UGA partnership prepares students to succeed in key Georgia industry

When Connor Logan graduates from UGA with his degree in hospitality and food industry management, he’ll have in-depth knowledge of his chosen field and hands-on experience in food and beverage service, front desk responsibilities, revenue management, and sales and events—all the critical elements of running a big hotel.

And he’ll have been paid for the experience, interning at the University of Georgia Hotel and Conference Center.

“I was able to spend time in several departments and get a good overview of what it takes to run a hotel,” said Logan, a fourth-year student who plans a career in hotel management.

The University of Georgia’s Hospitality and Food Industry Management major in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences is a one stop shop for academics and real world opportunities, ensuring that graduates not only know what they are supposed to do, but how to do it. Their hands-on learning takes place at the UGA Center for Continuing Education & Hotel, where they can experience all aspects of running a hotel, conference center and restaurants.

Connor Logan meets with his mentor Taylor Garren inside the Georgia Center

Connor Logan (left), a fourth year Hospitality and Food Industry Management major, meets with his mentor Taylor Garren as a part of his event planning internship with the UGA Center for Continuing Education and Hotel. (Photo: Shannah Montgomery / PSO)

“Our role is to create opportunities for students to have an internship experience here early on in their studies, making it convenient for them to have a class and then work here,” said Stacy Jones, director of the Georgia Center. “Whether they’re assigned into a food and beverage, hotel, or special events internship, they are able to gain experience that they can add to their portfolio.”

Launched in 2019, the program had 79 students enrolled in fall 2021, well ahead of its three-year goal of 55 students.

The hospitality and tourism industry is the second largest economic engine in the state. It generated almost $69 billion in 2019, but was down by $2.8 million (16.8 percent) between February 2020 and May 2021 because of the pandemic. As the market rebounds, however, the businesses will need trained employees.

The internship program at the Georgia Center provides students with the opportunity to explore different aspects of the hospitality program and figure out where they want to focus. The students are required to complete 400 hours of internship credit as a part of the degree requirements of the program.

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Georgia Center employees also join the students in the classroom, offering real data they can analyze and assess. For example, students in the hotel sales and revenue management class were able to review data collected before COVID that showed food costs and what was driving them higher. The students then developed three cost reduction strategies to share with the Georgia Center.

“With the hospitality and tourism industry being the second largest economic generator in the state of Georgia, being able to provide these educational opportunities and the opportunity to gain a hands-on understanding of industry nuances is a very important niche for us,” said John Salazar, coordinator of the hospitality program and associate professor of agricultural and applied economics in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Tyler Grace Hunt, a fourth-year student, was among the first students accepted into the hospitality program and in the first group of interns at the Georgia Center.

“I started as an intern at the Georgia Center in the fall of 2020 and the hotel was actually closed [due to COVID,]” said Hunt. “But I still learned a lot and got to work with many different people throughout the departments here, which helped me in my next internship.”

Taylor Grace Hunt helps a guest at the concierge desk of the Georgia Center.

Tyler Grace Hunt (left), a fourth year Hospitality and Food Industry Management major, helps a guest while working at concierge desk of the Georgia Center. (Photo: Shannah Montgomery / PSO)

From there, Hunt did a summer 2021 internship with the DeSoto Hotel in Savannah. This semester she is back at the Georgia Center working the front desk. She hopes to work at a Walt Disney resort hotel when she graduates.

Maya Dubos, in her first semester in the hospitality program, wasn’t eligible for an internship until she had taken two courses to introduce her to the major. So she took a job as a student worker at the Georgia Center, starting as a banquet manager. Dubos says she’s always been interested in event management and wanted to learn more about catering.

“Having the opportunity to gain work experience with a hotel on campus while getting my education is why the program appealed to me,” Dubos said. “They understand that you’re a student too and work with your schedule. Nowhere else are you going to find something like that, where they really want you to grow and to learn and want you to do well after you graduate.”

“The Georgia Center is that feather in our cap,” Salazar said. “They provide our students with a deeper understanding of the hospitality industry and having that feather really does help us support our growth.”

Learn more about Hospitality and Food Industry Management at


Émilie Gille Public Relations Coordinator • 706-583-0964


Stacy Jones Georgia Center Director • 706-542-3451

Truist Bank provides funding for SBDC to establish entrepreneurship academy

The UGA Small Business Development Center received a grant from the Truist Foundation to establish a training and development program for small business owners and entrepreneurs in the Savannah area.

The Truist Entrepreneurship Academy will be a two-year program that will, through a series of eight modules, guide participants through topics necessary to grow a successful business. Modules have been developed and will be delivered by experienced SBDC faculty.

“This generous grant from Truist Foundation enables us to bring a new program with high-level business training to Savannah-area businesses,” said Becky Brownlee, area director of the SBDC office in Savannah. “We are looking forward to launching the Truist Entrepreneurship Academy in January 2022.”

The grant will enable 40 business owners from the Savannah area to participate in the program at no cost. Interested business owners are invited to apply online. Ideal program participants can create economic impact through job creation and increased revenue.

“At Truist, our purpose of inspiring and building better lives and communities aligns directly with efforts of the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center,” said Patton Dugas, Savannah market president at Truist, on behalf of Truist Foundation. “The Truist Entrepreneurship Academy will help entrepreneurs and small businesses prosper in our community and add to the economic vitality of our region.”

About the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center

The University of Georgia Small Business Development Center is a top provider of small business assistance in Georgia. The program is a Public Service and Outreach unit of the University of Georgia, funded through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration.

About Truist Foundation

The Truist Foundation is committed to Truist Financial Corporation’s (NYSE: TFC) purpose to inspire and build better lives and communities. Established in 2020, the foundation makes strategic investments in nonprofit organizations to help ensure the communities it serves have more opportunities for a better quality of life. The Truist Foundation’s grants and activities focus on leadership development, economic mobility, thriving communities and educational equity. Learn more at

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The UGA Small Business Development Center helps Macon couple launch—and expand—business

Customers flock to The Butcher Shop in Warner Robins seeking the area’s best hand-cut beef, pork, chicken and sausage. They favor its delicious homemade items, such as sides, dips, desserts and farm-fresh frozen veggies. Savory lamb, shrimp and other seafoods also are available.

“We offer a higher-end quality than you’d get in a grocery store,” said proprietor Amy Dean.

The SBDC helped Amy and her husband David put together a loan package to buy out an initial short-term partner in the purchase. It was the beginning of a long relationship between the Deans and Lisa Rackley, area director of the UGA Small Business Development Center in Macon.

“Lisa helped us put together the loan package to present to the bank,” Amy Dean said.

The Butcher Shop opened in a 2,200 square-foot space on State Road 96 with four part-time employees in 2015. Three years later, the Deans relocated it across the road, expanding into 3,400 square feet and opened a catering business.

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“After working on the loan package with the Deans, we continued working together,” Rackley said. “We started talking about their move at the end of 2016. The Deans think deeply about their business decisions. They plan well and are very deliberate in what they do.”

They have worked together on taxes, human resources and financials.

“I’m organized,” Amy Dean said. “But Lisa reminds me how important it is to keep good records, so I don’t forget the details. She looks at our books and tells us where we can make improvements, too. Lisa adds an element of trust. She knows enough about how we got started, our day-in day-out, that I trust her with the financial part of the business.”

“They do keep an eye on their numbers,” Rackley said. “They’re a good lesson for others. Even though you have 1,000 things going on, keeping your eye on the bottom line is important.”

The Butcher Shop did not slow down during the pandemic. After years of steady growth, sales jumped 52 percent in 2020 and employment doubled to 15.

“I’m very grateful for the relationship I have with Lisa,” Amy said. “She’s deeply knowledgeable about accounting, about the law. It is great to have her by our side.”

UGA creates stormwater management tools to help reduce flooding in coastal communities

Fact sheets, checklists and a video created by faculty at the University of Georgia Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant are helping coastal communities invest in green infrastructure that protect areas from flooding and pollution from stormwater runoff.

In the first year of their development, eight communities, or 44% of the municipalities in coastal Georgia that are regulated to protect water bodies, have used the tools created by Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, a UGA public service and outreach unit.

With funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Jessica Brown, stormwater specialist at the Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant office in Brunswick, partnered with Goodwyn Mills Cawood, an architecture and engineering firm, to produce a video highlighting the role of green infrastructure in coastal Georgia, factsheets on the most common green infrastructure practices, and inspection checklists to be used by professionals who maintain those practices.

“There is a lack of visual guidance and local, coastal examples of green stormwater infrastructure,” Brown said. “These tools help bridge that gap.”

Roads, buildings and parking lots that are impervious can lead to stormwater runoff and exacerbate flooding issues on the coast. When communities invest in green infrastructure, like installing permeable pavement or creating neighborhood rain gardens, they become more resilient.

Constructed bioswale in an apartment parking lot

Green infrastructure, this this bioswale at Marshall’s Run apartments in Garden City, Georgia, can help communities become more resilient to flooding. (Submitted photo)

According to the 2017 Coastal Georgia Low Impact Development Inventory, there are 220 green infrastructure practices in Georgia’s 11 coastal counties that manage 89.3 million gallons of stormwater annually. More than 94% of those green infrastructure practices are in the eight municipalities that are using the tools.

“We’re having to really rethink how we’re planning for our communities for the long haul,” said Jackie Jackson, director of advance planning and special projects with the Chatham County-Savannah Metropolitan Planning Commission. “In Chatham County we’re faced with planning for saltwater intrusion, we’re seeing things that are impacting our waterways and tree canopies, and we throw that on top of huge issues with localized flooding and more and more storms.”

“We’re kind of at that tipping point where we’ve got to start doing something different, and these are tools that we can use to start making some of those important changes.”

Since the work is often carried out by maintenance staff in public works departments, Brown, created the user-friendly tools with them in mind. Jackson helped Brown gather feedback from public works staff as the factsheets and checklists were being developed. She then worked with the cities of Bloomingdale and Garden City to incorporate the resources into their stormwater management plans, which led to the tools being approved by the state of Georgia for these coastal communities.

“All inspection forms have to be approved by the state and the state agreed that these tools will work,” Jackson said. “The end product is something that the state of Georgia actually permits communities to implement, so it becomes a win-win for everybody.”

The tools are free and available to anyone interested in learning about or implementing green infrastructure practices. They are available at

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Emily Kenworthy Public Relations Coordinator • 912-598-2348 ext. 107


Jessica Brown Stormwater Specialist • 912-264-7341

Georgia Center’s youth director recognized with Public Service and Outreach award

Alyssa Weyant, director of youth programs at the UGA Center for Continuing Education & Hotel, was recognized with a Public Service and Outreach Spotlight Award in September. PSO Vice President Jennifer Frum surprised Weyant during a Zoom meeting.

“For the past two years you have had to be tenacious and overcome a lot of challenges,” Frum said. “The fact that you all did 30 virtual camps and 14 in person is amazing, especially with no issues with Covid.”

Weyant was nominated for the award by colleague Tristan Webb, who noted her strong work ethic during the pandemic, as well as her willingness to take on other responsibilities.

She received a gift box of treats and a framed certificate recognizing her Employee Spotlight Award. The award is presented to PSO employees who go above and beyond their normal responsibilities, who produce outstanding work and who contribute significantly to the strategic mission of the university.

Thirteen of the awards have been presented since the program was introduced in November 2019.

For more information or to make a nomination, go to

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State Botanical Garden to become Winter WonderLights in December

Beginning Dec. 1, the University of Georgia will host its first Winter WonderLights show with a Garden of Delights, Candy Cane Lane and Cone Tree Plaza, among other magical features, along a half-mile trail at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia in Athens.

Lighted displays will delight children and adults every evening through Jan. 9, 2022. The Alice Hand Callaway Visitor Center will be transformed into a holiday market, where guests can shop for gifts and souvenirs. Refreshments such as cookies, s’mores, bottled water, hot chocolate and coffee will be available throughout the light show.

A family in winter clothes walks by lit trees at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia

(Photo: Shannah Montgomery / PSO)

“Winter WonderLights will be a way for us to engage with people from across the state and beyond,” said Jenny Cruse-Sanders, State Botanical Garden director. “Our focus is to connect people to places and nature, and we are committed to being a leader in botanical education, horticulture, research and conservation. This new family friendly outdoor event gives us a way to show off our world-class botanical garden and generate support for our impactful programs. In many ways it also celebrates the hard work of our talented staff and students who care for this beautiful facility.”

A mother and daughter walk by lit trees at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia

(Photo: Shannah Montgomery / PSO)

The half-mile trail will take from 45-60 minutes to complete and is fully ADA accessible. Tickets are $15 per person, free for children under 3. Members of Friends of the Garden will receive a 10% discount, as will groups of 20 or more people. Tickets, for designated dates and times to visit the show, will be available for purchase at the State Botanical Garden website starting in September.

An illuminated tree at night in the State Botanical Garden of Georgia.

(Photo: Shannah Montgomery / PSO)

The event is presented by the University of Georgia. Sponsors include Friends of the State Botanical Garden, Trumps Catering, Synovus, Condor Chocolates, Barron’s Rental Center, Westminster Christian Academy and members of the community.

The botanical garden is located approximately 70 miles east of Atlanta, at 2450 S. Milledge Ave., Athens, Georgia. Free off-site parking and shuttle services will be provided in two UGA-owned and controlled lots off of South Milledge Avenue.

UGA program equips southeast Georgia women for leadership roles

A women’s leadership program developed by the University of Georgia is increasing civic engagement and leadership opportunities for women in southeast Georgia.

Since 2015, nearly 80 women from in and around Statesboro have graduated from the Lynda Brannen Williamson Women’s Leadership Academy, developed by the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development – a unit of UGA Public Service and Outreach – and data shows that those women are engaging in their communities at a higher rate.

“The academy helped me to find my voice as a leader in the community and in the workplace,” said Ava Edwards, director of alumni relations at Georgia Southern University and 2016 women’s leadership academy graduate.

In a survey, 92 percent of academy participants from Statesboro/Bulloch County reported voting in the 2020 general election. Of all women registered to vote in Bulloch County, only 63 percent voted in that election, according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office.

Women stand at the front of a class giving thumbs up or thumbs down signs

Women in the leadership academy participate in activities to explore their own leadership styles and how those relate to each other. (Photo: Shannah Montgomery / PSO)

In addition, 63 percent of women graduating from the leadership academy report having volunteered in their community, with 40 percent of those volunteering at least 10 hours a week. Recent data from AmeriCorps shows that only 26.5 percent of Georgia residents have reported volunteering.

“Engaging civically is important for women in order to impact their communities,” said Carolina Darbisi, a senior public service associate in the UGA Fanning Institute. “Strong leadership brings all perspectives to the table and by getting involved in their communities, women are better able to ensure that they have a seat at that table.”

Not only are women in the academy getting involved in the community, they are taking on leadership roles.

More than half of the women who have graduated from the academy have taken a position on a community board, each of them in a leadership role.

“The things I learned in the academy help me better understand how I show up in different spaces and how I operate as a leader,” said Edwards. “The academy allowed me to understand how to best communicate with those I am working with whether on a board, within a nonprofit, or in a professional setting.”

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During the academy, the women explore their own leadership styles and how those relate to each other; learn communication, collaboration, and conflict management strategies and how to use them in group settings; and examine adaptive and multigenerational leadership strategies along with other topics like work-life balance and nonprofit board governance.

All of the content is specifically geared to a women’s perspective, said Maritza Soto Keen, a Fanning Institute senior public service associate.

“Women in leadership roles face unique challenges and the curriculum we created acknowledges that,” said Soto Keen. “The academy provides women a space to share their experiences and learn from each other.”

Five years later, Edwards still utilizes the principles and skills from the academy.

“In my current role, I spend a lot of time navigating volunteers and nonprofit boards, so I lean on the things I learned in areas like communication and board governance every single day,” said Edwards. “In fact, I still have my binder and refer to it often.”

A laptop screen showing notes of the Lynda Brennan Williamson Leadership Academy

Notes from the first Lynda Brennan Williamson Leadership Academy session in 2016. (Photo: Shannah Montgomery / PSO)

Each class also meets with local and state leaders and “pays it forward” through a community service project. Previous community service projects have included a mentoring program for high school girls and a career day for women that offered interview training, resume development and professional makeovers.

In just five years, the academy has grown to honor the legacy of its namesake, Lynda Brannen Williamson, a Statesboro community leader who helped develop the idea for the academy before she died in 2014.

“Our original goals were to focus on servant leadership, mentorship and building a base of community servants that strengthen the community and honor the principles Lynda lived by,” said Lisa Lee, president of the Lynda Brannen Williamson Foundation. “Fanning took all of the emotions, feelings, respect and love that we had for Lynda and turned it into this incredible program.”

It is a program unlike any other, said Edwards.

“This is a first-class program that enhanced my leadership capabilities,” said Edwards. “There is not another program like it and I feel so fortunate to be a part of it.”

With financial support from Georgia Power, the Fanning Institute and the Lynda Brannen Williamson Foundation are working to expand this program into other communities in Georgia.

For more information on the Lynda Brannen Williamson Women’s Leadership Academy, visit


Charlie Bauder Public Relations Coordinator • 706-542-7039


Maritza Soto Keen Fanning Institute Associate Director • 706-583-0122

Carolina Darbisi Fanning Institute Assistant Director • 706-542-8633

Neptune educates thousands at UGA Aquarium before returning to her natural habitat

It took three years for Neptune to reach the ocean from her nest, but her goodbye was short and sweet.

Transported by boat to Wassaw Island, the loggerhead sea turtle was carried to the beach on Wassaw Sound by her caretakers from UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. She crawled a short distance to the water before disappearing into the surf.

“You’ve watched them grow from where they fit in the palm of your hand … to where you can barely carry them out of the aquarium,” said Lisa Kovalanchik, a curator at the UGA Aquarium on Skidaway Island, who helped with Neptune’s release.

Neptune hatched on Ossabaw Island in August 2018. She was discovered as a straggler in the nest by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GADNR), which coordinates sea turtle monitoring on all of Georgia’s barrier islands.

The UGA Aquarium is permitted by GA DNR to house up to two sea turtles at a time. For two-three years, the stragglers live at the aquarium, growing stronger and bigger, learning to forage for food by hunting and eating the blue crabs and mussels the aquarium staff put in their tanks.

During Neptune’s time at the aquarium, she was featured in on-site and virtual programming that focused on animal enrichment and the impacts of marine debris on wildlife. She also helped advance research on sea turtles by serving as the subject of a project by scientists at Georgia Southern University that focused on identifying ways to improve environmental enrichment methods for loggerheads in captivity.

“Each experience with a loggerhead is unique,” said Devin Dumont, also a curator at the UGA Aquarium, part of UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. “They all have their own backstory or behavioral characteristics that we get to share with visitors, which creates a connection, and, hopefully, makes people more likely to care about these animals and do their part to help protect them.”

Lisa Kovalanchik and Devin Dumont pose with Neptune before her release.

Lisa Kovalanchik (left) and Devin Dumont (right) pose with Neptune before her release. (Submitted photo)

Usually you can’t tell the gender of a hatchling at first.

“We knew Neptune was a female based on temperature gauges placed in the nest as part of research conducted by DNR,” Dumont said. The temperature of sea turtle eggs during incubation determines whether they are male or female. Higher temperatures result in females while cooler temperatures result in males.

“We also know that Neptune’s mother has nested before on Ossabaw Island and Blackbeard Island thanks to DNA samples taken by DNR,” said Dumont, who has worked at the UGA Aquarium for 13 years. During that time, he’s cared for and released six loggerhead turtles who have served as ambassador education animals, reaching thousands of people during their time at the facility.

On the day of Neptune’s release, Joe Pfaller, research director for the Caretta Research Project, attached number coded tags and a passive integrated transmitter to the turtle.

“By giving Neptune individualized tags we will be able to identify her if she is encountered later in life, maybe even at a nesting beach,” Pfaller said. “Because we know when and where the tags were applied, if she is ever seen again, we will know the number of years she has survived and what areas she has occupied.”

Dumont and Kovalanchik carry Neptune to the beach on Wassaw Island.

Dumont (right) and Kovalanchik (left) carry Neptune to the beach on Wassaw Island. (Submitted photo)

All sea turtle tag deployments are catalogued in a central database managed by the University of Florida, Pfaller said. All tags also have an address on the back, which means that if Neptune is seen again there will be a coordinated effort to inform groups like the Caretta Research Project of her sighting, helping researchers and resource managers learn about and better protect the species.

While they will miss Neptune, the aquarium staffers already have the next straggler to be placed on display once it’s large enough.

Scuttle, a one-year-old straggler hatchling from Jekyll Island, is poised to be the next loggerhead ambassador, continuing the cycle of inspiring visitors to practice responsible stewardship of Georgia’s coastal resources.

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Emily Kenworthy Public Relations Coordinator • 912-598-2348, ext. 107


Devin Dumont UGA Aquarium Curator • 912-598-2337


Lisa Kovalanchik UGA Aquarium Curator • 912-598-2356

GrowSmart helps business owner improve strategic focus

Fitness experts Chris and Melissa Conti moved nine times during the first 10 years of their marriage just to stay in the industry.

They had been in Atlanta for two years when they faced another move—the company they worked for was going out of business.

Instead, they stayed where they were and opened their own business in 2000. Innovative Fitness in Kennesaw provide fitness solutions from conception to completion.

By 2004, they were ready to expand. They contacted the UGA Small Business Development Center, housed at Kennesaw State University, for help.

Drew Tonsmeire, area director of the Kennesaw SBDC office, helped the couple develop a financial forecast for expansion, which included leasing their current space and eventually the space next door, nearly doubling their area to 11,0000 square feet.

“Leasing proved to be the better choice at the time given their cash flow and growth projections,” Tonsmeire said.

Melissa handled business operations while Chris oversaw sales. In 2013, Melissa participated in SBDC GrowSmart, a program designed to help existing small businesses expand. The program would help more than she expected: After Chris was killed in an accident, Melissa had to take over management of the company. She relied on lessons learned through GrowSmart to help her navigate the changes.

“When Chris passed away, we had been doing this together for 19 years,” Melissa said. “He was my best friend, business partner, everything.”

“GrowSmart helped Melissa think strategically,” Tonsmieire said.

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In memory of Chris, Innovative Fitness created a grant program in his name. The first Chris Conti Memorial Grant—a fitness center design, consulting and new equipment—was presented to the Goshen Valley Boy’s Ranch, a local nonprofit serving 42 foster youth in Waleska, Ga., on July 30, 2020.

Tonsmeire says Innovative Fitness has one of the best reputations in the industry.

“A long-lasting business like this can be about leaving a legacy,” Tonsmeire said. “That’s what Melissa has focused on, an enduring legacy. She’s become more intentional and focused, from marketing to the community to how to give back.”

The focus helps Melissa maintain a healthy culture and business.

“Our sales have grown 200 percent since we started working with Drew (Tonsmeire),” she said. “There are 14 of us on staff, and last year we hired a full-time PR and marketing specialist. It benefits a business greatly to have a more intentional focus, which Drew helps provide.”

In 2015, Pulaski County’s hospital faced bankruptcy. Then UGA stepped in.

Without assistance from the University of Georgia, Taylor Regional Hospital in Hawkinsville might have closed six years ago.

Instead, earlier this month, community leaders broke ground on a project to include emergency room expansion, a new lobby and state of the art equipment.

“With over 20,000 Emergency Room visits a year, and as a member of Georgia’s state trauma network, the new emergency department will give us a spacious, modern facility where we can continue to give world class care, here close to home,” Dr. Robert Campbell, general surgeon with Ocmulgee Surgical Associates, said at the groundbreaking. “It’s an obvious sign that Taylor Regional Hospital is stronger than ever and here to provide care for our Hawkinsville families for years to come.”

That was not the case in 2015. The hospital was broke and facing the deadline for a federally mandated Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA), which would require hiring a consultant. Without the CHNA, required by the Affordable Care Act, the hospital might lose its nonprofit status and be forced to close.

Thirteen rural Georgia hospitals have closed since 2013, according to the Georgia Hospital Association. Two, Dorminy Medical Center in Ben Hill County and Southwest Georgia Regional Medical Center in Randolph County, closed last fall. More are expected as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to strain health resources across the state.

A woman checks a child's ear in the hospital

A young patient and her mother meet with a health care worker at Taylor Regional Hospital. (Photo: Shannah Montgomery / PSO in 2018)

As a UGA Archway Partnership community, Pulaski County had full access to the university’s vast resources. Two PhD students in UGA’s College of Public Health took on the assessment, conducting focus groups and administering survey to members of the community to gauge their use of the facility. Not only did the CHNA show the hospital was needed, it also showed the community would benefit from an outpatient clinic to treat injuries and illnesses that would otherwise turn up in the emergency room.

Taylor Express Care opened in 2016, cutting ER visits by 23 percent, from 6,000 a year to 4,600.

Faculty and students from UGA’s College of Public Health and College of Pharmacy have continued helping Taylor Regional complete its CHNA since that first one in 2015.

“Archway is always very instrumental in helping with the task and very much appreciated through our partnership,” said Jon Green, CEO of Taylor Regional Hospital. “We take very seriously the needs of the community including access to care, timely appointments and appropriate number of clinics to make appointments available.”

In the past two years the hospital has added complete digital radiology, 3D high speed mammography, and a large MRI to accommodate people who have claustrophobia. A new CT scanner will be added this fall.

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Now the hospital is upgrading its services, renovating the medical floor and adding a new oxygen system.

“This includes new monitoring equipment, beds, fixtures and furniture. Basically, areas we are renovating will be new from top to bottom,” Green said. “By improving and expanding, the hospital keeps its clients instead of losing them by having to send them elsewhere for service.

“This expansion allows us to be positioned stronger for the future and further become an anchor for Hawkinsville,” Green said.

Shelly Berryhill, Hawkinsville City Commissioner and Archway executive committee member, knows firsthand how important the local hospital can be. Diagnosed in March 2020, Berryhill was the first documented COVID-19 case to arrive at Taylor Regional.

“Taylor Regional is absolutely vital to the economic success of both our community as well as surrounding communities,” Berryhill said. “This expansion shows both the vitality of our hospital as well as the fact that the leadership is looking ahead to the future.”

Jenna Mashburn, Pulaski County Sole Commissioner and Archway executive committee chair, was once the communications director for Taylor Regional Hospital.

“I represent one of the thousands of lives in this community that depend on this hospital,” Mashburn said. “Taylor Regional is truly a place when you walk in the door you feel like family almost immediately. The new ER is paramount to the continuity of care that Taylor Regional has offered for nearly a century.”


Baker Owens Archway Public Relations Coordinator • 706-510-9622

UGA faculty member recognized as one of state’s most influential Asian Americans

As Georgia business communities continue to diversify, the UGA Small Business Development Center (SBDC) is expanding its service to include programs in foreign languages.

SBDC consultant and Philippine-born Benny StaRomana is a key component to moving that agenda along. He brought his career in global sales and marketing to the United States 25 years ago, and since then has been both personally and professionally engaged with the Asian communities in Georgia.

This summer, StaRomana was recognized as one of the 25 most influential Asian-Americans in Georgia by the Georgia Asian American Times, a biweekly newspaper based in Suwanee, Ga.

“Benny is well known in the community and very popular with his clients,” said Allan Adams, the UGA SBDC state director. “So, his visibility and his activities in the community led to his recent recognition.”

Benny StaRomana headshotDuring the pandemic, the UGA SBDC organized multi-lingual webinars in Mandarin, Korean and Vietnamese, in addition to English, helping Asian-American business owners apply for federal assistance. More than 323 Pan Asian business owners attended the webinars.

“Afterwards, whoever attended those sessions, we would contact them and offer them our services,” StaRomana said.

He also worked with the Philippine American Chamber of Commerce in Georgia to help Filipinos like himself start businesses in Georgia. He has helped the chamber with its strategy and development since 2019.

More than 450,000 Asians live in Georgia — about 375,000 of them in metro Atlanta according to 2020 U.S. census data.

Since 2000, UGA SBDC consultants have helped more than 7,500 established Asian-owned businesses. SBDC consultants have helped another 237 Asian clients launch new businesses since 2011.

The UGA SBDC plans to continue offering multi-lingual opportunities and increase collaboration with Asian business and community organizations. StaRomana will be part of those efforts, tapping into his global work experience and years as owner of a private consulting business. (SantaRomana & Associates LLC went on to win the grand prize in the 2011 Gwinnett County Amazing Entrepreneur competition.)

Meanwhile, he’ll dedicate some of his own time by volunteering with different local organizations, such as the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, Gwinnet Technical College and the Gwinnett County Entrepreneur Center.

“A big part of [the award] is the fact that I’m a business consultant for the SBDC,” StaRomana said. “That puts me in a prime position to be helping people. It’s both a responsibility and a privilege to be doing that.”

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Émilie Gille Public Relations Coordinator • 706-583-0964


Benny StaRomana SBDC Business Consultant • 678-985-6820

UGA partners with Fort Benning to help spur economic development in surrounding counties

The University of Georgia is part of an innovative project that will create recreation areas along the 35,000 acres surrounding Fort Benning, an attempt to spur development in the seven counties that border the military site.

The UGA Carl Vinson Institute of Government, the River Valley Regional Commission and The Nature Conservancy are partnering with Fort Benning on the project.

Spread across six Georgia counties (Harris, Talbot, Taylor, Marion, Stewart and Chattahoochee) as well as one county in Alabama (Russell), the undeveloped land serves as the Army Compatible Use Buffer for Fort Benning, providing the base with a natural barrier to prevent training and testing from interfering with the surrounding communities.

While the Army’s needs dictate that the land remain undeveloped, it still provides numerous opportunities for outdoor recreation and the economic industries that accompany them, said Scott Pippin, a public service associate with the Carl Vinson Institute of Government.

“The military has its mission and its goals, and those are the drivers behind this,” Pippin said. “We’re trying to connect those to the missions and goals and ideas and visions of the communities. … What can we do to take these efforts beyond just conservation and make it a community development and economic development project?”

Saralyn Stafford speaks in front of a projector screen showing the ACUB territory.

Vinson Institute Rural Development Manager Saralyn Stafford speaks in front of a map showing the Army Compatible Use Buffer and the surrounding counties during a kickoff event at Fort Benning. (Photo: Shannah Montgomery / PSO)

Funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, the goal of the collaborative partnership is to work with the surrounding communities and help develop a cohesive plan to grow, promote and better utilize the outdoor activities in the region, such as hiking, rafting and hunting.

Institute of Government faculty will follow the blueprint they have used to develop downtown areas and community parks as they guide community leaders and residents to set priorities and plan the best way to use the Fort Benning property.

“This kind of project is exactly what the University of Georgia, through its land-grant mission, is designed to do,” Jennifer Frum, vice president for UGA Public Service and Outreach, said during the announcement of the collaboration. “It’s a tremendously talented team at the Vinson Institute that will help lead you through a process that will result in real and actionable steps. I strongly feel that these steps will lead to a long-lasting economic impact.”

The partnership began in 2020 and is expected to continue for the next two years. Small working groups of area leaders will be formed to help engage their communities and identify common needs, issues, assets and opportunities. Fort Benning representatives, led by Garrison Commander Col. Alexis Rivera, will be closely involved throughout the project but will not steer the direction of community discussions.

Fort Benning Garrison Commander Col. Alexis Rivera (right) talks with Chattahoochee County Commissioner Damon Hoyte (left) at the collaboration kickoff event. (Photo: Shannah Montgomery / PSO)

“There’s a lot of resources and opportunities out there that one community may not even realize that another community has,” said Brent Widener, the environmental division support branch chief at Fort Benning. “A shared and common understanding of what the resources are and what’s available is an important part of this. We need to be open and receptive to other development opportunities and strategically work through how we can place those on the landscape if they’re not something that’s fully compatible with the military mission. I think we all need to go into it with a fully open mind and let these local communities share with us what they see and think and work to find where the common ground is.”

In addition to economic development opportunities, the thousands of acres of natural land represents a potentially large conservation opportunity. That aspect of the partnership is being led by The Nature Conservancy, a global environmental nonprofit organization that works to protect land and water.

“This is a unique part of the state because it’s on the fall line,” said Deron Davis, the Georgia executive director of The Nature Conservancy and chair of the Army Compatible Use Buffer advisory board. “What you find is really complicated soil structure. You find soils that look like the beach, but you also find soils that look like the Piedmont or in some rare cases the mountain. What the soil looks like dictates what the plants look like, and what the plants look like dictates what the animals look like. So by having a relatively tight geographic region with a mix of soils so close together gives you things that are almost anomalous. The complexity and the variety is what makes this area unique.”

Davis’ hope, and that of the partnership, is for the community to work collectively to develop the region, similar to how nearby Columbus has embraced and utilized the Chattahoochee River.

If the project develops as hoped it could serve as a proof-of-concept for the Vinson Institute, potentially creating a guideline for future similar projects with military installations.

“Fort Benning is not alone in its need to do this kind of work,” Pippin said. “All the installations in Georgia and across the country face these same issues, so this is really an innovative project. The Department of Defense has acknowledged as much and said this is an innovative thing they need to see more of. So it’s really a pilot project for everybody to do something different.”

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Aaron Cox Public Relations Coordinator • 706-542-3631


Scott Pippin Vinson Institute Public Service Associate • 706-542-3250

Laura Brewer is the latest PSO employee in the spotlight

The Georgia Center’s Laura Brewer is the most recent recipient of the Public Service and Outreach Employee Spotlight Award, recognized for her work in youth academic programs hosted by the center.

Brewer, director of the Office of Academic Special Programs at the UGA Center for Continuing Education & Hotel, was surprised with the award, presented by PSO Vice President Jennifer Frum during a recent meeting. Brewer received a gift basket of treats and a framed certificate recognizing the award.

Brian Stone, Brewer’s colleague at the Georgia Center, nominated her for the award, citing the many hours that she puts into planning events like the Georgia Science & Engineering Fair, the state’s Junior Science & Humanities Symposium and the Regional State History Day.

“She truly wants each student to have a robust and fair experience in these competitions and goes above and beyond to ensure that her programs are organized and engaging,” Stone wrote in his nomination. “She represents the best of PSO as she interacts with the many young students, their parents, and their teachers in providing these programs. She has demonstrated great creativity and flexibility over the past year to shift to a virtual environment while maintaining the standards of her programs.”

Know someone who deserves to be in the spotlight? Nomination information and forms can be found at

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UGA program certifies ecotourism guides at the Georgia coast

Osprey diving for fish, roseate spoonbills foraging in tidal creeks and American oystercatchers tending to their nests on barrier islands are just a few things visitors may see while exploring the Georgia coast by water.

A new certification program developed by the University of Georgia Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, in collaboration with Manomet, Inc., is ensuring that ecotour guides educate visitors about nature and how to protect it.

Led by UGA marine educators, the Coastal Awareness and Responsible Ecotourism, or CARE, program provides ecotour companies with tools to implement best practices when it comes to water-based tourism activities.

“The program has long been a goal for shorebird biologists and others, including veteran ecotour guides, involved in wildlife conservation,” said Katie Higgins, environmental educator and volunteer coordinator at UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. “No other program like this exists to strengthen the growing community of ecotour guides along the coast.”

Eco tourists on a boat in the marsh

Eco tourists search for wildlife off Georgia’s coast. (Photo: Cindy Dennard)

In the spring of 2021, 15 water-based Georgia coastal tour guides were certified after taking the 16-hour course that focused on recreational use and potential disturbance of coastal habitats, which has serious implications for wildlife, specifically shorebirds.

Georgia’s beaches provide vital habitat for shorebird species throughout the year. Many of the more remote habitats used by shorebirds are also areas used by recreational boaters and serve as a destination for guided tours. Beachgoers enjoying the warming weather may unintentionally disturb shorebirds’ nesting, resting and feeding behavior. Increasing awareness among boaters and beachgoers on how and why to give shorebirds space is a key step in conserving these animals.

“CARE began with the idea that if those leading ecotours know more about coastal ecology and wildlife, they can in turn teach those participating in their tours more about this critical balance and how best to preserve these resources,” Higgins said.

Participants in the UGA certification program, who offer tours by kayak, paddleboard or boat, graduated just in time for the spring birding migration and summer tourist season, allowing them to share information learned from the program with tourists.

A person looks through binoculars on a boat

(Photo: Fran Lapolla)

Some of the certification participants are new to the profession. Others, like Cindy Dennard, owner of SouthEast Adventure Outfitters in St. Simons and Brunswick, is a veteran tour guide.

“I’m always interested in continuing education and it’s always hard to stay current on what the latest info is that everybody is passing around. I feel like it’s really important to stay on top of that kind of stuff,” said Dennard, who participated in the course along with three of her employees.

“It seems like this area is going to be continuing to grow and people are going to want to get outdoors,” Dennard said. “If the main folks that are taking people out have a similar standard of what behaviors should be and what’s communicated to visitors, that seems like it would help protect what people are trying to enjoy.”

Funded by a grant from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Coastal Resources Division, the course has the potential to expand in the future to include other topics related to coastal stewardship. Higgins and her collaborators at Manomet plan to offer the UGA course again in February 2022. More information about the program as well as a map of certified guides is available at

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Emily Kenworthy Public Relations Coordinator • 912-598-2348, ext. 107


Katie Higgins Environmental Educator & Volunteer Coordinator • 912-598-2387

UGA Grow It Know It training prepares educators for food-focused classroom

As a kindergarten teacher, Robin Edens was an outlier in the group of mostly middle and high school teachers at UGA learning how to introduce food-based learning to their students.

The three-day workshop immersed participants in the ins and outs of the food system, including how to plant and maintain a garden, the intricacies of the food distribution network, and how to integrate food into the school curriculum to talk about larger societal issues.

“Even though I teach kindergarten kids, I think it’s important that we start them early” said Edens, a teacher at Kennedy Elementary School in Winder. “Most of the people here teach middle school and high school kids, but I think the earlier the better with these kids. By the time they get to that age, if they don’t have any knowledge then they’re not even interested.”

Robin Edens (right), a Kindergarten teacher at Kennedy Elementary in Barrow County, talks with UGA Entomology researcher Katherine Hagan discuss a bug infestation in a tomato plant during the GIKI teacher training program. (Photo: Shannah Montgomery / PSO)

A dozen teachers traveled to Athens for the workshop this summer, now in its third year. The program is a collaborative initiative of the UGA Office of Service-Learning’s Grow It Know It program, UGA Cooperative Extension and the student-run UGArden.

“It’s amazing to see the energy in that room and how excited they all are to get back to their classrooms and connect food and the garden to their classroom and their students and incorporate it all together,” said Charlie Evans, a graduate research assistant with Grow It Know It who helped with the program. “Having teachers actually do the activities that they’re going to do with students, have open discussions with each other, go out in the UGArden and harvest and wash and everything else; all these hands-on components and network connections they’re able to make is what makes this a really great opportunity.”

The workshop also included specialists from UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and the Mary Frances Early College of Education, who spent time with the teachers outside in the UGArden and inside a classroom to talk about harvesting, composting, food safety and school nutrition programs, among other things.

“It’s sort of like drinking from a fire hose when we’re trying to teach all of this,” said Kathy Thompson, a clinical professor with the College of Education who has been a part of the teacher training program since its inception in 2018. “Really, it’s just to whet their appetite to get them interested and at least have some knowledge about everything. A lot of them just need confidence that they can do it… There are a lot of ways to take something like food and gardening in lots of different directions in the classroom, no matter what content you’re teaching.”

Teachers harvesting produce in a field at the UGArden

Part of the GIKI teacher training curriculum included spending time in the UGArden harvesting produce. (Photo: Shannah Montgomery / PSO)

Limited to teachers from Barrow and Clarke County for the first two years, the teacher training workshop expanded this year to include Oconee, Jackson and Henry County educators as well. That opened the door for Tim Griffeth, an agriculture teacher who was looking for a professional development workshop to help him better utilize the new school garden at North Oconee High School.

“The amount of resources that they have put in our hands to understand the community connections and food safety things is really great,” said Griffeth. “It’s tough to find that information, and they’ve consolidated it and given it to us in a nice package to be able to go back and modify it to what we’re trying to do in our district and community.”

Thompson and the other program instructors follow up with participants throughout the school year, answering any questions and ensuring they have the necessary resources and connections to incorporate their training in the classroom.

The hope is that teachers pass along their newfound food faculties to students, showing a new generation the importance of where food comes from and how it effects the world.

“I do this because I want students to have these experiences, and the only way for students to have these experiences is for us to provide these experiences to teachers,” Thompson said. “They’ve got to be able to see how the curriculum connects to the real world and how to address the issues in the world.”

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Aaron Cox Public Relations Coordinator • 706-542-3631

UGA partners on state’s first commercial fishing career pathway, a workforce development program for high school students at the coast

Herbert McIver, better known as Truck, grew up working on the water alongside his father who was a commercial shrimper out of McIntosh County, Georgia.

McIver, now a marine resources specialist at UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, spent 40 years in the shrimping industry, working his way up from deck crew to captain of his own boat.

“Shrimping was a family affair,” he said. “I started working when I was 9 or 10 years old, going out with him and heading shrimp on the back of the boat.”

McIver left the business in 2012, which has become a common theme in the industry over the last several decades. There were 1,400 trawling license holders in 1979. Today there are just over 200. Those who remain despite increasing operating costs, cheaper imported shrimp, regulatory changes, and fewer working waterfronts are having trouble finding qualified help to work on the boats.

University of Georgia Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant is partnering with McIntosh County Academy and Coastal Pines Technical College on a dual-enrollment program that teaches high school students about safety at sea, basic navigation and seamanship, common commercial fishing practices, and an overview of fisheries science and management.

A teacher holding and showing a small fish to a student on a boat.

Bryan Fleuch (right) teaches a student how do identify and sort fish sampled during a trawl. (Submitted photo)

McIver and Bryan Fluech, associate director of UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, helped develop course materials for the career pathway program and are serving as guest instructors.

So far, they have taught students how to mend and sew nets that are used on shrimp trawlers and led the class on a trip using nets of different lengths and mesh size to demonstrate how to select the right gear. The class also participated in a series of outreach trawls aboard Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s R/V Georgia Bulldog, where they learned how to sort and identify fish.

“We’re giving students actual hands-on experience so that they’re not having to be taught as soon as they step on a vessel,” said Robert Todd, the instructor for the four-part course. Todd is a fourth generation commercial fisherman whose family owns Todd Shrimping, Inc. When he is not shrimping with his father, he teaches audio/video technology and commercial fisheries at Mcintosh County Academy.

Two students stand in shallow water with a fishing net

Students learn how to use a seine net as part of the fishing careers course. (Submitted photo)

In addition to working a shrimp boat, Todd hopes to introduce students to related opportunities outside of the industry.

“I have had two students go full time into shrimping, and I have one student that just graduated that is actually looking into becoming a DNR [Department of Natural Resources] law enforcement agent,” he said. “Getting students exposure to careers that surround the industry, whether it’s the Coast Guard, the DNR, the Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant office, TowBoatUS, it doesn’t matter, as long as we’re giving these kids career choices.”

Chris Simmons, a recent graduate of McIntosh County Academy, completed the course in 2021. “Fishing is a big thing around so here, so I figured I’d look into it,” said Simmons, who was born and raised in McIntosh County. He had little experience working on the water prior to the course.

“The class is fun. You’re not just stuck in a classroom reading textbooks and information off of a screen. You’re actually going out there and doing it,” he said.

Seven students have completed the pathways course so far, and Todd expects to double the number of registered students this fall now that students are back to in-person learning.

McIver looks forward to continuing to share his knowledge with students participating in the program.

“I’m just excited to be able to pass it on to the kids, you know, because somebody taught me,” he said. “It’s fun for me just to see them pull in crab traps and bait them and see their eyes light up. I know they’re doing it because they’re really interested.”

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Emily Kenworthy Public Relations Coordinator • 912-598-2348, ext. 107


Bryan Fluech UGA Marine Extension & Georgia Sea Grant Director • 912-264-7269

UGA program provides leadership, entrepreneurship training for CCSD students

Clarke Central High School student Kayleigh Sims wants to be a veterinarian and open her own practice. A University of Georgia program is helping her learn the leadership, entrepreneurship and problem-solving skills she will need to be a success.

Sims, a rising junior, is one of 21 high school students from the Clarke County School District to participate in UGA’s inaugural InnovateU program. The UGA Office of the President developed InnovateU to empower youth to solve real business challenges through leadership and innovative problem solving, with the help of peers and local business professionals.

“InnovateU provided me with insights on how to pursue my future goals,” Sims said. “It was cool to meet local business owners and learn from them. It has opened my eyes to knowing that I want to open my own practice.”

The program, which met for two full days a week for four weeks in June, paired students with professional and UGA student mentors to address one of two food-related challenges: Increasing access to healthy food for people who have limited access to fresh food at affordable prices or increasing farm-to-table access for local farmers.

Fanning Institute faculty members speak to students at InnovateU

Fanning Institute faculty members Lori Tiller (left) and Lauren Healey helped InnovateU students develop skills like collaboration, communication and conflict resolution. (Photo: Shannah Montgomery / PSO)

Faculty with the UGA Entrepreneurship Program, located within the Terry College of Business, led the students through a design thinking process that helped them develop innovative solutions through a client-centered process focused on the needs of the people they were trying to help.

Meanwhile, faculty from the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, a unit of UGA Public Service and Outreach, helped the students develop skills they would need to work effectively within a team: collaboration, communication and conflict resolution.

The ideas included a healthy meal kit program that could be delivered through the school system, an app that would connect restaurants to local farmers, an app that would source local produce directly to families in a community, a program that would deliver boxes of healthy food directly to people’s homes, food boxes personalized for individuals to help promote healthy eating, and a program to create aquaponics gardens at  schools to produce food that could be sent directly home with the students for their families.

The program was a great learning opportunity, said Antonio Starks, a rising junior at Clarke Central High School.

“I’ve never been to a program like this before that’s allowed me a chance to cultivate my creativity in this way,” Starks said. “I’ve gained confidence and it’s been a great program to be a part of.”

InnovateU participant Antonio Starks poses for a photo with his mother, Ty Starks.

InnovateU participant Antonio Starks poses for a photo with his mother, Ty Starks, at the reception during the InnovateU Presentation and Reception in the auditorium at the Georgia Museum of Art. (Photo: Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA)

A local industry mentor was assigned to each student team to provide input and feedback. InnovateU mentors included Eve Anthony, Athens Community Council on Aging; Peter Dale, The National, Maepole and Condor Chocolates; Darrell Goodman, UGA Center for Continuing Education & Hotel; Lemuel “Life” LaRoche, Chess and Community; Rashe Malcom, Rashe’s Cuisine; and Katie Walker, Georgia Power.

“This program is top notch and it’s necessary,” LaRoche said. “Learning these critical-thinking skills at this age is crucial because it allows young people to look at challenges with fresh eyes and learn to think about how to best solve them with the support of a diverse group of community leaders. We’re glad to be a part of the program.”

Along with the industry mentors, each team had a UGA student mentor working with them throughout the program.

“It was very rewarding for me to take what I’ve learned at UGA, work with the students and see them apply it,” said Sabrina Greco, a fourth-year psychology and French major who is in the UGA Entrepreneurship Certificate program. “They really came together and leaned into the process.”

President Jere W. Morehead, Special Assistant to the President and Director for Strategy and Innovation Kyle Tschepikow, and Vice President for Government Relations Toby Carr applaud the InnovateU participants

President Jere W. Morehead (left), Special Assistant to the President and Director for Strategy and Innovation Kyle Tschepikow, and Vice President for Government Relations Toby Carr applaud the InnovateU participants after the pitch presentations during the InnovateU Presentation and Reception in the auditorium at the Georgia Museum of Art. (Photo: Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA)

Besides working on their projects, students in InnovateU also had an opportunity to hear more about entrepreneurship from Athens-Clarke County business owners and learn about the UGA Innovation District.

“Getting to meet and listen to local business owners made me feel like I can do it too,” said Alexis Wright, a rising freshman at Cedar Shoals High School. “I also learned a lot that will help me in high school, things like working with others and presenting in front of other people.”

The students presented their ideas for successfully resolving the challenges at an evening event July 1 at the Georgia Museum of Art, in front of an audience that included UGA President Jere W. Morehead, who thanked them for their engagement in the program as well as their hard work and leadership.

“I am here tonight to express how proud the University of Georgia is with your accomplishments, how excited we are with what you have been able to do, and most importantly, how much we are looking forward to what you are going to do in the future,” Morehead said.

Other InnovateU sponsors included AT&T and Georgia Power. Plans are underway for the second InnovateU program in 2022.

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

UGA leadership development effort expanding across Georgia

A University of Georgia leadership initiative will partner with seven new organizations over the next year to develop leaders equipped to address critical issues in communities across Georgia.

The J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, a unit of UGA Public Service and Outreach, developed the Innovations in Community Leadership Initiative in 2020 with private funding donated by members of the Fanning Institute Advisory Board, most notably a lead gift from the James L. Allgood Family.

Through the initiative, the institute provides resources and technical support to communities and organizations in Georgia seeking to enhance their leadership development efforts.

“Strong communities must have leaders from all walks of life who can identify challenges and know how to build the right team to affect change,” said Matt Bishop, director of the Fanning Institute. “The Innovations in Community Leadership Initiative allows us to support communities who share this commitment, but lack the resources needed to make it happen.”

The 2021 Innovations in Community Leadership Initiative recipients are:

  • The Baxley-Appling County Chamber of Commerce, which is redesigning its adult community leadership program to incorporate curriculum surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion as well as multigenerational leadership.
  • Forward McDuffie, which will develop and implement an entrepreneurial leadership academy in McDuffie County.
  • Lee County Family Connection, Inc., which is developing a new youth leadership program with a peer mentorship component.
  • The Moultrie-Colquitt County Development Authority, which is developing a youth leadership curriculum for the school system that focuses on soft skills.
  • Synchronicity Theatre in Atlanta, which is incorporating leadership skills development into its training initiative for young Black, Indigenous, and people of color in the theatre industry.
  • The Towns County Youth Leadership Initiative, which will develop a new community-based youth leadership program.
  • The Wheeler County Chamber of Commerce, which will design and implement a new adult community leadership program for the county.

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“We are excited to partner with the Fanning Institute to create a new program that will develop engaged leaders who can address challenges and take advantage of opportunities in Wheeler County,” said Janice Mock, board president of the Wheeler County Chamber of Commerce. “The Innovations in Community Leadership Initiative will allow us to establish something sustainable that can impact our community for years to come.”

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

“This year’s initiative elicited very strong proposals from communities and organizations of all sizes from throughout Georgia,” said Brittany Adams-Pope, Fanning Institute public service assistant. “The recipients represent all areas of our state and we look forward to cultivating successful partnerships with these organizations.”

As part of the Innovations in Community Leadership Initiative, communities are expected to sustain and continue the programming over multiple years.

In 2020, eight organizations partnered with the Fanning Institute to develop leadership programs through this initiative and implementation of those inaugural programs is ongoing.

“We worked with last year’s recipients to design and implement sustainable leadership development programs that will position them to take advantage of economic development and other opportunities,” Bishop said. “We look forward to partnering with this year’s recipients to achieve similar successes.”

The institute will accept applications for the next round of the Innovations in Community Leadership Initiative in spring 2022. For more information, click here.


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


Matt Bishop Fanning Institute Director • 706-542-6201