UGA helps small businesses succeed during pandemic

From Hiawassee to Hahira, Hatcher to Hinesville and points between, UGA has helped thousands of small businesses in Georgia stay afloat during the pandemic.

Consultants in the 17 regional offices of the UGA Small Business Development Center helped 3,309 small businesses secure $88 million in grants and loans through the federal Coronavirus, Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act from March through August.

During the same six-month span, UGA SBDC consultants heard from thousands more who were seeking information but not direct assistance in applying for funding. Many tuned in to SDBC-hosted webinars about the CARES Act funding or spoke by phone with an SBDC consultant.

Traffic on the SBDC web site increased by 328 percent as businesses sought information from a web page of COVID-19 resources, created in partnership with the Georgia Department of Economic Development and Georgia Department of Community Affairs at the direction of Gov. Brian Kemp.

CARES Act funding helped businesses continue to cover their payroll and essential costs during the state-mandated shelter-in-place. Others were approved for loans to provide relief for lost revenue.

“We needed the help,” said David Peeler, vice president and CFO of Peerless Manufacturing in southwest Georgia, an area hit hard by COVID-19. “We probably would not have survived had we not gotten it.”

With SBDC assistance, Peeler got a Payroll Protection Plan (PPP) loan through the CARES ACT, which enabled him to rehire the 40 employees he’d had to lay off.

“Georgia’s small businesses were hungry for any information about accessing federal assistance,” said UGA SBDC Director Allan Adams. “We made efforts to reach every small business in the state to make them aware of the federal support and our other services.”

“The ones we helped were those most in need of assistance,” Adams said.

Joseph Malbrough’s UPS store in Smyrna was considered an essential business, so he was able to stay open when most others were forced to close. However, foot traffic slowed significantly and Malbrough had to cut the store’s hours.

He applied for loans through the CARES Act, but had no success until he reached out to consultant Antonio Barrios at the UGA SBDC office in Cobb County.

“He was able to help me walk through the process and reach out to the SBA (federal Small Business Administration) to get an update as to whether or not they had my loan package, where it was in the process and what to expect,” Malbrough said. “The funds helped me stabilize and I was able to work with my landlord to get a deferment during that time as well.”

A graphic showing the number of clients and amount of money the UGA SBDC assisted with in North Georgia, Metro Atlanta, and South Georgia.

Nelson Wells also hit a wall when applying for funds until he reached out to the UGA SBDC office in Athens. His company, Team Clermont, promotes musicians and musical releases, so when the clubs and bars closed, so did Wells’ business.

He reached out to the big banks with whom he had previously worked, but found no success. Laura Katz, a consultant in the Athens UGA SBDC office, suggested trying a local bank.

“Sometimes if you go to a local community bank, they have a better of understanding of the needs of their home town businesses,” Katz said.

First American Bank & Trust, with its headquarters in Athens, came through for Wells with enough money for him to cover payroll, utilities and rent for 10 weeks, giving the business time to get its feet back on the ground.

“We would’ve had a very difficult time without it,” Wells said, “I honestly don’t know what we would’ve done.”

Down in St. Marys, Deborah Cottle wasn’t looking for financial help, she just wanted to continue selling during the shelter-in-place. Since her eclectic shop, Cottle & Gunn, already had a significant online following through Facebook and Instagram, SBDC consultant Jordan Tippett suggested she begin selling online as well.

Over the years, Tippett had worked with Cottle on ways to improve the business, from implementing QuickBooks software to keep her bookkeeping in order to helping her navigate the intricacies of buying out her partner and becoming a sole proprietor in 2016.

After pivoting to online sales, Cottle saw her sales double, and then triple during the pandemic. People were buying her wares— reclaimed vintage furniture, housewares, local crafts and more—online and receiving them by mail or picking them up from the store’s front porch.

“Oh my gosh, I recommend the UGA SBDC to everybody,” Cottle said. “I think that people would be crazy if they didn’t utilize the services of the SBDC, because they’re invaluable. Especially with no cost to me, it’s great to have that business mentor that’s there to just bounce things off of sometimes.”


Kelly Simmons PSO Dir. of Communications • 706-296-0855


Allan Adams UGA SBDC Director • 706-542-2762

UGA reaffirmed as Innovation and Economic Prosperity University

The University of Georgia has been reaffirmed as an Innovation and Economic Prosperity University by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU).

The Innovation and Economic Prosperity (IEP) designation recognizes institutions that demonstrate a substantive, sustainable and institution-wide commitment to and strategy for regional economic engagement, growth and economic opportunity. UGA was one of only 16 universities in the country to receive the initial designation in 2013.

“This recognition by APLU is a symbol of the University of Georgia’s national leadership among land-grant institutions,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. “I commend our faculty, staff and students for their hard work and commitment to strengthening the state of Georgia through innovation and economic development.”

“UGA was one of the very first institutions to earn this distinction and remains one of only 66 to be recognized as IEP designees,” said Shalin Jyotishi, program director for APLU’s IEP Universities. “Its successful completion of the five-year interim process affirms UGA’s substantive commitment to promoting regional economic and community development.”

To be recognized as a designee, UGA completed a rigorous and reflective self-study with both internal and external stakeholders to pinpoint what it was doing well and what it needed to improve. For its interim report to reaffirm its designation status, the university proved that it had made progress and continues to make progress toward the goals it laid out five years earlier.

The university and a diverse group of statewide stakeholders identified three main goals in its initial application: (1) partnering for economic growth, (2) facilitating interactions between the public and the university and (3) improving communication of economic development contributions.

“The reaffirmation recognizes that we have continued to build upon our initial goals and strengthen our public partnerships,” said Jennifer Frum, vice president for UGA Public Service and Outreach. “Economic vitality is at the heart of the land- and sea-grant mission and ensures prosperity for all Georgians.”

“Our team’s five-year review process revealed that UGA has remained true to those three core goals and has constantly improved its efforts,” said Sean McMillan, director of economic development for UGA in Atlanta. “It is an honor for the university to be once again recognized as a national leader by APLU.”

UGA has expanded upon numerous community- and technology-based development initiatives since it was first named an IEP designee. Some include UGA’s economic development office in Atlanta, which serves as a connection between the university and Georgia’s economic development community; the UGA Archway Partnership, which helps identify and address community and economic needs across the state; and Innovation Gateway, UGA’s research commercialization program.

“Partnering with industry to help move research discoveries to the marketplace has long been a priority for UGA, and we can point to significant successes for the state and beyond,” said David Lee, vice president for UGA research. “The relatively recent reorganization of our technology commercialization activities into one seamless unit, Innovation Gateway, has allowed us to take our game to an even higher level.”

APLU is a research, policy and advocacy organization dedicated to strengthening and advancing the work of public universities in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The association’s membership includes 246 public research universities, land-grant institutions, state university systems and affiliated organizations.

“APLU’s Innovation and Economic Prosperity (IEP) University designation recognizes institutions that are truly ‘walking the walk’ when it comes to maximizing the learning, discovery and engagement mission pillars of higher education institutions,” Jyotishi said.


Tyler Wilkins

Veteran UGA Public Service and Outreach faculty member tapped to head Georgia Center

Stacy Jones has been named director of the UGA Center for Continuing Education and Hotel, effective immediately.

Jones, formerly the associate director for governmental training, education and development at UGA’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government, has served as interim director of the Georgia Center since Jan. 1, 2020.

“Stacy’s expertise managing a large portfolio of continuing education and outreach programming made her the ideal person to step in when the former Georgia Center director retired,” said Jennifer L. Frum, vice president for UGA Public Service and Outreach. “Just a few months into the position, she adeptly managed the unprecedented challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. I have no doubt Stacy will lead the Georgia Center’s outstanding team into a successful future, post-pandemic.”

The Georgia Center is a 300,000-square-foot facility that opened in 1957 as part of a grant from the Kellogg Foundation to UGA. The center’s expansive continuing education programs focus on conferences and professional development both online and through the use of two auditoriums, 18 conference rooms, three executive boardrooms and a computer training lab. The building also houses 195 hotel rooms, banquet areas, and two restaurants.

At the Vinson Institute, Jones led a multi-million dollar operation that includes partnerships and programming with state agencies; local governments; the major associations representing Georgia’s cities and counties; associations of clerks, human resource officers, and finance officers; and economic development organizations across Georgia. She has led the development and delivery of continuing education, training, and professional conferences for thousands of state and local government officials. In fall 2016, Jones served as interim director of the Carl Vinson Institute, during a temporary leadership transition in Public Service and Outreach.

Prior to coming to UGA, Jones was chief development officer for Clearview Regional Medical Center, now Piedmont Walton Hospital, in Monroe, Georgia. As a member of the senior executive team, she managed business development for the 77-bed acute care hospital, overseeing physician recruitment, creating and executing marketing campaigns, and developing patient loyalty and affinity programs.

Jones earned her Ed.D. in higher education management, and a B.S. in Family and Consumer Sciences from UGA. She also has an MPA from Troy State University.


Kelly Simmons Public Service and Outreach — Director of Communications • 706-296-0855


Stacy Jones Georgia Center — Director • 706-542-6285

Archway communities provide opportunities for UGA College of Public Health students

As a high school student in Hawkinsville, Georgia,  Helley Patel was involved in a youth leadership program developed through the Pulaski County Archway Partnership, a UGA program that connects rural Georgia communities to university resources.

This summer, Patel reconnected with Archway to complete the internship required for her undergraduate degree in health promotion.

She and two other College of Public Health undergraduates were placed as virtual interns with Archway Partnership programs in rural Georgia communities.

“Colquitt, McDuffie and Washington counties had existing health and wellness initiatives which amid COVID-19 now required all hands-on deck,” said Sharon Liggett, an operations coordinator with the Archway Partnership, a unit of UGA Public Service and Outreach. “This is what the Archway Partnership does, identify UGA resources to benefit Georgia’s communities.”

Patel worked with a team in Colquitt County to create user-friendly social media posts to help promote maternal health best practices and reach pregnant women in southwest Georgia with CDC messages on pregnancy during COVID-19.

A graphic designed by Haley Patel for pregnant women in southwest Georgia.

One of the graphics designed by Patel to help inform pregnant women in southwest Georgia of maternal health issues.

In addition, Archway was able to help 13 CPH students identify an “observation” required for their foundations class.

Katie Hein, a faculty member in health promotions and internship coordinator for the College of Public Health, reached out to Liggett when the students learned their summer internships, which they had lined up during the previous semester, were cancelled.

“I immediately began to contact sites that might be able to work with students remotely,” Hein said. “We have health promotion students who become Archway Professionals after graduation, so I’ve known about Archway for a long time and I use it as an example of an excellent community health model in my community health class.”

“If the students this summer had not found a site with Archway, I would have kept working to find other sites for them. Worse case scenario would have been to delay graduation, but I sure didn’t want that to happen,” said Hein.

In Colquitt County, Patel worked with Archway Professional Sarah Adams, who graduated with a degree in health promotions from UGA’s College of Public Health, and also holds a master of public administration from UGA.

Working with Adams and a nutritionist from the Southwest Georgia Public Health District, Patel learned about maternity health issues, barriers to healthcare for pregnant women and possible solutions.

“She is conscientious about her work and sincerely wants to provide something that is useful to the community,” Adams said. “She has a heart for service and is flexible in considering different ways to support communities in rural Georgia. Her name will certainly be one to watch for in the future.”

As a student back in Pulaski County, Patel was the first recipient of the Robert Herman Leadership Scholarship, named for a former chairman of the Pulaski Archway Partnership executive committee. Jason Lord, then-chairman of Pulaski Tomorrow, a leadership group that grew out of the Pulaski Archway Partnership, called  Patel “a great example of the kind of young person that will lead Pulaski County in the future.”

After graduating from UGA, Patel plans to enter the dual Master of Health Administration/Master of Business Administration program at Georgia State University. She wants to work for a hospital system in Georgia after graduation.

“Ideally, it would be nice to come back to central/south Georgia so I can have the opportunity to give back to the community where I grew up,” she said. “Receiving a scholarship from Pulaski Tomorrow was a very special moment for me. It helped to fund my education which was a big step in my career. I am grateful to come from a community where education is considered a priority.”

The core function of the UGA Archway Partnership is to bring together local leaders who prioritize local needs and identify projects that benefit the community. Projects are not decided by UGA but are determined by members of a local, community-based Executive Committee with help from other members of the community who attend listening sessions or participate in various Work Groups. Archway then acts as a connection point between communities and students and faculty to work on selected projects.


Baker Owens Archway Partnership Public Relations Coordinator • 706-510-962


Sharon Liggett Archway Partnership Operations Coordinator • 229-507-6869

Katie Hein College of Public Health Internship Coordinator • 706-542-3313

UGA partners with Okefenokee swamp to conserve and protect native alligators

A partnership between University of Georgia researchers and the Okefenokee Swamp Park focuses on conservation and education efforts needed to maintain the swamp’s native alligator population, which is vital to the economic vitality of the region.

On Aug. 27, UGA’s Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant and the Okefenokee Swamp Park (OSP) signed a commitment to continue its Alligator Education and Research Project, work that informs the OSP on conservation and management of the swamp, provides a better understanding of alligators, and enhances wildlife education.

“Applied research like this project in south Georgia is helping communities throughout the state address critical, local challenges,” said Jennifer Frum, vice president for UGA Public Service and Outreach. “This is a great example of how UGA is fulfilling its mission as Georgia’s land-grant and sea-grant institution.”

The OSP first began funding the project in 2017, and since then UGA scientists have conducted field research in the swamp, located on the Georgia-Florida border, to inventory the current alligator population by sex, age and size.

Kimberly Andrews holds several juvenile alligators in her arms.“The American alligator remains a conservation concern for a number of reasons, including human persecution and loss of native habitat,” said ecologist Kimberly Andrews, a faculty member with UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. “It is important for us to understand how these reptiles are adapting to survive in a human-dominated environment.”

Using satellite tags and cameras, Andrews and her team at UGA have tracked seven adult alligators in the swamp, observing interactions between the sexes and age classes, courtship between males and females, maternal care and interaction with other species, such as bears or otters.

They regularly survey areas of the swamp to get approximate counts of the alligators there and their activity levels during day and night, from season to season and under changing environmental conditions.

So far, their research has shown that adult females and their guarded young, ages one to three years, are typically the most visible while the males are on the move and the mid-size subadults are more covert. Alligator activity and their visibility in the swamp is influenced by social structure and the presence of dominant individuals and changes in environmental conditions, such as temperature and rainfall.

“We are excited to renew our partnership with Dr. Andrews and UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant,” said Dr. William Clark, an ophthalmologist in Waycross and chair of the OSP Board of Trustees, a 501.c.3 non-profit organization. “So far, the results of the alligator research have already changed the way many people view this apex predator and we look forward to increasing our collaboration for years to come.”

Alligators are a conservation success story: they were the first species to be listed federally as an endangered species. Alligator farming replaced the overharvesting from the wild that caused their decline and alligator populations began to rebound.

Alligators are apex predators, consuming a diversity of food sources and regulating prey populations. At the swamp, researchers have seen that a single adult alligator may eat prey that range in size from a moth to a deer. When alligators are lost from a system, this balance is lost and the ecosystem instability impacts many other species, including people who rely on predators to manage prey populations, such as deer, that pose risk to our safety when overabundant.

Alligators are the engineers of their economy, creating habitat that is used by other smaller animals. During drought, alligators create “wallows” or use den sites that retain water after it becomes scarce in other areas. These wallows can be critical for breeding habitat for frogs. The loss of alligators in some ecosystems has contributed to subsequent declines in amphibian populations in many of their habitats where they have been removed.

The Okefenokee is the largest blackwater swamp in North America, serving as the headwaters of the St. Mary’s and Suwanee rivers. Most of the swamp is located in Southeastern Georgia and is considered one of the seven natural wonders of the state. Protected largely by the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and the Okefenokee Wilderness, the swamp has an array of habitats including cypress swamps, peat bogs, marshes, open lakes and wooded hammocks. The diversity of ecosystems encompasses an assortment of over 620 plant species (including four carnivorous plant species), 39 fish, 37 amphibian, 64 reptile, 234 bird and 50 mammal species.

An alligator floats in the water at Okefenokee Swamp Park.

An alligator floats in the water at Okefenokee Swamp Park. (Submitted Photo)

About the project:

About the swamp:


Kelly Simmons PSO Dir. of Communications • 706-296-0855


Kimberly Andrews Marine Extension & Georgia Sea Grant Coastal Ecology Specialist • 912-261-3975

UGA commits new leadership development program to support underserved populations across Georgia

A new University of Georgia leadership initiative will partner with eight organizations across the state to build stronger communities by developing leaders within underserved populations.

The J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, a unit of UGA Public Service and Outreach, developed the Innovations in Community Leadership Initiative (ICLI) with private funding donated by members of the Fanning Institute Advisory Board, most notably a lead gift from the James L. Allgood Family.

The program specifically targets organizations or communities that do not have the resources or technical expertise to sustain effective leadership programing, said Matt Bishop, director of the Fanning Institute.

“The funds raised for this initiative allow Fanning to invest its resources and expertise in these partner communities and organizations to enhance and innovate community leadership programming,” Bishop said.

The inaugural ICLI recipients are:

“We are very excited to be working with the Fanning Institute,” said Sharon Edwards, founder and executive director of Community Outreach Training Center, Inc. “Through the Innovations in Community Leadership Initiative, we’re going to be able to incorporate leadership development into our existing services, equipping program participants to lead and build better futures for themselves and their communities.”

Over the next year, Fanning Institute faculty and staff will work with these organizations to develop and build out their proposed leadership programming.

“We received a large number of very strong applications that all received serious consideration,” said Brittany Adams-Pope, a Fanning Institute public service faculty member. “These inaugural recipients represent a diverse cross-section of the state, and we look forward to working with them to develop their programs.”

As part of the ICLI, communities are expected to sustain and continue the programming over multiple years.

“Sustainable, consistent leadership development programming positions a community for economic development and other opportunities,” Bishop said. “The correlation between leadership development and community vitality is a clear one, and communities that innovate their leadership programs to better serve all of their citizens are the ones best prepared for a better future.”

The institute will accept applications for a second round of the ICLI in spring 2021. For more information, visit


Charlie Bauder Fanning Institute Public Relations Coordinator • 706-542-7039


Matt Bishop Fanning Institute Director • 706-542-6201

Middle schoolers get their hands dirty (remotely) at Grow It Know It online summer camp

Clarke County Public School students haven’t been in a classroom since March, but that hasn’t stopped the learning, even over the summer, thanks to the University of Georgia.

More than two dozen middle school students participated in a UGA summer camp where they made fresh salsa, built a compost bin, baked homemade pretzel bread, and designed vegetable-based tie-dyed shirts.

And they did it all from their homes.

The Grow It Know It (GIKI) Summer Camp, offered through UGA’s Office of Service-Learning, is typically a week-long experience at Clarke or Hilsman Middle Schools. This year, it was offered virtually, educating participants about agriculture, plant science and nutrition, while providing fun, hands-on activities that the students could do at home.

“Our plan for these summer activities is to have the kids learn something and also prepare a meal for their family at the same time,” GIKI Coordinator Wick Prichard said. “It’s kind of a three-for-one deal; occupy the student and get them out of their family’s hair, teach them something, then have them prepare food for the family all at the same time.”

In addition to steering the summer program, Prichard also expanded the middle school gardens — usually in maintenance mode during the summer — to produce vegetables and fruit for food-insecure Athens area residents.

VISTA Charlie Evans and GIKI director Wick Prichard harvest veggies from the Hilsman Middle school garden. Veggies (along with produce from Horticulture and Ugarden) are given away during school lunch pick-ups. Vistas are also offering free online summer camp with projects ranging from food science and cooking to tie-dying with organic vegetable dyes.

VISTA Charlie Evans (L) and GIKI coordinator Wick Prichard harvest veggies from the Hilsman Middle school garden. (PHOTO: Shannah Montgomery / PSO)

A $5,000 grant from State Botanical Garden of Georgia at UGA — which was part of a larger $15,000 award the garden received from the U.S. Botanic Garden and the American Public Garden Association — allowed the summer program to serve more students and Athens-area residents than expected.

The combined middle school gardens now produce approximately 75 to 100 pounds of produce every week, including tomatoes, peppers, okra, zucchini, eggplant, watermelons and more. While much of the harvest is used elsewhere — like in the schools’ summer lunch pickup program — a portion of it was also delivered to campers.

“We knew we had that space and since we were able to ramp up production, we said let’s do it,” Prichard said. “We’re not going to save the world by growing vegetables for people, but the way I see it is it’s a quality of life thing. Fresh vegetables in general never hurt. It says the community cares about you and we’re doing our part to relieve some of your stress.”

The Office of Service-Learning (OSL) and the State Botanical Garden are units of Public Service and Outreach. OSL also reports to the UGA Vice President for Instruction.

Each week, Ashley Burton and Charlie Evans, AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers assigned to GIKI, delivered boxes with produce and other supplies to the students that requested them for that week’s summer camp projects. In addition to fresh produce, packages also included kitchen utensils and even other food products like pudding cups. The goal was for everyone to have access to the ingredients necessary to learn, have fun and cook.

“Charlie and I have had so much fun, and there’s been some topics that the kids themselves have suggested that they wanted to see,” said Burton, a Barrow County native and the GIKI VISTA for that area during the last school year. “For example, talking about bacteria and yeast in the kitchen; how yeast rises and bread rises. That’s not something we normally would have discussed in our camp setting, but the kids have been really interested in it and have really spearheaded it themselves. Schools aren’t in session, and if the kids are wanting to learn, we haven’t really shut that down.”

Normally a weeklong, in-person summer camp, GIKI made the decision to go virtual this year. The camp met every Tuesday and Thursday, utilizing Zoom video calls and creative lesson plans to continue reaching students at their homes.

A photo collage showing a summer camp student cutting vegetables, a tie-dyed shirt, and a loaf of bread.

Students in the GIKI summer camp learned about food science, cooking, and even how to tie-dye with organic vegetable dyes. (PHOTO: Shannah Montgomery / PSO)

More than two dozen children participated in the camp during the summer, including friends and younger siblings of normal campers — a demographic which normally wouldn’t have access to the camp or might not choose to learn about agriculture, Burton said.

The online format and extended timeline of the camp forced GIKI to be flexible with its lesson plans, as well. Utilizing fresh produce from the school gardens, seeds from UGArden, and even yeast and bacteria, the team based its lesson plans off of what was currently available.

“It makes it fun, because you really just have to go with what you have,” said Evans, a 2018 UGA graduate and the current GIKI VISTA in Clarke County. “Obviously we have to kind of plan out ahead of time and have an idea of what we’ll have available, but also it makes it easy to say, ‘Thursday we’re not doing what we had planned. We have this available, let’s just jump on it and go.’”

Established in 2013, the Grow It Know It program was created by the Office of Service-Learning, UGA Cooperative Extension, UGArden, and the Clarke County School District to support teachers involved in farm-to-school programming.

The program has left a lasting impression on many who have experienced it, including students, VISTAS, and middle school teachers.

“It’s really important for me that the students, especially at the age of 12 to 14, kind of get an understanding of where their food comes from,” said Greg Brav, the agriculture science teacher at Hilsman and a former GIKI VISTA. “So, the way to get them the most excited about it is actually to get in there and show the students what it’s like to be involved with food production. You can read about it in a book, and you should, but at the same time getting that first-hand experience is really important for the students.”


Aaron Cox Public Relations Coordinator • 706-542-3631


Wick Prichard Grow It Know It Coordinator • 707-623-7459

UGA helps coastal businesses plan for weather disasters

The University of Georgia will offer a no-cost webinar series in August to help businesses along Georgia’s coast prepare for weather emergencies and learn ways to get back on track after a major storm.

The Emergency Preparedness and Business Continuity webinar series will be offered online Aug. 24-27, 2020. Participants will learn about emergency loan programs available through the federal Small Business Administration (SBA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), insurance, how to plan for business continuity after a disaster, and state and federal requirements for re-entry to evacuated communities.

“Having a plan in place before a natural disaster strikes can help businesses reopen sooner, which provides stability to a community,” said Allan Adams, director of the UGA Small Business Development Center, which is hosting the webinar. “The health of the state and the economy depend upon Georgia’s small businesses.”

The webinars will be presented by Zoom by the SBDC regional office in Savannah, and will include four separate sessions, one each day from 2-3:30 p.m. Learn more and register at

Partnering with the UGA SBDC to present the webinar series are the SBA; USDA; UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant; Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency; Georgia Office of Insurance and Fire Safety Commissioner; Chatham Emergency Management Agency; Colquitt-Miller County Chamber of Commerce; and Chatham Insurance Partners.


Kelly Simmons Public Service & Outreach Director of Communications • 706-296-0855


Liz Overstreet SBDC Program Coordinator • 912-651-3200

Essential business in Smyrna turns to UGA for assistance during pandemic

Joseph Malbrough’s UPS store in Cobb County was considered an essential business when most others were forced to close during the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But with most people sheltering in place, the daily traffic through the store dropped significantly.

“We had to cut our hours because business had fallen off,” Malbrough said.

He applied for loans available to businesses through the federal Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, but after almost a month hadn’t heard back.

That’s when he called UGA Small Business Development Center (SBDC) consultant Antonio Barrios.

“He was able to help me walk through the process and reach out to the SBA (federal Small Business Administration) to get an update as to whether or not they had my loan package, where it was in the process and what to expect,” Malbrough said. “The funds helped me stabilize and I was able to work with my landlord to get a deferment during that time as well.”

He’s been able to stay open and keep his seven employees on payroll.

“Under the uncertainty created by COVID-19, it was important to get that additional working capital to help him stay steady in this economy,” said Barrios, who works out of the UGA SBDC office located at Kennesaw State University. “He was able to remain open, but the ups and downs due to the crisis still affected his business. The federal funding provided additional support for him and his employees.”

Malbrough first met Barrios and became acquainted with the UGA SBDC eight years ago, when he decided to move his UPS store to a location with more traffic. Barrios helped him secure a loan for a new site on the busy Cobb Parkway in Smyrna.

Active in the community, Malbrough had heard about the UGA SBDC during a Cobb County Chamber of Commerce event. Since then, he has arranged for SBDC consultants to speak at events held by the Smyrna Business Association, where he has been a board member for seven years. He was recently recognized as Ambassador of the Year by the Cobb Chamber.

“They’re a good resource to have and definitely a resource I encourage people to utilize,” Malbrough said. “The assistance from the SBDC and the funds from the (CARES Act) were simply a great bridge that helped me in a time of need.”


Émilie GillePSO Public Relations Coordinator • 678-997-7542


Antonio Barrios SBDC Consultant • 470-578-6450

UGA helped Team Clermont stay afloat after COVID-19 shut down live music venues and banned large gatherings

Nelson Wells has been promoting musical releases and musicians in Athens and beyond since 1997. When the pandemic hit, it threatened to shut his business down as well.

“People stopped spending money and activities in general just froze,” said Wells, whose company, Team Clermont, includes two full-time employees, two part-time employees and a bookkeeper.

Wells sought assistance through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which offered Payroll Protection Plan (PPP) loans to small businesses. He got nowhere with the larger banks he approached.

That’s when he reached out to the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center for help.

“The process of actually getting the loan at first was frustrating to say the least,” said Nelson, who co-founded Team Clermont with partner, Bill Benson. “We tried our corporate banks for the first round and then again for the second round of the PPP loan with no luck.”

Laura Katz, a consultant with the Athens UGA SBDC office, recommended Nelson reach out to a community bank.

“Sometimes if you go to a local community bank it’s a little bit easier than going to a large national or regional bank,” Katz said.

Wells applied for the PPP loan with First American Bank & Trust and was awarded over $30,000. The money helped Team Clermont cover expenses like payroll, utilities and rent for 10 weeks, giving the business time to get its feet back on the ground.

“We would’ve had a very difficult time without it,” Well said “I honestly don’t know what we would’ve done.”

Team Clermont is a small operation with a large footprint in the indie music scene. The company has had more than 2,000 clients, and promotes their music through about 3,500 media outlets and several hundred public and college radio stations worldwide.

When the pandemic hit the U.S., states started shutting down and large public gatherings were no longer allowed. This effectively halted all concerts and tours throughout the country. Music venues closed and made the promotional work of PR firms, like Team Clermont, temporarily unnecessary.

“People stopped spending money, froze their activities and events, and we were hit hard,” Wells said.

Katz not only helped Wells get a loan, but introduced him to other ways he could keep his business moving forward.

“I looked over their website and we talked about strategies for reaching out to clients to get back in front of them again with a new offer,” Katz said. “We went over their Google analytics, discussed some media marketing strategies, and started working on a content calendar for their social media to build brand awareness.”

Looking to the future, Wells plans to continue working with the UGA SBDC to develop growth strategies for Team Clermont as the music industry shifts and changes.

“I was familiar with the SBDC, but never really realized that they were a resource that I could use or that I might need something that they offered,” he said. “Laura is a priceless resource herself as are the resources of the SBDC.  So, I’m glad we got connected when we did.”


Émilie Gille PSO Public Relations Coordinator • 678-997-7542


Laura Katz UGA SBDC Athens Consultant • 706-542-7436

Nonprofits continue receiving organizational support from UGA through virtual tools

The COVID-19 pandemic has not stopped the University of Georgia from supporting nonprofits in their mission to build a better quality of life in their communities.

Prior to the pandemic, Georgia Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), Inc. had called on the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, a unit of UGA Public Service and Outreach, to help create CASA’s new strategic plan.

The day-to-day changes brought on by COVID-19 forced the Fanning Institute to quickly adjust its approach.

Instead of meeting with CASA in-person and leading discussions and work sessions to create the new strategic plan, institute faculty and staff quickly shifted the process to a virtual format that can also allow the organization to adapt in the face of changing times.

“I was very pleased with the content, attendance and participation and I’m excited to see the compilation of results,” said Lauren Elder Hyatt, chair of Georgia CASA’s strategic planning team of the virtual shift. “I feel like we are well on our way to identifying and aligning around the values to drive Georgia CASA and the development of the long-range plan forward for the next few years.”

Transitioning the planning process to a virtual format and including work between each of the sessions has allowed the process to move forward on schedule and be completed on time in the fall.

“Nonprofit organizations play an indispensable role helping meet the needs of Georgians and addressing local challenges across our state,” said Matt Bishop, director of the Fanning Institute. “Now more than ever, we are committed to utilizing all of the tools and technologies at our disposal to make sure nonprofits can receive the organizational and leadership support they need.”

Utilizing virtual meeting platforms, independent work between the virtual sessions, online tools and other technologies, institute faculty can assist nonprofit organizations with a variety of services such as strategic planning, board development, succession planning and overall organizational development.

Prior to the pandemic, the Fanning Institute—led by senior public service faculty Maritza Soto Keen—was already working virtually with Girls Inc., a national nonprofit that supports girls’ development through direct service and advocacy, on an organizational diversity, equity and inclusion initiative.

“Maritza helped us craft an online survey and gather data from our affiliates and staff across the U.S. and Canada,” said Charlene Jackson, director of affiliate services for Girls Inc. “The response rates for the survey were incredibly high. She then provided us with an analysis of the data and, more importantly, helped us understand how to interpret that data to ensure we accurately captured everyone’s input.”

Meanwhile, the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, also a UGA Public Service and Outreach unit, called on the Fanning Institute for assistance in evaluating its board structure and by-laws in alignment with the garden’s current strategic plan.

“Having conversations about these issues with your board and stakeholders is something you would always rather do in person,” said Jennifer Cruse-Sanders, director of the State Botanical Garden. “However, Maritza was marvelous and made everyone feel comfortable with the virtual format. It was very successful and has allowed to us remain on schedule for implementing our strategic plan, despite the pandemic.”

The institute’s virtual services will allow nonprofits of all sizes to continue planning and developing the infrastructure they need to support their communities, said Bishop.

“While how we work looks different, our work hasn’t stopped,” said Bishop. “We remain committed to helping nonprofits develop the tools and resources necessary to address the challenges they see in their communities.”


Charlie Bauder Fanning Institute Public Relations Coordinator • 706-244-6534


Maritza Soto Keen Fanning Institute Senior Public Service Faculty • 706-583-0122

Closed, but not “closed”: SBDC helps St. Marys business thrive during COVID shutdown

Cottle & Gunn in St. Marys, Georgia, closed its doors in April when the state’s shelter-in-place directives took effect. But the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t stop owner Deborah Cottle from doubling — then tripling — her sales from the previous spring, thanks to a creative outlook, a new online store, and some help from the UGA Small Business Development Center.

Located just blocks away from the Florida state line to the south and the Atlantic Ocean to the east, St. Marys is home to approximately 17,000 people. Cottle & Gunn sits in the middle of the coastal town’s historic district, a fitting location for an eclectic store specializing in reclaimed vintage furniture, housewares, local crafts and more.

While the store itself is small, its online presence is anything but. Since opening her doors in 2014, Cottle has built an online following that nearly matches the size of the town — with more than 15,000 combined followers on Facebook and Instagram.

So, when the pandemic hit and businesses began closing their doors, Cottle tapped into that social media network — and her longstanding relationship with the SBDC — to keep her sales going.

“I’ve never worked harder in my six-and-a-half years of being in business than I did the month that I was ‘closed,’” Cottle said. “I maintained my normal business hours throughout the entire shutdown because my customers were constantly ordering for porch pickup. So even though they weren’t coming in the store, I was in the store every single day monitoring the online orders.”

Cottle’s sales for April 2020 were double that from April 2019. When she reopened in May, her sales tripled those from May 2019.

All of the growth was from online sales.

Assistance from the beginning 

A longtime SBDC client, Cottle has worked with consultant Jordan Tippett since soon after she opened her store in 2014. She and Tippett have formed a close working relationship since then, communicating frequently via texts and phone calls about ideas to improve the business.

“[Deborah] is probably one of the hardest working clients that I have and has worked hard to get where she is,” Tippett said.

Over the years, Tippett worked with Cottle on a variety of ways to improve the business, from implementing QuickBooks software to keep her bookkeeping in order to helping her navigate the intricacies of buying out her partner and becoming the business’ sole owner in 2016.

“I don’t think I could have done some of these things without him,” Cottle said. “Sometimes you just need that little extra push. I would say, ‘I don’t know if I can do it,’ and he would just respond, ‘yes you can, yes you can.’”

Tippett had been pitching the idea of an online store to Cottle for years, but she resisted. She finally agreed to try it after Tippett helped her create an itemized, online inventory of her store on the ecommerce platform Shopify.

It was initially created to support her in-store, point-of-sale system, but Shopify also laid the groundwork for an online store. When Cottle was suddenly forced to close by Georgia’s state-wide stay-at-home order in April, she knew it was time to finally take the online leap.

With her store’s inventory already cataloged, Cottle had a tech-savvy friend help her launch the online business in just a couple of days and quickly began promoting it through social media.

“She had such a powerful social media presence already and she could just steer those people right to the website when that needed to be the method of checkout,” Tippett said. “She just has a natural ability to just post things on social media and make something of it.”

Over the years, Cottle had built a trusting relationship with her fanbase through online events like Thursday night painting tutorials on Facebook Live. She also wasn’t afraid to share her private life with her customers, with her daughter, nicknamed Little Cottle, often appearing in fun, personal posts. Now, however, it was time to take it to a new level.

When the pandemic hit, Cottle began offering online sales, live Facebook sales events, Facetime shopping, porch pickups, and shipping.

“I just kept saying, ‘I’m here, and I’m willing to do whatever (the customer’s) comfort level is,’” she said. “I wasn’t opposed to any way of doing business during that time.”

Hard work pays off

Her social hustle paid immediate results, as the online store drew orders from as far away as Hawaii and a U.S. military base in Japan. Beyond her record-setting sales in April and May, Cottle continued her success by more than doubling her sales for June.

Future growth might include hiring her first employees, and possibly expanding her online sales to both Facebook and Instagram, something the Shopify platform has laid the foundation for her to do.

“[We want to] take this level of sales, which has grown tremendously lately, and make sure that we put the processes and infrastructure in place to maintain this and grow strategically,” Tippett said. “Not just wildly where it becomes unwieldy.”

Cottle attributes her rapid growth to the strength of her longstanding relationships — both with her customers and with the SBDC.

“Oh my gosh, I recommend the SBDC to everybody,” Cottle said. “I think that people would be crazy if they didn’t utilize the services of the SBDC, because they’re invaluable. Especially with no cost to me, it’s great to have that business mentor that’s there to just bounce things off of sometimes.”


Aaron Cox PSO Public Relations Coordinator • 417-483-5919


Jordan Tippett SBDC Consultant • 912-264-7343

Agricultural manufacturer keeps business moving during critical growing season with assistance from the SBDC

When COVID-19 forced Peerless Manufacturing in southwest Georgia to shut down in March, employees had no way to know how long they might be out of work.

It might have been for good.

But with assistance from the UGA Small Business Development Center, the company was able to quickly get a loan and ramp up its operations.

“We needed the help,” said David Peeler, vice president and CFO of Peerless Manufacturing. “We probably would not have survived had we not gotten it.”

Peeler learned about federal funding opportunities for small businesses by participating in a webinar hosted by the SBDC, the State Department of Economic Development, and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. He quickly worked with SBDC consultant Rob Martin and a local bank to apply for a Payroll Protection Plan (PPP) loan, available through the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Peerless was awarded a low interest PPP loan through First State Bank of Randolph County, some of it eligible for nonrepayment.

A worker at Peerless Manufacturing

A Peerless Manufacturing employee who returned to work after the company secured a PPP loan . (Submitted Photo)

“I knew that the PPP program was going to be something we were going to have to do fast and be one of the first ones to get our application in there,” Peeler said. “So, we connected with Rob with the SBDC and with our banker, Scott Curry, and we actually got funding faster than I thought we would.”

Two weeks after submitting their application, Peeler received the money and a few days later reopened, reuniting the 40 employees that work at the company.

“We stayed in touch with our employees while they were at home,” he said. “As soon as we felt like everything was safe and we could open back up, that’s when we did.”

Between March 1 and July 5, 2020, the UGA SBDC assisted 2,800 businesses in Georgia, hosted webinars that drew 11,613 participants, fielded more than 8,700 phone calls and helped businesses secure 451 loans totaling $61.4 million.

Peerless Manufacturing is based in the city of Shellman in Randolph County, a rural community of about 7,200 residents, fewer than 1,000 inside the Shellman city limits. The county is among those in southwest Georgia hit hard by the coronavirus. As of July 9, 204 Randolph County residents had tested positive and 25 had died, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

As of May 2020, the unemployment rate in Randolph County was 5.5 percent, down from 6.8 percent in April 2020 but higher than a year earlier at 4.5 percent in May 2019, according to the Georgia Department of Labor.

A worker welds inside the Peerless Manufacturing plant

A welder back working inside the Peerless Manufacturing plant. (Submitted Photo)

Peerless Manufacturing, which began in 1954, makes machines used to dry or cure products important to the Georgia economy, like peanuts, pecans, cotton, seed corn, beans and muscadine grapes. It also manufactures other agricultural equipment, like wagons and trailers used to haul product, and offers shop services like welding, metal fabrication, assembly and painting.

March and April are the company’s heavy production months, said Martin, a consultant in the UGA SBDC office in Albany.

“It was important for them to be able to get back quickly because there’s a limited window for when they can do production and then when that production has a market,” he said. “If they had been delayed two to three months it would’ve had a critical impact on their business for the year.”

Thanks to the PPP loan, they were able to get back to production by May and get back on top of producing orders.

“I would recommend that any small business have a relationship with someone with the SBDC, someone to call on and garner knowledge from,” said Peeler. “We were put in touch with Rob and then we listened to several of their webinars and we were able to get some information from those as well. It just became very helpful information that was right there at our fingertips and was very beneficial to us.”


Émilie Gille PSO Public Relations Coordinator • 678-997-7542


Rob Martin SBDC Business Consultant — Albany • 229-420-1144

State Botanical Garden receives funding to support food programs and online summer camps

The State Botanical Garden of Georgia was among 28 public gardens in the U.S. to receive funding from the U.S. Botanic Garden and the American Public Garden Association to help support its urban agriculture and community food-growing programs.

The $15,000 award will help the garden continue to produce fruits and vegetables for food-insecure Athens-area residents and will help fund an online summer camp that teaches middle school students about food and nutrition.

“Awards like this allow us to continue to offer our services and programming and resources to the public,” said Cora Keber, director of education at the State Botanical Garden. “While we’re not directly serving people currently with our regular experiential learning programming, we’re still providing needed produce to the community.”

Garden staffers have continued to grow and harvest produce from the Dig and Grow section of the Alice H. Richards Children’s Garden, which has been closed since March because of COVID-19. The produce, usually part of educational programming for children, now is donated to Campus Kitchen, a program within the UGA Office of Service-Learning (OSL) that collects food and prepares meals for senior adults, most of them grandparents raising grandchildren.

A portion of the awarded funding will also help Grow It Know It, another program within OSL, continue and expand its online summer program for middle school students. That program, typically held during the summer months at Clarke Middle School, focuses on agriculture and family and consumer science activities, with topics that include crop science, composting, food science and cooking. Grow It Know It provides materials for campers to engage in the activities at home with lessons online. Both OSL and the State Botanical Garden are UGA Public Service and Outreach units.

“Especially now, during this unprecedented health and economic crisis, communities need access to healthy, fresh foods” said Saharah Moon Chapotin, executive director of the U.S. Botanic Garden. “We are proud to be able to support our fellow public gardens in their vital work of helping local communities grow and gain access to more fruits and vegetables and achieve better nutrition.”

The State Botanical Garden of Georgia is one of 28 public gardens across the United States awarded a total of $378,000 through the Urban Agriculture Resiliency Program, which aims to promote resilience, grow capacity, prevent shortfalls and gather best practices from established programs across the U.S. public gardens community.

Beyond providing immediate support, the Urban Agriculture Resilience Program will provide insight into successful approaches and future opportunities for public gardens—though varying program models—to improve food access and advance food and agriculture education in urban communities, particularly during times of crisis.

“We appreciate the fantastic work public gardens across America are doing every day to support communities to provide horticultural knowledge and food security, especially during this very challenging time,” said Casey Sclar, executive director of the American Public Gardens Association.


Aaron Cox PSO Public Relations Coordinator • 417-483-5919


Cora Keber State Botanical Garden Director of Education • 706-542-6158

UGA report helps rural healthcare providers prepare for COVID-19 pandemic

Healthcare professionals in Colquitt County have been better able to plan for their providers’ and patients’ needs during the COVID-19 pandemic thanks to a customized report from the University of Georgia.

Produced by the College of Public Health (CPH) in coordination with the Archway Partnership, a UGA Public Service and Outreach unit, the report outlined the number of weekly, confirmed COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations expected for Georgia’s 14-county Southwest Public Health District (SPHD) — a region that stretches from Lee to Decatur County and includes more than 340,000 people.

The information included in the report provides regional hospitals with more accurate estimations than the national or state-wide reports and can help administrators prepare for their specific needs, said Grace Bagwell Adams, an associate professor in the College of Public Health.

“In terms of estimates, what we’ve learned about COVID-19 is that there’s a tremendous geographic variation at the sub-state level,” said Bagwell Adams, part of the five-member team that produced the report. “Having the ability to generate local data allows for far more precise efforts around preparation.”

The report showed the expected increase in the number of hospitalizations between May 15 and June 5 if residents practiced partial social distancing or no social distancing.

Bagwell Adams’ team estimated that on May 15, there would be 3,684 cases of COVID-19 when adherence to partial social distancing occurred. By June 5, that number would increase by 586 to 4,270.

The estimates were significantly higher for the scenario in which social distancing was not practiced at all. On May 15, the estimated number of cases of COVID-19 was 3,816. Estimates projected that by June 5, that number could swell by 2,491 to 6,307 if no social distancing occurred.

Colquitt Regional Medical Center CEO Jim Matney said the model confirmed that the actions the hospital took to mitigate the spread of the virus were correct.

“If we go through a resurge, we’ll have a certain level of confidence that we’re going down the right path of handling this virus,” Matney said.

According to Matney, Colquitt Regional made adjustments to its visitation policy and its elective surgery policy, separated COVID-19 patients from non-COVID-19 patients in the emergency room and the ICU, and ensured it had a stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE).

“This model now allows me to say if I have 40 patients in the hospital with COVID-19, I can predict what my utilization of PPE is going to be,” Matney said. “It helps you plan for the worst-case scenario. It helps you plan for the peak. That’s the value of it.”

The county has used the data to encourage residents to practice social distancing and also has shared it with neighboring communities and organizations.

“Just seeing this and having something tangible, something visual, is another effective tool not just for hospital leadership, but for the average lay person here in southwest Georgia,” said Sarah Adams, the Archway Partnership professional in Colquitt County, who has undergraduate and graduate degrees in public health from UGA. “I could potentially show these graphs to someone and say ‘here’s something that could happen; we want to avoid this and here’s some things you can do.’ So, it’s a quick, easy, effective tool that was put together by trusted experts, and we’re very fortunate to have this resource.”

CPH had previously created a similar report for Athens-Clarke County, with Bagwell Adams and her team basing their work off a state-wide COVID-19 simulation model developed by UGA professors John Drake of the Odum School of Ecology and Andreas Handel of the College of Public Health.

When Colquitt Regional Medical Center reached out for help, Sarah Adams served as the intermediary between them and CPH, utilizing their 15-year relationship with the county to help facilitate communications and distribute the finished report.

“We’ve had this relationship since 2005,” said Rob Gordon, Archway Partnership director. “They were our first Archway community, and we’ve developed a relationship and trust that whatever the situation — whether it’s an emergency or not — we can find them a resource to address their questions and needs. That’s especially true in this situation where they’re really looking for quick answers, and the fact that they’ve had this longstanding relationship between the community, Archway, and the College of Public Health really is the reason why they were able to provide help this quickly.”

Matney believes that longstanding relationship is an invaluable asset, helping the area’s healthcare industry — and the rural community as a whole — gain access to resources and expertise they normally wouldn’t have.

“The Archway folks and the University of Georgia folks and the College of Public Health, it doesn’t matter what we ask them or what we have a demand for, they’re always willing to look for some expert that can help us,” said Matney. “I don’t know how other small hospitals that don’t have a relationship with the University of Georgia make it.”


Aaron Cox Public Relations Coordinator • 417-483-5919


Rob Gordon Archway Partnership Director • 706-714-7059

UGA’s GeorgiaDATA website helps communities make informed decisions during the pandemic

Georgia’s state and local leaders can access accurate, current data to learn how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the economics of their communities through, a resource designed by UGA’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government. Such data is vital to communities’ ability to plan and budget in the midst of the pandemic.

The interactive visualization tool allows elected officials, department heads and government staff to easily find relevant data, including sales tax and initial unemployment claims, see how their community’s leading indicators are trending over time and learn whether the same changes are occurring nearby, regionally or statewide, said David Tanner, Vinson Institute associate director, who spearheaded recent GeorgiaDATA upgrades.

“You can see how local data is changing over time with the tool,” Tanner said. “You can see how the data is trending compared to last year, or compared to nearby counties, regions or the state as a whole.”

The institute originally created to enhance access to county-level data printed every year in the Georgia County Guide. Users can drill down by topic, visualize the data using maps and on-screen tools, make meaningful comparisons. Data from the Georgia County Guide can also be download as Excel files. The Vinson Institute regularly updates the website with information drawn from official weekly and monthly sales tax and unemployment claims reports so that officials have the most current knowledge to make accurate decisions about their community’s future.

Leaders in Putnam County used sales-tax distribution reports from the COVID-19 Economic Data pages to establish a spending plan for completing this fiscal year and to develop a budget for their next fiscal year starting in October, said Paul Van Haute, Putnam County manager.

“GeorgiaDATA helps me analyze my county data compared to my neighbors and compared to similar jurisdictions around the state,” Van Haute said. “This is stuff I can share with the Putnam County commissioners and they can use, too.’’

Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales learned more about during the institute’s webinar series, “Navigating Fiscal Crisis.” GeorgiaDATA is a tool more elected and appointed officials should be using, she said.

“You can get all the information you could possibly need to make good decisions. In these uncharted waters, this data becomes very critical,” Ordiales said.

The webinar on was recorded, and slides as well as video can be found on the institute’s COVID-19 Resources website.


Roger Nielsen Vinson Institute Public Relations Coordinator • 706-201-7192


David Tanner Vinson Institute Associate Director • 706-424-6824

UGA partnership helps Georgia communities manage their infrastructure

Angela Nguyen has been sheltering at home since March, but the UGA College of Engineering graduate student is still hard at work researching how to help Georgia communities — specifically smaller communities — better care for their bridges.

Nguyen is the second graduate assistant from the University of Georgia to work with the American Public Works Association (APWA) Georgia chapter in as many years, thanks to a partnership with the Carl Vinson Institute of Government and the UGA College of Engineering. The program, developed by Walt McBride, a senior public service associate at the Vinson Institute, partners an engineering grad student with the APWA Georgia chapter to help Georgia communities address infrastructure challenges they may not be able to handle on their own.

“This program is important because we’re able to get research conducted that benefits our underserved communities,” McBride said. “Larger communities can pay for their own research or have their own engineers, but underserved communities with limited resources just don’t have access. Finding ways to connect these underserved and rural communities, that’s the land-grant mission. That’s what we’re here to do.”

Nguyen didn’t see herself in this situation as she moved closer to finishing her undergraduate work last year. The daughter of a Vietnamese immigrant and the first in her family to go to college, she felt that graduate school was too expensive and instead had her eye on the workforce once she had her civil engineering degree in December.

But Stephan Durham, professor and assistant dean for student success and outreach with the College of Engineering, suggested Nguyen stay in school, earn a master’s degree from UGA, and work as a graduate assistant with the APWA Georgia chapter — a year-long arrangement that Nguyen considered a “no-brainer.”

“I never really thought of doing grad work, because it was always a financial issue,” she said. “Dr. Durham said that I would really fit with his program and that the topic of the research would interest me, because I am interested in bridges and that sort of infrastructure. Also, it would only take a year, I’d be doing great work, and it would also be funded by APWA.”

Nguyen’s research is focused on developing an asset management plan specifically for bridges, with the aim of creating an easy-to-follow guide for communities to use. The goal is to help municipalities learn how to better monitor the status of their bridges and become more proactive in their maintenance — something that would help prolong the structure’s life and ultimately save taxpayers’ money.

The project builds upon the work of Caroline Dickey, a 2019 Double Dawg who served as the APWA Georgia chapter’s first grad student in 2019. Dickey focused her research on the larger umbrella of asset management, a need many APWA members mentioned as a top priority.

For her final project, she put her thesis into practice and created a step-by-step asset management guide specifically for Washington County, a UGA Archway Partnership community. The experience opened her eyes to an area of engineering she hadn’t considered.

Angela Nguyen discusses her research in front of a projector.

College of Engineering graduate student Angela Nguyen showcases her ongoing infrastructure research at an APWA conference. (Submitted Photo)

“I’ve been able to use my experience from that in the job that I’m doing now, which has been really cool,” said Dickey, who works at the Kercher Group in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she helps municipalities across the country manage their assets. “I feel like now I’m in a supporting role for local governments, to be a consultant with them…I really took my experience in grad school as sort of a springboard into what I wanted to do. I didn’t really know that I could do asset management as a job.”

The APWA Georgia chapter was impressed enough with Dickey’s work to fund a second graduate assistantship this year, and plans to continue for a third year if its budget allows.

“I think it’s been a win-win,” said Stan Brown, APWA Georgia chapter board member. “It’s been great for the students. It gives them something that they can have a point of pride in, knowing that they’ve done something that will help cities and counties in Georgia. And at the same time, it’s given us something that we can use.”

Still in the early stages of her study, Nguyen hopes to produce a similar guide for a Georgia community in need. While working at home with her mother and two younger sisters, she has remotely surveyed and interviewed several Georgia communities — large, medium, small, and rural — and has begun compiling a list of potential cities and counties to serve as test subjects for her work.

“For us, it’s exciting to be able to go and test it and see the potential impact of this work on communities throughout Georgia while partnering with other Public Service and Outreach units,” Durham said. “That’s broadly what UGA wants to do, serve the state, and that’s what we’re doing with this.”


Aaron Cox Public Relations Coordinator • 417-483-5919


Walt McBride Carl Vinson Institute of Government Senior Public Service Associate • 770-503-4474

New hydrophones will let UGA Aquarium visitors experience the fascinating world of underwater sounds

Imagine hearing the sounds the dolphins make as they glide through the water, or the mating call of the oyster toadfish.

Visitors to the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium on Skidaway Island will be able to experience the underwater sounds of coastal habitats with the help of three hydrophones, purchased with donations from Friends of the UGA Aquarium.

“We will be able to build upon existing teaching experiences by incorporating soundscapes into lecture, laboratory and field-based programs,” says Dodie Sanders, an educator at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, which runs the aquarium. “We envision capturing underwater sounds of fish, other organisms and anthropogenic noises from deep water habitats, to oyster reef communities, to tidal rivers and sounds to create learning experiences for teachers, students and the public.”

Soundscape ecology is the study of how sound impacts the behaviors of living organisms in a particular environment. The underwater recordings will allow educators to teach students how to identify different fish sounds, learn about fish behavior and why they might hear more marine life in some areas, like oyster reefs, which provide important habitat for fish and crustaceans.

“We will incorporate use of the hydrophones in existing Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant programs, like our invertebrate lab where students can listen to underwater sounds on the dock as they collect invertebrate samples for lab studies,” Sanders says. “We will also be able to use the instruments during our dolphin tours, fish labs, trawls and public programs like Skidaway Marine Science Day.”

Sanders and Todd Recicar, marine operations supervisor at UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, tested the equipment and gathered preliminary recordings in Wassaw Sound. In one of their recordings, you can hear snapping shrimp and to the mating calls of oyster toadfish, both native species to the Georgia coast.

Listen to an underwater sound recording.

The recordings of underwater sounds will be instrumental in developing new onsite and online programming at Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. Educators hope to eventually develop an exhibit at the UGA Aquarium using the hydrophones which would allow visitors to listen to real time sounds of fish, dolphins and invertebrates from the Skidaway River.