foundation

Fanning Institute faculty, led by Maritza Soto Keen and Carolina Darbisi, cover topics like personal leadership, communication and conflict, strategies for effective leadership, career and professional skill development and multigenerational leadership. The class also meets with local and state leaders.

“We created a curriculum to examine leadership through a woman’s lens,” Keen said. “By raising these unique issues and allowing women to talk about them and share with each other, they develop their personal leadership abilities and build a network of women leaders that can work together to strengthen their communities.”

Program participants also work together on a community service project, which also helps them bond.

“The support I felt from my classmates gave me the courage to grow, to take a leap of faith,” Baker said.

So far, 48 women have graduated from the program, held each year since 2015-16. The first two groups organized activities in the Statesboro area, including a career day for women that offered interview training, resume development and professional makeovers.

The 2017-18 class plans to create a mentoring program for high school girls, which will cover social media etiquette, resume building and conflict management.

“We want to take what we have learned and pass it on to the next generation,” Baker said.

An alumnae group formed by program graduates will also provide support for the program and its community service efforts moving forward.

“We want to continue supporting and connecting with each other and giving back to the community in the spirit and legacy of Lynda B. Williamson,” said Erica Sellers, a graduate of the 2016-17 program.

“Seeing women complete the program and stay involved as alumnae shows us that the foundation’s work and mission to mentor and guide young women in southeast Georgia will continue into the next generation,” Lee said. “While Lynda left us a vision and we knew we wanted a women’s leadership academy, the Fanning Institute took the heart of what we wanted to do and made it beat.”

The program is a strong community partnership, said Matt Bishop, director of the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development.

“At the Fanning Institute, we believe that communities become stronger when they empower as many people as possible with the tools and knowledge to lead and contribute,” Bishop said. “We are proud to partner with the Lynda Brannen Williamson Foundation on the Women’s Leadership Academy, and we look forward to seeing the impact that these women will have on future generations in southeast Georgia.”

The fourth class of the Lynda Brannen Williamson Women’s Leadership Academy begins this month.

Writer: Charlie Bauder,, 706-542-7039

Photographer: Shannah Montgomery,, 706-542-3638

New faculty at UGA explore research and collaboration opportunities during state tour

Justin Bahl, a new faculty member in the College of Public Health, studies the spread of infectious disease.

Sabriya Rice, a new faculty member in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, teaches budding journalists how to write about health and medical issues.

When they met on the 2018 New Faculty Tour, Bahl and Rice discovered a mutual interest. Bahl’s students need to learn how to talk about their work in ways that non-scientists can easily understand. Rice’s students need to know how to translate the scientific language into layman’s terms.

“Justin and his students study the spread of influenza, for example, and that could be an opportunity for students to write about,” said Rice, the new Knight Chair in Health and Medical Journalism.

Sabriya Rice at the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta.

Rice and Bahl, an associate professor of infectious diseases and bioinformatics, were among the 40 UGA faculty members on the 2018 New Faculty Tour, which began in Gainesville and traveled through 15 cities and 48 counties, with stops in Dahlonega, Atlanta, Griffin, Senoia, Tifton, Waycross, Savannah and Sandersville, among others. Tour participants learned about the culture, history, geography and economic engines that drive the state: agritourism at Jaemor Farms near Gainesville, the film industry at Raleigh (AMC) Studios in Senoia, manufacturing at the Kia plant in West Point, the Georgia Ports Authority in Savannah and the kaolin industry in Sandersville.

With hours together on the bus and at stops, the faculty members found shared interests, made friends, discussed collaborations and explored opportunities for themselves and their students throughout the state.

For Gabrielle Darville, an evaluation coordinator for health promotion and behavior in the College of Public Health, the tour provided an opportunity to see firsthand the differences between urban and rural Georgia.

“Since I teach intro to public health, I teach students across departments and disciplines at UGA,” Darville said. “Now I have more resources at my fingertips to connect students with internships, jobs, fellowships. I can help them navigate life better now that I know what both rural and urban Georgia have to offer.”

Many on the trip gained a better understanding of how UGA serves the state through its land-grant and sea-grant designation.

“As someone who studies and teaches about higher education, I’ve never had a clear picture of what a land-grant university looked like,” said Georgianna Martin, an assistant professor of counseling and human development services in the College of Education. “Seeing one in action was inspiring. I have a much clearer picture of what a land-grant university looks like in action, and I learned about the sea-grant designation, which I had never heard of.”

Faculty members visited Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant to learn about UGA’s sea-grant mission.

Even lifetime residents of Georgia learned a few new things on the tour.

“Being a native of Georgia myself, I was uncertain about the benefits of the tour,” said Jason Estep, a Cooperative Extension 4-H Specialist for Leadership and Citizenship Programs in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “It’s only been a few days and I’ve been to all new places and seen firsthand how connected UGA is throughout the entire state.”

No matter where professors travelled across Georgia, UGA’s impact was present and tangible.

“There’s such a vibrancy in the UGA community, and that feeling is shared across Georgia,” said Nathaniel Hunsu, an assistant professor of engineering education in the College of Engineering. “I did not know the vastness of UGA and the great things happening off campus before this tour.”


View more photos from the New Faculty Tour


Writer: Leah Moss,, 912-687-2090

Photographer: Shannah Montgomery,, 706-542-3638

Contact: Kelly Simmons,, 706-296-0855

UGA has three finalists for national economic development award

For the second year, three University of Georgia programs have been selected as finalists for national awards recognizing innovation in economic development.

Archway Partnership, Carl Vinson Institute of Government and Innovation Gateway are among the 24 finalists for the University Economic Development Association 2018 Awards of Excellence. UGA’s finalists are in different categories and will not compete with one another.

UEDA represents higher education, private sector and community economic development stakeholders across North America. Entries were judged by a panel of university and economic development professionals based on the alignment of their institution’s core mission activities with regional economic development goals. Categories include innovation, talent and place, as well as the intersections of these three categories. Criteria for judging included originality, scalability, sustainability, impact and the feasibility of other organizations replicating the initiatives in their communities.

Two of the finalists are from units of the Office of the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach:

  • UGA Archway Partnership Addresses Healthcare Needs in Rural Georgia is a project in which UGA faculty and students worked side-by-side with local stakeholders in Pulaski County to evaluate health data, conduct surveys and host focus groups to prepare the local hospital’s mandated Community Health Needs Assessment. The CHNA assisted the rural hospital in remaining viable in a challenging environment by bringing to light new services that community members would like to see. This collaboration led to the establishment of an urgent care clinic at Taylor Regional Hospital. The clinic is seeing an average of 18 patients a day and has reduced hospital emergency room traffic by 10 percent. The Archway Partnership project is a finalist in the “Place” category.
  • The Georgia Certified Economic Developer Program was developed by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government in an effort to be responsive to Georgia’s economic development needs. The state-specific training provides the essential high-quality curriculum needed by economic development professionals to effectively compete in today’s global economy. The program offers economic developers the opportunity to achieve their certification more cost-effectively, as courses are taught in central locations around Georgia, and timely, within a two- to three-year period. The courses offer practical, skills-based training with immediate application. The program design is grounded in a competency cluster framework that reflects internationally recognized skills and abilities. Since the launch in 2016, participants from over half of Georgia’s 159 counties have enrolled in GCED classes. In September 2017, UGA awarded the first GCED designation followed by four additional recipients in May 2018. The GCED program is a finalist in the “Talent + Place” category.

“We are honored to be finalists again in this national competition,” said Jennifer Frum, vice president for public service and outreach. “This recognizes UGA’s commitment to improving the quality of life for all Georgians.”

The third finalist is from the Office of Research:

  • The Cultivar Development Research Program is an internal grant program, managed by Innovation Gateway in cooperation with the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and the Georgia Seed Development Commission, that is funded entirely by the licensing royalty revenue derived from UGA-developed plant cultivars (varieties). Since 1997, the CDRP has provided almost $20 million in grant funding that has helped generate more than 300 new plant cultivars. Cultivars generated through CDRP funding have had a tremendous impact on Georgia’s $73 billion agriculture industry, helping Georgia become the No. 1 state for peanut, blueberry and pecan production. Furthermore, the CDRP simultaneously serves as an effective tool in attracting and retaining top-tier plant breeding scientists to UGA. The CDRP is a finalist in the “Innovation” category.

“The beauty of UGA’s Cultivar Development Research Program is that we use licensing revenue from existing cultivars to invest in research that yields the next generation of cultivars, and so it propagates the university’s very positive impact on commercial agriculture,” said Vice President for Research David Lee. “It’s a win-win for everyone and has allowed us to maintain a robust, diverse plant breeding portfolio.”

Winners will be announced during the UEDA Annual Summit in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Oct. 21-24, 2018.

Two other UGA programs were selected as “Lightning Round” entries, new in 2018. Each entry will be allowed a five-minute pitch to the audience at the UEDA Annual Summit in October, followed by a question and answer period.

UGA’s Lightning Round entries are:

  • The Animal Health Hackathon, hosted by UGA and Boehringer-Ingelheim, the world’s second largest animal health company, brought together students, faculty, entrepreneurs and business leaders to explore multidisciplinary approaches for improving animal health. Thirteen diverse teams competed for $5,000 and a one-year membership to a community business incubator. The momentum from this Hackathon continues to build the innovation pipeline – several teams are pursuing patents on their solutions and participating in UGA’s idea accelerator.
  • The New Materials Institute (NMI) is an interdisciplinary effort with 20 faculty working with public and private partners to pioneer systems and materials that promote a circular economy. Programs range from innovative waste management systems to novel, truly biodegradable materials that meet the high expectations of industry and their consumers. Most importantly, NMI trains the next generation of engineers and scientists to use this holistic approach



Kelly Simmons,, 706-296-0855


Jennifer Frum,, 706-542-3352

David Lee,, 706-542-5969

Annual tour introduces new UGA faculty to the state’s diverse economy


About 40 new University of Georgia faculty members on Monday kicked off a five-day tour of the state that will showcase agriculture and agritourism, industry, innovation, the Georgia coast and its rural communities.

From Aug. 6-10, the tour will visit 15 cities and pass through 48 counties, introducing faculty who have been at UGA for two or fewer years to the geography, culture, history and economic engines of the state. Along the way faculty see how entrenched UGA, Georgia’s land- and sea-grant institution, is throughout the state.

The tour began with a welcome from UGA President Jere W. Morehead at the University of Georgia Center for Continuing Education & Hotel. From there, the bus heads to Jaemor Farms near Gainesville, a working family farm that now draws hundreds of visitors a year for events and activities, in addition to fresh produce like tomatoes, peaches and strawberries, boiled peanuts and fried pies.

“Many of our faculty come from other parts of the country and the world and this trip really opens their eyes to the diversity we enjoy here in the state of Georgia,” said Jennifer Frum, vice president for UGA Public Service and Outreach. “In addition they get to meet one another and discover common interests, which often leads to great interdisciplinary partnerships when they get back to campus.”

During the trip, participants will visit:

  • Amicalola Falls State Park, the southern gateway to the Appalachian Trail;
  • the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta;
  • the Georgia State Capitol, where faculty will hear from Georgia House Speaker David Ralston and University System of Georgia Chancellor Steve Wrigley;
  • the UGA Food Product Innovation and Commercialization Center at UGA-Griffin;
  • the City of Senoia, home to Riverwood Studios and The Walking Dead;
  • Kia Motors Manufacturing in West Point;
  • the Carnegie Library in Americus;
  • the UGA-Tifton campus;
  • the Okefenokee Swamp Park in Waycross;
  • UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant on Skidaway Island in Savannah;
  • the Wormsloe Institute for Environmental History in Savannah; and
  • the Georgia Ports Authority in Garden City.

The last stop will be in Washington County, a UGA Archway Partnership community, where faculty will enjoy ice cream from the The Dairy Lane restaurant and learn about the kaolin industry, Archway and the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development.

The New Faculty Tour is coordinated by the Office of the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach and is made possible by major support from the Office of the President, the Office of the Provost, and the Office of the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach. Additional sponsors include the UGA Alumni Association, UGA Foundation, and a multitude of other units and supporters of the University of Georgia.


Writer: Leah Moss,, 706-583-0964

Contact: Kelly Simmons,, 706-296-0855

UGA studies potential partnerships with industry to engage more students in STEM fields


Some of Avalon Kandrac’s most enlightening moments as an undergraduate in the College of Engineering are outside the classroom.

Meeting professional engineers and working as an intern helps her better understand the academic lessons, which can be a challenge, and keep her on track. This summer she’s working at Lockheed Martin in Marietta, helping develop safety policies and environmental goals. She expects to graduate next year with a degree in biological engineering with an emphasis on the environment.

“Business engagement early on is really helpful,” Kandrac said. “These experiences are super helpful in reinforcing why you should stick it out.”

David Tanner, an associate director at UGA’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government, is working alongside two other UGA units to find ways to engage businesses with higher education to help keep students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields and to provide them the experience that the companies are looking for in graduates.

“Businesses want to be more engaged, but it’s not easy,” Tanner said. “What works for student persistence and keeps them energized? What can companies do to incentivize that?”

Using an interdisciplinary seed grant from the office of UGA President Jere Morehead, Tanner and colleagues Timothy Burg, director of the Office of STEM Education, and Karen Webber, an associate professor at the Institute of Higher Education, are developing a tool to help businesses make smart investment choices in higher education. They have convened focus groups over the last year to gather input from educators, administrators and business leaders. Those conversations across and between organizations are critical to figuring out what works and what doesn’t.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution in the universe of STEM careers, but each company has unique experiences in recruiting talent to add to the conversation, said Amy Hutchins, education and workforce development manager at Georgia Power. Tanner and his team are helping bring those people together, she said.

“You can throw some logs across a river or you can work together to build a bridge to move massive amounts of people,” she said. “UGA brings experience and objectivity to something like this. We’re always interested in partnering for the greater good.”

Tanner has met a lot of business people through Crystal Leach, director of industry collaborations in the UGA Office of Research, and Jill Walton, executive director of UGA Corporate and Foundation Relations. Their connections have helped him gain valuable insight into the needs and observations of industry. His research could help them convince more companies to invest in UGA students.

“We want to give companies a road map for how they can get involved, how their dollars can be used and how that might impact their recruitment efforts,” Walton said. “It’s hard to reach every company. A lot of times we have to focus our time and energy on the bigger companies. It would be great to have a standard toolkit to help with these decisions.”

The aim is to get kids interested in STEM fields in grade school and keep them engaged through college and into their career. That would be attractive for universities, students and businesses.

“If we can identify those good investments, we could increase the volume and quality of business engagement in STEM education,” Tanner said. “That could have a big impact on the STEM workforce in Georgia.”


Contact: David Tanner,, 706-583-0151

UGA students design proposals for landscape revitalization at church in Athens

The 109-year-old campus of Young Harris Memorial United Methodist Church in Athens will be getting a facelift with assistance from UGA students.

Students from the UGA College of Environment and Design assessed the six-acre campus on Prince Avenue and drafted plans to update the grounds and facilities. Specifically, the church wants to expand its playground and enhance the presence of a community garden, installed seven years ago.

“My desire is to will us toward connecting with our community,”  said David Wofford, pastor of Young Harris Memorial United Methodist Church. “These designs will help us focus our vision on being part of the community and reaching out with purpose.”

The students presented a range of possibilities, such as adding native plants and maintenance-free artificial turf in the community garden and incorporating symbols important to the Methodist heritage, including octagons that symbolize the Heptonstall Church in Heptonstall, England, one of the oldest Methodist churches in the world.  

John Adeyemi, a student in CED Associate Professor Shelley Cannady’s Landscape Architecture Design Studio, said the group tried to keep in mind historical touches in designing a new playground and making the church courtyard less imposing.

“It feels good to know you can have an impact on positive change in the community,” Adeyemi said. “UGA is incorporating the community into the university and it’s something I love to do.”

CED professors take on about 15 community projects each semester, providing an opportunity for students to put their academic knowledge into practice.

“Service-learning is just the way we like to teach,” said Jennifer Lewis, outreach coordinator for CED. “Students develop a very valuable skillset that helps them hit the ground running once they graduate.”

The church is using the student designs in its visioning process to help plan for the next quarter century, Wofford said.

“These sorts of ideas and energies and passion don’t happen in a non-college town,” Wofford said. “This idea factory is a tremendous opportunity for us.”

It is a great opportunity for the university, as well, Cannady said.

“This is our way of giving value back to the state of Georgia,” Cannady said. “The students get so energized by real-world projects. I know from personal experience it’s frustrating to just produce paper (designs) in class when you want to make the world better.”


Contact: Jennifer Lewis,, 706-369-5885

UGA installs first large-scale green infrastructure project in Brunswick

The area next to the soccer field at Brunswick’s Howard Coffin Park received a much-needed facelift in the form of native plants and new soil.

The 3,000-square-foot tract is a large scale stormwater demonstration project that UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant hopes will educate visitors on ways to improve water quality.

Jessica Brown, stormwater specialist at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, oversaw construction of the site, which is called, in technical terms, a bioretention cell.

“This project will serve as a case study and educational demonstration of a bioretention cell, which is a stormwater management practice that captures and treats runoff,” Brown says. “It’s a form of green infrastructure that helps protect and restore habitat by mimicking the natural water cycle.”

The bioretention cell, next to a tidal ditch, will act as a buffer for the park. When it rains, excess water from the soccer field will flow into the bioretention cell, which consists of layers of sandy soils, mulch and stone. Pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals applied to the playing field will be filtered out through these layers instead of running directly into the tidal creek.

With population growth and increased land development in coastal Georgia, the use of green infrastructure has become increasingly important because it protects water quality and coastal habitats from pollution.

Brown worked with the City’s Engineer, Garrow Alberson, to design the bioretention cell. City employees constructed the project.

Alberson hopes the project will raise public awareness of green infrastructure practices.

“It seems that a lot of developers and engineers are hesitant to implement these practices because of factors like cost, long-term maintenance and effectiveness,” he said. “Hopefully, the construction of the demonstration cell will show that these practices can be effective for runoff volume reduction and water quality improvement, and that the practices can be cost-effective to install.”

The final phase of the project involved installing native plants, selected by Keren Giovengo, Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s EcoScapes program manager. The EcoScapes Sustainable Land Use program promotes responsible stewardship of natural resources in Georgia through sustainable land development and landscaping practices.

Keren Giovengo, EcoScapes program manager, demonstrates how to plant one of the native plants in the bioretention cell.

“Because of the size of the bioretention cell, I was able to consider a variety of trees, shrubs, grasses and palms for the site,” Giovengo says. “They were selected to provide a diverse array of local deciduous and evergreen species that are low maintenance and can tolerate drought, flooding and salt.”

Twelve students participating in a landscaping course through the Job Corps Center in Brunswick assisted with the planting.

Job Corps, a no-cost education and career technical training program administered by the U.S. Department of Labor, helps young people ages 16 to 24 improve the quality of their lives through career technical and academic training.

“They’re in our program for roughly eight months and we help them earn their high school diploma or learn a trade and become certified,” says Kevin Brandon, landscaping instructor at the Brunswick Job Corps Center.

“We look for as many hands-on opportunities like this as possible because our goal is to get them a job when they complete the course,” he says.

Thanks to help from the students, all 216 native plants were in the ground in less than four hours.

Brown plans to showcase the demonstration site to environmental professionals and public works staff in surrounding counties.

“My hope is that we can do enough demonstration projects, such as this one, to better understand how they perform in a coastal environment and build capacity within the local workforce,” says Brown. “Fostering ownership of these type of practices at the local level will go a long way to support future implementation.”

Writer: Emily Woodward,, 912-598-2348

Summer service project benefits rural Georgia communities and UGA students

UGA students are getting hands-on experience and helping preserve history in rural Georgia through a service-learning program in the College of Environment and Design.

Called Findit, the program sends graduate students studying historic preservation, environment, planning and design, and landscape architecture into a rural county each summer to look for historic properties and sites. Their findings become an inventory for the county and are added to an online database that is available to the public. CED’s partners in the program are the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Historic Preservation Division and the Georgia Transmission Corporation.

The findings often result in historic preservation status for properties, which guides county officials, builders and utility companies when they are planning projects.

“Every time we have an application for a modification in the historic district, we refer to it,” said Tom Brown, chair of Social Circle’s Historic Preservation Commission. Students surveyed Walton County, which includes Social Circle, in 2012.

This summer, students are assigned to Dooly County in middle Georgia, south of Macon.

Anders Yount and Mills Dorn, College of Environment and Design students, map out properties to document.

Mills Dorn, who is getting a master’s degree in historic preservation, is part of the team looking for old houses, cemeteries, water towers, barns and other properties to catalog.

On a hot June day, he stopped to study a house that had been altered at some point.

“Originally it was a bungalow; they added this side part later,” Dorn said. “I just finished learning about architectural styles in class so it’s pretty helpful being out here and getting to see them.”

Since its inception in 2002, CED students have collected data on thousands of properties in more than 60 Georgia counties. Findit coordinator Laura Kviklys and students also take on smaller projects for local governments and regional commissions during the school year.

The group completed an inventory of all UGA historic properties across the state, which led to the creation of a historic preservation plan that will help the university maintain its historic properties over time. UGA has the most historic properties of the 26 University System of Georgia schools, with more than 730 historic buildings and 55 cultural landscapes across 11 Georgia counties.

For Georgia communities, the student surveys are an important first step in understanding what remnants of the past still exist and may be of value historically, culturally or economically.  More importantly, they provide communities a framework and quality data for land use planning activities. This knowledge can guide local discussions about what is worthy of protection in the face of growth or demolition, and surveys are often required for certain federal historic preservation planning grants.

In addition, the students get hands-on experience that can be valuable when looking for a full-time job.

“We see a lot of really cool stuff,” Kviklys said. “This program takes students to places their classes can’t and teaches them to be professionals. The students are desperate for this sort of field experience.”

In Dooly County, the students were looking at properties that are at least 40 years old. As they were documenting a house that dates back to the 1800s, homeowner Connie Burton Mercer showed them a family cemetery on the site, with several graves dating from the late 1800s to the early 1900s.

“So much of the (historic properties) here have been destroyed,” Burton Mercer said.

She pointed to an orchard across the road.

“The first operating dairy in the area was over there but it’s not much to see now,” she said. “It’s important to document this. There’s so much in this area that will hopefully be saved.”

Between June and August, students surveyed a total of 1,086 properties. Students found 878 properties in unincorporated Dooly County, the bulk of the properties discovered. Within cities in Dooly County, students identified 126 properties in Byromville, 58 in Lily and 24 in Dooling.

Contact: Laura Kviklys,, 706-369-5882

Governor honors UGA’s Certified Public Manager graduates

Leaders strengthen supervisory skills in courses presented by Carl Vinson Institute of Government

Gov. Nathan Deal knows that effective government stewardship helps Georgia remain America’s top state for doing business.

Deal emphasized his commitment to good governance in his address to 29 state and local leaders who graduated from the University of Georgia’s Certified Public Manager (CPM) program on June 28. Deal encouraged the graduates—managers from 12 state agencies and two municipal police departments—to practice the elements of superior leadership.

“To be a good leader, it takes hard work, surrounding yourself with talented people and the ability to listen. I congratulate all of you for being part of this program, and I congratulate you further in wanting to make yourselves better leaders,” Deal said.

UGA’s CPM program, with 300 hours of curriculum, helps state and local government managers enhance their leadership skills through in-class learning, independent study and a capstone project that addresses an issue affecting their individual agencies. Courses explore how self-awareness impacts leadership and collaboration, effective ways to establish a collaborative work culture and proven methods to improve performance and engagement. Participants earn nationally recognized certification.

CPM graduates like Olivia A. Duke, a policy coordinator with the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget, gained a greater understanding of the difference between self-image and public perception.

“My biggest takeaway was that my perception of myself and how others see me can be quite different,” Duke said. “Now, my colleagues recognize that I’m more receptive to feedback. That gives them more buy-in and helps them feel like they’re having an influence in decision-making.”

From left to to right: Laura Meadows, director of the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, Steve Wrigley, chancellor of the University System of Georgia with his daughter, Anna Wrigley Miller, CPM program graduate. 

The Georgia CPM curriculum is accredited by the National Certified Public Manager Consortium and is provided exclusively by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government. The June 28 graduation ceremony recognized the first class that included a mix of state and local government managers.

Manager who earn certification are fluent in leadership skills that typically aren’t taught in traditional academic programs, said Walt McBride, faculty member at the Carl Vinson Institute of Government and CPM program director. McBride works closely with Marci Campbell, lead instructor and curriculum director for Georgia CPM, to ensure the courses remain relevant and robust.

In spring 2018, the UGA School of Public and International Affairs recognized the program’s academic rigor by agreeing to award three hours of course credit to Master of Public Administration students who attain CPM certification.

Members of the June 28 graduating class were keenly focused on public service, Campbell said.

“This group was an interesting mix of people who have been in management positions for a while with people who are relatively new to management,” Campbell said. “They were really bound by this intense belief in the value of service.”

UGA President Jere W. Morehead said the Certified Public Manager program exemplifies the university’s commitment to public service.

“The University of Georgia works hard to provide meaningful continuing education to leaders throughout Georgia,” Morehead said, “and CPM is an invaluable resource to help government managers engage their colleagues in best practices and lead the way to more efficient, effective government.”

One hundred public managers, including those in this class, have graduated from the current CPM program since it began in 2016. Class speaker Steve Fanczi, deputy executive director of the Georgia Building Authority, said the experience allowed him to watch fellow leaders grow and develop.

“CPM gives you a great foundation in the basics and principles of leadership,” Fanczi said.


Writer: Roger Nielsen,, 706-542-2524

Contact: Walt McBride,, 770-503-4474

UGA hires longtime economic developer to steer rural initiatives


Saralyn Stafford, a community and economic developer with a 30-year career focused on Georgia, joins the University of Georgia in July to link rural communities with UGA’s vast knowledge and expertise.

“Economic prosperity in rural Georgia is a top priority for the state and a strategic priority of the University of Georgia’s outreach programs,” said Jennifer Frum, vice president for public service and outreach at UGA. “Saralyn is well known as a collaborative and knowledgeable leader with great passion for rural Georgia, and we are thrilled to have her join our team.”

Stafford will serve as a liaison between UGA and local elected officials, chambers of commerce, economic development professionals, school boards, non-profit organizations, small business owners and other community leaders.

Based in south Georgia’s Coffee County, her work will focus on connecting communities with UGA’s Public Service and Outreach units, including the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, the Small Business Development Center and the Archway Partnership, to assist in addressing community and regional challenges.

“Saralyn will do aggressive outreach with all of our constituencies, primarily in South Georgia, to help create jobs, develop future leaders, and assist rural communities with using their unique assets to promote economic prosperity,” Frum said.

Stafford has a strong record of working in community and economic development across the state since 1987 with a focus on rural communities, particularly in Southeast Georgia. As a local economic developer and chamber of commerce president for 15 years, Stafford led efforts in the city of Waycross and in Coffee and Pierce counties.

She has served in various leadership capacities at the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) in Atlanta for the past 16 years. Most recently, she provided technical assistance and oversight for local and regional planning, research and surveys for local governments, downtown development, the state’s AmeriCorps program and the Keep Georgia Beautiful initiative as DCA’s division director for community development.

At UGA, Stafford will also offer her expertise in training government officials and community leaders and in strategic planning within rural communities.


Contact: Laura Meadows,, 706-542-6192

Writer: Jana Wiggins,, 706-542-6221

UGA summer program empowers foster care youth to pursue higher education

Nyeelah Inniss had a clear goal to attend college after graduating from high school, but as a teenager in foster care, she did not understand the full extent of the college application process.

“I knew I wanted to attend college, but in foster care, almost everything is done or decided for you, so I assumed that my case worker would tell me what to do and when I needed to do it, which was not the case,” Innis said.

College Bound program

That all changed in 2012 when she attended College Bound, a summer program at the University of Georgia’s J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, designed to expose high school students in foster care to the college experience. The program is one of four in Georgia and three more in other states that are funded by the nsoro Educational Foundation, which helps provide post-secondary education to youth in foster care.

“The College Bound program exposed me to the entire college process and made me stop and think about the steps I needed to take to attend college,” Inniss said. “It gave me the skills, knowledge and direction to advocate for my educational needs and make college a reality.”

Through College Bound, the teenagers are able to envision themselves in college, said David Meyers, a Fanning faculty member and College Bound coordinator.

“Circumstances can prevent youth in foster care from gaining access to the same tools and resources that other youth have for college preparation,” Meyers said. “College Bound, through exposure to the college experience, mentoring and other skills for success, breaks down those barriers to show the youth that a path exists to achieve their dreams.”

During the program, participants spend five days on the UGA campus. Fanning Institute faculty members teach the teenagers about team building, financial literacy and leadership skills that can better prepare them for success in college and beyond. The youths also learn about college admissions and financial aid, visit campus facilities, meet with faculty, live in the residence halls and interact with college students who serve as mentors.

Coming back to mentor

Inniss graduated from Valdosta State University this year with bachelors’ degrees in sociology and anthropology. She returned to Athens this summer as a College Bound mentor because she remembers how important mentors were to her when she was in the program.

“I felt like I could relate and look up to them because they were college students,” she said, adding that she remains in contact with some of her mentors.

“It’s important to me that other youth in foster care receive the same tools I did through College Bound. I want to help show them that they can pursue higher education if they want to and create better outcomes for themselves through education.”

One of this year’s attendees, a high school senior from South Georgia, said the program has helped him believe he can go to college and pursue a career in sports medicine.

“It made me realize that no matter what life throws at you, you have to push it off and keep fighting,” he said. “College Bound has given me the skills and ability to continue to pursue my dreams.”

More than 160 youths have completed the UGA College Bound program since it began in 2011. The program is open to high school youths from across the state.

Writer: Charlie Bauder,, 706-542-7039

Contact: David Meyers,, 706-542-5062

UGA, food bank partnership promotes healthy eating

Teaching people to grow, cook and eat healthy foods is the key goal of a partnership between the State Botanical Garden of Georgia at UGA and the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia.

Camaria Welch, a graduate student in the University of Georgia College of Family and Consumer Sciences, has created a curriculum of lesson plans and activities to help people understand the connection between nature and food, and how to develop healthy eating habits.

During a summer camp at the garden, Welch used the curriculum, called Bee Smart Eat Smart, to help 5-10 year olds plant seeds, decorate aprons and read books such as “Blueberries for Sal” by Robert McCloskey. They also did arts and crafts, and participated in theater, acting out skits dressed as fruits and vegetables.

The campers made eggplant pizza, with a crust made from roasted eggplant, pasta with pesto (which helped disguise the cucumber, kale and other greens mixed in) and mango sunrise smoothies, to introduce the children to fruits they may not have tried.

A camper presents rainbow flatbread, featuring a variety of colorful vegetables.

The importance of pollinators

“My curriculum is divided into five lessons, each featuring a fruit and vegetable, chosen specifically of their role in helping pollinators,” says Welch, who is earning a masters degree in foods and nutrition. “Each day has its own color theme. The first day, for instance, is red, so we’re talking about strawberries and red bell peppers. I want to make kids excited about eating vegetables, and find recipes that make them palatable.”

About two-thirds of crop varieties around the world depend on pollinators, so programs that feature these types of food plants increase awareness of the important role of pollinators and the need for pollinator conservation.

We need pollinators for many plants to grow, and they are in danger, bees in particular. In 2007, the U.S. Senate approved and designated a week in June as “National Pollinator Week,” as a step toward addressing the issue of declining pollinator populations. This year, June 18 – 24 celebrates the role of pollinators.

Keber plants a pollinator garden to attract bees, butterflies and other animals.

Cooking classes in Northeast Georgia

In addition to the camp, Welch is implementing a modified version of Bee Smart Eat Smart at the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia’s site in Clayton, Georgia. She will lead cooking classes for parents and children in the teaching kitchen on the Food Bank site.

In April, State Botanical Garden Education Director Cora Keber and Heather Alley, conservation horticulturist at the garden’s Mimsie Lanier Center for Native Plant Species, planted a pollinator garden at the Clayton food bank site, designed to draws bees, butterflies and other native pollinators to the vegetable and fruits growing outside the facility.

The food bank pollinator garden is part of a State Botanical Garden program called Connect to Protect. So far, more than 20 Connect to Protect gardens have been installed in Athens-Clarke County and surrounding areas, as well as in Macon and Atlanta.

At the food bank, the pollinator garden will be part of the lesson plan for local residents, said Cara-Lee Langston, the Food Bank’s teaching kitchen coordinator.

The food bank’s teaching kitchen, where Welch will be presenting a modified version of her curriculum, Bee Smart Eat Smart.

Grow and eat local food

“We’re all about teaching families where their food comes from,” Langston said. “Folks up here understand how important local food is.”

The lesson plans, activities and materials that Welch developed for the Bee Smart Eat Smart program will be distributed to schools where Connect to Protect gardens are planted, and used in the State Botanical Garden of Georgia’s Alice H. Richard Children’s Garden, which is under construction and should open by early 2019.

Funding for Welch’s graduate assistantship at the State Botanical Garden was provided by the Pittulloch Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports programs for children. Foundation President Lynn Pattillo is a member of the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia advisory board.

“My organization’s hope is that the State Botanical Garden relays Welch’s work to garden clubs across Georgia, so they can transfer the message into school systems and strengthen relationships with local food banks,” Pattillo says. “Providing on-going education via seminars, speakers, cooking classes and classroom visits will further reinforce the important message that we are what we eat.”

Bee Smart Eat Smart Summer Camp


Writer: Leah Moss,, 706-583-0964

Photos: Shannah Montgomery,, 706-542-3638

Contact: Cora Keber,, 706-542-6156

Hands-on course prepares UGA Extension agents to share health benefits of Georgia seafood

Barbara Worley grew up on the coast of North Carolina and considers herself an oyster connoisseur. La Keshia Levi, on the other hand, shudders at the thought of eating an oyster. But after attending a two-day Ocean to Table workshop, both University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Family and Consumer Sciences (FACS) agents are prepared to encourage residents in their counties to eat more Georgia seafood.

The brainchild of Chatham County Extension FACS Agent Jackie Ogden, the workshop series is designed to increase consumers’ and UGA Extension agents’ knowledge and awareness of Georgia seafood.

“Living here on the coast, I eat Georgia seafood, but I see that not everyone in Georgia does,” Ogden said. “With the current growth of Georgia’s oyster and clam industry, I saw the need to encourage Georgians to see the health benefits of eating seafood.”

The seafood most commonly harvested from the Georgia coast are shrimp, clams, oysters, blue crabs and fish. Georgia fishers catch favorites like sea bass, snapper and mahimahi as well as lesser-known species like triggerfish and sheepshead.

Funded by a UGA Extension Innovation Grant, the workshops are presented through a partnership between UGA Extension and Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.

“With these grants, I wanted to foster innovation, partnership and collaboration in Extension programming. This particular project brings the expertise of UGA Extension and Marine Extension together to create a better program,” said Laura Perry Johnson, associate dean for Extension. “That exemplifies the true spirit of the land-grant mission.”

Three workshops were presented to educate the public, then two train-the-trainer workshops prepared county agents to teach seafood programs.

The most recent workshop was held May 23 and 24 at the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium on Skidaway Island, Georgia. This Ocean to Table workshop included an overview of the nation’s seafood industry and taught the county agents who are piloting the program how to handle and cook seafood, read product labels, and know proper portion sizes.

The county agents also cracked and ate Georgia blue crab, dined on deviled crab, roasted oysters and had a low country boil, took a boat trip on the waterways near Skidaway Island, tried crab fishing, and toured Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s oyster hatchery at the Shellfish Research Lab on Skidaway Island, the only such hatchery in the state. To better understand the deep history of Georgia’s seafood industry, the group also toured the Pin Point Heritage Museum, the former home of A.S. Varn & Son Oyster & Crab Factory located in the heart of a Gullah/Geechee community.

“I’ve lived in Georgia since 2000, and I didn’t know that we produced so much seafood,” said Levi, who is based in middle Georgia’s Houston County. “I knew I was going to learn a lot in this program, but I had no idea that I was going to get to try all the different types of seafood and get so much hands-on experience, and I went on my first boat ride.”

Levi even ate roasted oysters.

She plans to incorporate the health benefits of eating seafood into the trainings she offers, especially those for pregnant women. She will also encourage Houston County restaurants to serve more Georgia seafood.

Worley was amazed by how much she learned in the workshop.

“I’m a scuba diver. I’ve picked up lots of oysters, but I never knew they were transgender until we toured the hatchery,” she said.

Her goal was to return to Forsyth County with information about the type of Georgia seafood available to her clients and how they can access it. She now plans to brainstorm with other metro area FACS agents to develop a seafood education program that can be used in multiple counties.

Ogden says she knew the key to reaching Georgians was to train her fellow FACS agents, who share health and wellness information year-round and are constantly on a mission to improve the health of Georgians.

Americans consume 4.8 million pounds of seafood each year, but the average American eats less than 15 pounds of seafood a year, according to Bryan Fluech, associate Marine Extension director at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.

“Living in Brunswick, my family probably ate 15 pounds of seafood last night,” said Fleuch, who helped to organize and teach many of the Ocean to Table sessions. “But when I was a child, I thought of shrimp as a special-occasion food, something that was served on holidays.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends eating two to three servings of seafood per week, but only 1 in 5 Americans meets that dietary recommendation. Fatty fish are one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to reduce the risk of heart disease.

Fluech believes Georgians would increase their consumption of seafood if they knew seafood contains essential vitamins and minerals like zinc, iodine, iron, calcium and selenium.

“People may think they don’t like fish, but there are hundreds of species, and they don’t all taste the same,” Fluech said. “Fish is very affordable, too, if you just learn to diversify your palate.”

It’s rare, but eating too much seafood can increase a person’s mercury levels. Fleuch said the key to keeping mercury levels low is to eat a variety of seafood, such as shrimp, salmon, pollock, cod, catfish, crab, scallops, clams and oysters, which are low in mercury.

Workshop participants also took advantage of Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s mercury hair-testing program and submitted a few strands of hair to be tested. This test is available to the public for $20. Call 912-262-3338 for details.

“The agents are now prepared to answer questions about seafood consumption, like knowing the mercury levels in fish, and are ready with suggestions and specific seafood recipes to help clients prepare seafood for their families,” Ogden said.

To learn more about incorporating seafood into your diet, go to

By Sharon Dowdy,

UGA professor studies college access in two Archway Partnership communities 

The Archway Partnership opened doors for UGA Assistant Professor Darris Means when he began to study the tools and skills high school students used to prepare for college.

He had reached out to 20 Georgia school superintendents hoping for access to students, but none were accommodating. Pulaski and Candler counties, both Archway Partnership communities, welcomed him into their schools.

Since the start of the 2017 school year, Means has been talking to African American high school students in both school systems, studying how they, along with students of low-income and first-generation college families, navigate their pathways to and through higher education. He hopes to complete the study over the summer and return to the schools to present his findings next fall.

“I could not be doing this study without Archway,” said Means, an assistant professor of counseling and human development services in the College of Education. “The Archway Partnership already has that rapport. They already have those relationships. It’s been fantastic partnering with them.”

The Archway Partnership, a unit of UGA Public Service and Outreach, connects Georgia communities with UGA resources to address locally-identified needs. Since the program was created in 2005, a growing number of faculty members have used the communities for their research, often bringing students along. The result is a benefit to both UGA and the community.

That reputation is what helped Means get into the Pulaski and Candler County schools.

“All of the projects we do are locally driven, so we presented the opportunity to the school system, and they wanted to do it,” said Sam Perren, the Pulaski County Archway Professional.

Catherine Muse, the Archway Professional in Candler County, said, “Once Dr. Means connected with the high school counselors, they hit the ground running. It’s been a really smooth process.”

Means’ research focus is on social justice and college access. Before he began studying how students prepare for college, he completed a study on the college and career aspirations of rural black teenagers.

“Being able to interview and work with students and school staff just really inspired me to think about how important it is to make sure that that narrative of rural black students and their families is heard,” he said.

Although Means work in the schools has been primarily for his study, it has given him an opportunity to give back.

“Along the way, I’ve enjoyed having the opportunity to not only speak with students, but I’ve also given presentations at different high schools about pathways to college,” he said. “It’s been great to do a combination of that outreach and research while I’ve been doing this study.”

By Alexandra Shimalla and Rosanna Cruz-Bibb

UGA’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government helps elected officials succeed

More than 600,000 cyclists and walkers pass through Paulding County each year on the Silver Comet Trail, a 61.5-mile paved, non-motorist path that runs from Smyrna into Alabama.

In Dallas, the Paulding County seat, visitors cross the Pumpkinvine Trestle, a 117-year-old railroad trestle, 126-feet above Pumpkinvine Creek, which was converted into part of the trail in 2000.

Farther west, the trail passes through a massive turn-of-the-­century railroad tunnel under Brushy Mountain Road. A little farther is Coot’s Lake Beach Trailhead, with a public swimming hole.

With assistance from the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government, Paulding County officials have turned the trail into the centerpiece of a marketing campaign designed to draw tourists to the west Georgia county.

Tourism emerged as the direction the county needed to turn after county commissioners held strategic planning sessions facilitated by Vinson Institute faculty last fall.

Commission Chairman Dave Carmichael first got to know about the Carl Vinson Institute of Government and the wealth of training programs and services it offers during newly-elected officials training with the Association County Commissioners of Georgia in 2012, when he was first elected as a county commissioner. He was elected commission chair four years later.

Cyclists race on the Silver Comet Trail, an area identified for upcoming economic development opportunities.

Like so many other government officials in Georgia, Carmichael has returned to the  Institute of Government time and again for programs that help him be a more effective leader. He has completed  over 100 hours of training through more than a dozen courses in such areas as county government law, economic development, ethics, human resources, property appraisal and taxation, and public health and safety.

At any given time, institute faculty are heading in all directions, helping facilitate strategic plans, studying city-county consolidations, helping communities restore their downtown business districts and training elected officials throughout the state in economic development, city and county management, finance, human resources, education and workforce development and much more.

During fiscal year 2017, the Carl Vinson Institute of Government offered 64 six-hour courses to county officials in partnership with ACCG and its Lifelong Learning Academy, with more than 1,800 participants from across the state.

“Communities across the state look to the Institute of Government and UGA as a whole to help them develop the knowledge and skills needed to grow and thrive,” said Jennifer Frum, UGA vice president for Public Service and Outreach. “As the land-grant and sea-grant institution, it’s our responsibility to help all Georgians prosper.”

During the Paulding County strategic planning sessions, Institute of Government public service associates Phil Boyle and Mara Shaw brought together county commissioners, educators, business people and municipal leaders to hone in on the assets the county could use to diversify and bolster  the local economy. Marketing the county as a tourist destination emerged as a top priority.

With UGA’s help, Paulding County is now looking at ways to capitalize on the Silver Comet Trail, as well as other historical, recreational and cultural sites in the county, including a watershed featuring 43 species of fish, well-preserved civil war battlefields and a wildlife management area perfect for hunting, fishing and hiking.

“I think it’s invaluable to get everyone together and have them be honest about where they see us going,” Carmichael said. “Phil and Mara are pros and know how to bring out honest responses from people. Our tax base isn’t diverse enough, and they were able to show us some practical things we could do.”

“Helping local governments explore ways to engage in creative approaches to their critical challenges is at the heart of all we do,” said Laura Meadows, director of the Institute of Government. “The local level is where we can really see meaningful change and growth happen. Much of the progress we see as a state stems from progress made first in Georgia’s local governments, whether large or small.”

Carmichael and Baker with a pine cone from the rare mountain longleaf pine, native to this region of Georgia.

Commissioner Ron Davis, who was first elected to office in March 2016, said the strategic planning sessions helped everyone get a chance to be heard and realize where they had common ground. Like most local governments, discussion at commission meetings can be emotional, he said, but the conversation at these planning sessions was about charting a future course for the entire county. Creating new economic opportunities through tourism was something they all could get on board with.

“We all agreed on the direction we needed to go, which is a pretty significant feat,” Davis said. “I really enjoyed having the Carl Vinson Institute come in and work through that and the expertise that they brought to the table. It was almost like a counseling session. I thought, ‘This is good. We can go somewhere with this.’ ”

And they are. County administrator Frank Baker is spearheading the next steps as head of a task force created as a result of the facilitated planning sessions. His group is discussing improved signage, enhancing existing trailheads and adding new trailheads along the Silver Comet.

“We have so many natural draws here,” he said. “Part of the outcome of those sessions was really thinking about what we have to offer and how to move that forward. The Carl Vinson Institute was instrumental in getting us laser-focused on tourism. Some really, really good stuff is coming out of that.”


Writer: Christopher James

Photographer: Shannah Montgomery

From chaos to calm: a UGA VISTA brings programs and engaged teens to the Athens library

On weekdays, the Athens-Clarke County Library on Baxter Street is a popular destination for students from nearby Clarke Middle and Clarke Central High schools.

With no daily programming for the students, the library staff last year was busy keeping the peace as the dozens of students gathered to hang out and socialize.

But this year, after UGA’s Office of Service-Learning (OSL) placed an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) at the library, the place has hummed with activity, with the sixth to 12th grade students engaged in chess, painting by water color and learning how to play drums, among other things. More than 5,000 middle and high school students have participated in more than 200 after-school programs offered at the library so far.

“It was momentous year for the young adult department,” says Devera Chandler, teen services coordinator for the Athens Regional Library System, which includes four library branches in Athens and seven branches in surrounding communities. “We are hitting above the national average in attendance for programs.”

Nishat Sial, a 2017 UGA graduate, was selected as an AmeriCorps VISTA and was assigned to the library in July.

Charged with finding activities that would engage teenagers, Sial reached out to community leaders, local businesses and UGA organizations, asking them to volunteer their time and expertise to provide meaningful after-school programs at the library. The response, she said, was tremendous.

“I’ve learned there are so many people willing to contribute in the community,” Sial says. “It’s just a matter of identifying and utilizing those resources to empower others.”

About 72 volunteers signed on to work with the teens and the activities varied greatly. EcoReach, a UGA organization with student members mostly from the Odom School of Ecology, holds environment-centered programs once a month. The mission of EcoReach is to raise awareness and enthusiasm for science among school-age children through fun, hands-on activities.

“I like that the programs are fun and innovative,” says Antonio Starks, an eighth-grade student from Clarke Middle School. Antonio is at the library most afternoons and recently participated in an EcoReach program on butterflies, which examined caterpillars and taught students about the lifecycle of the insect.

In addition, the library hosted a Bling-Your-Prom event in January, offering free dresses, suits, shoes, accessories, ties, makeup and jewelry to teens. Over 500 materials were donated for teens and 123 high school students showed up to prepare for prom. Volunteer seamstresses offered alterations, and all event attendees received a voucher for a free book. All unused items were kept for next year’s Bling-Your-Prom, donated to high schools or to Project SAFE, a charity dedicated to stopping domestic violence.

“Seeing the kids’ reaction was priceless,” says Chandler, who, with Sial, made the library look like a store, with racks of clothes and makeshift dressing rooms. Bling-Your-Prom is something Chandler had wanted to do for several years, and she was able to make it happen with Sial recruiting volunteers and identifying community partnerships. The event was such a success the library plans to make it an annual event.

Sial had committed to the VISTA program before she graduated with a degree in English.

“What drew me to apply to the VISTA program was that it was specifically designed to fight poverty through capacity building and identifying long-term solutions,” Sial says. “The opportunity to go into something like that was appealing to me.”

“The VISTAs are a great addition to UGA and to the local community and they complement work already being done by faculty and students,” says Shannon Wilder, director of the Office of Service-Learning. “It is exciting to see Nishat bring so many volunteers together to share their talents and expertise with Clarke County teenagers.”

Even more students are flocking to the library now, Chandler said, and instead of just hanging out they are taking advantage of the resources that it has to offer.

In 2013, 3,300 young adult books were checked out of the Athens-Clarke County Library on Baxter Street. From July 2017 to March 2018, visitors checked out about 20,000 books and movies.

“We are increasing literacy and changing the perception of what a library is today,” Chandler says. “That’s what having a VISTA member has enabled us to do.”

Having the planned programs also addresses a financial problem that loomed over the county. The library had estimated it would need $38,000 for additional security to manage the after-school crowds. Hearing that, Clarke County Commissioner Kelly Girtz, now Athens mayor-elect, organized a meeting between the library and the OSL, which resulted in the new VISTA position. Clarke County is funding the position, about $13,000 a year—significantly less than what additional security would cost.

“It’s been so successful I want to see it sustained permanently,” Girtz says. “As long as there are (teenagers), there is a need.”

Established in 1965, the AmeriCorps VISTA network connects volunteers with organizations that help to alleviate poverty. VISTA members design long-term, sustainable solutions to problems, recruiting other volunteers and strengthening communities by offering new services. VISTA members serve for typically a year, although some positions may be shorter. Sponsors, like the UGA Office of Service-Learning, supervise and mentor VISTAs during their assignments.

Since 2013, the OSL has coordinated VISTA volunteers to help campus organizations, like the UGArden and the Campus Kitchen at UGA; and community organizations like the Clarke County Mentor Program, the Athens Community Council on Aging and the library.


Writer: Leah Moss,, 706-583-0964

Photos: Shannah Montgomery,, 706-542-3638

Contact: Shannon Wilder,, 706-542-0535