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

Small cattle farm in middle Georgia grows up with help from UGA

What Joseph Egloff began as a “little hobby” in 2011 is now a full-time cattle ranch with a meat packing plant that serves customers from Florida to North Carolina.

“I had eight head of cattle and a day job to pay for my cow habit,” Egloff said of Rocking Chair Ranch Cattle in Forsyth, Ga. “Then it exploded on us. What started out as a little hobby had become a real job and after about three years, we were up to about 58 head of cattle a year.”

As the business continued to grow, Egloff turned to the University of Georgia’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) for help.

SBDC consultant Peter Williams developed financial projections and a work plan for Egloff’s first grant application, which was successful, and helped him with some marketing strategies.

Egloff has also received support from UGA Extension. Every year he sends soil samples from his ranch to them for quality analyzation to help inform the decisions he makes for his pastures.

“They are great people over there and, for a farm that doesn’t have the background that others do, they have welcome knowledge,” said Egloff. “Even though I’m called a cattle rancher, I’m nothing more than a grass farmer. You take care of the soil, the soil takes care of the grass, the grass takes care of the cattle. The foundation is good healthy soil.”

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Since 2017, Rocking Chair Ranch sales have increased by 20 percent. But Egloff could do better by reducing the time and cost to get the cattle to the nearest processing plant.

“Joseph was taking the cattle to the closest processing plant, about an hour and a half away in Tifton, once a week,” Williams said. “This was causing a bottleneck in their production and he wanted an alternative. So, we started discussing the possibility of him starting his own plant.”

With help from the UGA SBDC, Egloff successfully obtained a Small Business Administration loan for nearly $1 million dollars to build his own processor.

Construction began in 2019, with MidSouth Packers open for business in August 2020.

Egloff hoped to process as much as 43,000 pounds of meat each month, but the numbers far exceeded his hope: 59,000 pounds processed in February 2021; 68,000 in March and 74,000 in April.

MidSouth Packers serves farmers from more than 70 small farms throughout the southeast, pulling in cattle from as far north as Franklin, N.C., and as far south as Lake City, Fla.

He hopes to expand to processing lamb and goat in 2022.

“With the packing facility, I get to support other small cattle farmers and that makes me feel like I’ve done something worthwhile,” said Egloff. “But I did not build this thing by myself. I knew in my mind that this thing could work, but I didn’t know how to make it work. We got a lot of help and I’m so grateful to Peter and the rest of them for it.”


Émilie Gille Public Relations Coordinator • 706-583-0964


Peter Williams UGA SBDC Business Consultant

Students dive back into summer camp at UGA

The pool was their ocean. Their underwater remotely operated vehicle was named Rainbow.

Using PVC pipe and pieces of foam, Elsie Summers and other campers at the UGA Center for Continuing Education’s Ocean Discovery Summer Academy designed remotely operated underwater vehicles and then tested them to see if they would work.

“My friend, Katie, and I have always wanted to be marine biologists when we grow up, so camp has been really fun and this is really cool,” said Elsie, a rising seventh-grader. Her friend, Katie Campbell, also was at the camp.

The teams of campers used PVC pipe for the body of the vehicles, foam for buoyancy and metal bars to weight it down enough to go underwater. Three remote control propellors maneuvered the vehicles through the water.

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During the weeklong program, campers learned about marine life and the marine exploration that can be done with remotely operated vehicles.

“Since we’re not by the ocean, we bring the ocean to the kids,” said Emily Davenport, program director for the Department of Marine Sciences and camp instructor. “We talk a lot about the deep ocean and why we should care about the ocean even though we can’t see it here in Athens. They get a feel for what it might be like to drive under the water and explore.”

The Summers team’s vehicle, made from colorful PVC, was a little too buoyant when they put it in the Department of Marine Sciences’ pool initially. But after they removed a piece of foam from its frame, they were able to successfully maneuver it under the water.

Thanks to a grant the Department of Marine Science received from the Ecosystem Impacts of Oil and Gas Inputs to the Gulf (ECOGIG) research group, the Ocean Discovery camp was offered at a reduced cost this year, and six campers were awarded scholarships to attend.

Many of UGA’s camps were able to return to in-person participation this year after going online last summer.

“We made a plan for virtual camp this summer, but I was relieved that we got to do in-person instead,” said Ben Thomas, a lecturer in the College of Engineering and an Advanced Engineering Summer Academy instructor. “A big part of our camp is getting to experience the tools and the machines and have safe places to learn about them.”

A student rides a stationary bicycle attached to a water pump while two people watch

In the Engineering Summer Academy, campers try different methods to power a water pump. This team is generating power using a stationary bike. (Photo: Shannah Montgomery / PSO)

Campers explored the various types of engineering, including electrical, mechanical and technological, and worked on engineering projects. They developed a portable water pump system that could be used in a remote location without running water. One group tried a bicycle-powered pump, while another tried setting up a system with a single solar panel and a battery.

“I’m really learning a lot,” said rising 10th-grade student Kayla Davis. “I love studying science and now I love engineering too because you get to do what you love and build things that are creative.”

The UGA Center for Continuing Education partnered with eight other UGA departments and one non-UGA organization to offer 32 camps this summer, 12 of them in-person.

Fashion design, mini-medical school, coding and 3D animations are among the Summer Academy selections. The American Sign Language Summer Academy is being led by the nonprofit Georgia Center of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Atlanta this summer.

Learn more and register at


Émilie Gille Public Relations Coordinator • 706-583-0964

Healthcare, infrastructure and education are among the topics UGA academic experts will explore alongside outreach faculty in rural Georgia

Eight individual or teams of UGA academic faculty members were awarded seed grants to conduct research in rural communities alongside faculty from Public Service and Outreach and Cooperative Extension.

The faculty members were among 20 that attended the inaugural Rural Engagement Faculty Workshop, which kicked off its first of four sessions in January.

The goal of the workshop was to encourage academic faculty to identify a challenging issue in rural Georgia and find UGA outreach faculty members to partner with on solutions to that challenge. Through a competitive process, participants were eligible to apply for $5,000 seed grants funded by the Provost’s Office to support initial research that can be used to apply for external funding.

“I’m pleased to see a good mix of academic expertise addressing diverse issues in Georgia’s rural communities,” said Jennifer Frum, vice president for Public Service and Outreach. “Healthcare, an aging population, infrastructure and education are critical issues throughout the state and by pairing our academic experts with outreach faculty already working in these communities, we’re ahead of the game.”

The initial seed grant recipients include:

  • Lisa Renzi-Hammond, an associate professor at the College of Public Health, who will explore Serving Aging Georgians through Education (SAGE) with faculty from the Hart County Archway Partnership and UGA Extension.
  • Devin Lavendar and Ewan Cobran, both clinical assistant professors in the College of Pharmacy; TJ Kopcha, an associate professor in the College of Education; Christina Proctor, a clinical assistant professor in the College of Public Health; and Renzi-Hammond; who will study Creating the Healthiest Georgia with faculty from the Archway Partnership.
  • Stephan Durham, a professor in the College of Engineering, whose research project is Envisioning Peer-to-Peer Technology to Support Rural Infrastructure Management, in collaboration with faculty from the Carl Vinson Institute of Government and the Archway Partnership.
  • Binu Velayudhan, department chair of the Athens Veterinary Diagnostic Lab in the College of Veterinary Medicine, and Hemant Naikare, an associate professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine, who will look at Empowering Rural Animal Agriculture through On-Site Disease Diagnostics and Education with faculty members from UGA Extension.
  • Ke Li, an associate professor in the College of Engineering, who will research a Community-based Strategy to Manage PFAS Contamination for Public Health/Safe Food with faculty in the Hart County Archway Partnership.
  • Sina Gallo, associate professor in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, and Janani Rajbhandari-Thapa, associate professor in the College of Public Health, who will research leveraging university-community networks to improve maternal and infant health, with faculty in the Archway Partnership.
  • Jamon Flowers, a clinical assistant professor in the College of Education; and Georgia Hodges, an associate research professor in the College of Education; who will study Rural Communities and Schools Collaboration on STEM, with faculty from the Archway Partnership.
  • Christina Proctor, with an individual seed grant to study Finding Appropriate Measures for Rural Mental Health and Substance Use among farmers, with the Archway Partnership, UGA Extension, and the School of Social Work.

Twenty academic faculty members, representing 12 of UGA’s 17 schools and colleges, were participants in the inaugural Rural Engagement Workshop, which included an in-depth examination of rural Georgia’s demographics and trends; an overview of current UGA Public Service and Outreach and Extension initiatives benefiting rural Georgia communities, small businesses, farmers, governments, and nonprofits; and a review of high-impact community engagement practices for rural Georgia. The College of Public Health and the School of Social Work partnered with Public Service and Outreach to deliver the program.

“These projects reflect the University of Georgia’s commitment to strengthening partnerships with communities throughout Georgia,” said S. Jack Hu, the university’s senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. “They also lay the foundation for grants from federal agencies, foundations and other external funders to further advance research, scholarship and service.”

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


Michelle Elliott Archway Partnership Director • 478-697-4522

Paul Brooks Public Service and Outreach Associate Vice President • 706-542-6045

UGA part of federal grant targeting preservation of imperiled plants

The State Botanical Garden of Georgia is among four conservation organizations in Georgia to receive federal funding to save 14 imperiled plant species.

The nearly $780,000 grant, awarded to a partnership led by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR), will boost capacity to preserve the plants at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, the Atlanta Botanical Garden and the Chattahoochee Nature Center, while spreading that expertise and support to others in the nationally recognized Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance.

Plants often play second fiddle to efforts to recover rare animal species. But Georgia’s five-year project landed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Recovery Challenge grant on the strength of its plan to safeguard the 14 plant species and add Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance members who can do the work.

Jenny Cruse-Sanders, director of the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, said conservation horticulture is the cornerstone of the alliance, a network of more than 50 Georgia universities, botanical gardens, zoos, state and federal agencies, conservation organizations, and private companies that are committed to ecological land management, native plant conservation, and protection of rare and endangered plants. Headquartered at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, members of the alliance work throughout the state to facilitate the recovery of rare, threatened, and endangered plants of Georgia and the southeast U.S.

“It takes careful observation of natural habitats, experimentation and horticultural expertise to safeguard imperiled plants,” Cruse-Sanders said. “Georgia is a leader in identifying critical habitat, imperiled species and the conservation action needed to preserve our precious natural heritage in the southeastern U.S., one of the most botanically diverse areas of our country.”

Pondberry plant

Pondberry (Photo: Alan Cressler)

Safeguarding refers to a complex practice that varies from protecting a species’ genetic stock to propagating the plants in a nursery and planting them back in the wild. Combined with protecting and restoring habitats, safeguarding is crucial to saving populations of at-risk plants.

DNR senior botanist Lisa Kruse says the impact of the grant will be “expansive.” And that’s not only for the targeted plants, which vary from swamp pink to hairy rattleweed and are all federally listed as endangered or threatened.

“The grant is going to fortify (the Georgia alliance’s) main partners and build the diversity and number of botanical gardens that can help preserve rare plants,” Kruse said.

Georgia has 443 plant taxa – or group of related plants – rated critically imperiled in the state; 83 of those are imperiled globally. Plants purify air and water, provide raw materials and stunning beauty, shape cultures and economies, prevent erosion and play vital roles in our heritage. Kruse noted, too, that conserving plants involves restoring natural habitats, which improves the outlook for animals “up and down the food chain.”

The 14 targeted plant species are: the Alabama leatherflower (Clematis socialis); black-spored quillwort (Isoetes melanospora); Canby’s dropwort (Oxypolis canbyi); Coosa (or Mohr’s) Barbara’s buttons (Marshallia mohrii); dwarf sumac (Rhus michauxii); fringed campion (Silene polypetala); hairy rattleweed (Baptisia arachnifera); mat-forming quillwort (Isoetes tegetiformans); Morefield’s leatherflower (Clematis morefieldii); pondberry (Lindera melissifolia); smooth purple coneflower (Echinacea laevigata); swamp pink (Helonias bullata); Tennessee yellow-eyed grass (Xyris tennesseensis); and Virginia spiraea (Spirea virginiana).

Hairy rattleweed

Hairy rattleweed (Photo: Alan Cressler)

Here is an example, using hairy rattleweed, of how the grant program will work:

Hairy rattleweed is a pine flatwoods perennial that sports cobweb-like hairs and seed pods that rustle when dry; thus, the name. The species is federally listed as endangered and found worldwide only in southeast Georgia’s Wayne and Brantley counties. Too few of the plant’s 15 known populations are protected.

To guarantee hairy rattleweed survives, DNR ecologist Jacob Thompson and the State Botanical Garden of Georgia will collect seeds and leaf tissue from each population to capture the genetic details. The process involves strict protocols to ensure plant populations are not harmed.

The State Botanical Garden will grow plants from the seed. The homegrown plants and seeds will be shared with other Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance gardens. Over the five-year grant, the hope is to have all 15 populations represented at multiple gardens, some of which may be new alliance members.

The Atlanta Botanical Garden will use the leaf tissue to analyze the DNA and document each population’s genetic diversity – which can help determine hairy rattleweed’s available resources for adapting. The plan is to collect and analyze three populations a year, covering all 15 over the grant period.

Thompson and partners will take some of the plants grown in-house and plant them in appropriate habitat on protected lands. As part of the grant, partners are aiming to start two populations in the wild.

The goal, Kruse said, is “to not only have populations protected at the gardens, but to bring the plant back in the wild and have it thrive.”

“Hairy rattleweed is a really unique part of Georgia’s heritage, and it represents a very unique ecosystem,” she added. “This project will help us ensure that it stays in Georgia’s landscape.”

Learn more about Georgia’s imperiled plants and the State Botanical Garden’s  efforts to preserve and restore them at

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Jenny Cruse-Sanders State Botanical Garden Director • 706-542-6131

UGA students develop plan to improve infrastructure at Fort Pulaski so that the site can remain open to tourists

A trio of UGA engineering students have found a way to maintain the Fort Pulaski National Monument site as a viable destination for park visitors for the foreseeable future.

Sea level rise, severe storms and more frequent flooding have made it difficult for the wastewater in the park’s septic drain fields to filter out through the soil.

“That could mean contaminated water is rising up onto the ground, and that’s not safe for humans or the environment in general,” said Sarah Pierce, a recently graduated senior who worked on the project.

Without a way to safely remove the waste, the park would not be able to continue welcoming the more than 350,000 guests who visit the National Park Service’s Civil War battle site each year. Currently, there are only six functioning toilets and two functioning urinals on the property.

Pierce and fellow College of Engineering seniors Emily Mitchell and Sawyer Soucie spent the past year working with UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant on a senior capstone project to develop a sustainable solution that would be resilient to changing water levels and not harm the protected marshlands that make up the majority of the park.

An outside wall of Fort Pulaski surrounded by a moat.

Fort Pulaski National Monument, located on Cockspur Island. The Civil War battle site welcomes more than 350,000 guests per year. (Photo: Emily Kenworthy / Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant)

The team studied the infrastructure on Cockspur Island, where the park and a U.S. Coast Guard station are located, looking at sea level rise projections, soil composition and wastewater volume. They ultimately proposed three different ideas: building an improved, mounded septic system; developing a mini wastewater treatment plant on Cockspur Island; and installing a network of pipes to transport the wastewater to the municipal wastewater treatment facility on neighboring Tybee Island.

The piping option was the clear choice. While all three proposals would solve the park’s issues in the short term, piping the wastewater off the island was the only solution that could permanently eliminate the need for the 13 septic systems on the island, including those used by the Coast Guard.

“Environmentally it’s safest for the long-term,” said Mark Risse, director of Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant and a mentor to the engineering students on the project. “On a barrier island with sandy soil and increasingly high-water tables, [septic systems] are just less and less effective and more and more likely to cause environmental degradation.”

The big question was whether the City of Tybee Island, which is facing some of the same challenges with rising sea levels, would be willing to take on the additional waste from the fort. But city officials recognized that protecting the national monument would benefit the entire region, which relies heavily on tourism as a local revenue source. The students’ designs for the pipeline included the possibility of tying in waste from restaurants and retail shops on the outskirts of Tybee Island, which could soon face the same issues with their septic service.

A map showing Cockspur Island off the coast of Georgia.

Off the coast of Savannah, Fort Pulaski National Monument on Cockspur Island has been battling rising sea levels for years.

“We were really being baptized by fire,” Soucie said of the project. “It’s more than just designing a septic system or a wastewater system. It’s about all these moving parts and trying to get them moving in the right direction. It’s been a lot of learning, which is exciting.”

The students virtually showcased their final presentation to Fort Pulaski administrators, Tybee Island officials and representatives from both the U.S. National Park Service and Coast Guard at the end of the spring semester.

Fort Pulaski superintendent Melissa Memory, herself a 1989 graduate from the Department of Anthropology at UGA, was thrilled by the quality of the students’ work.

“They’ve blown it out of the water metaphorically and literally with how far they’ve taken this project,” said Memory. “A lot of student projects are good at concepts, but it’s rare that they get it this far and give us a clear direction on path forward…They far exceeded our expectations for what they’d be able to do for us.”

Consultants are already working on pipeline designs and concepts based on the students’ presentation, which represents significant savings for the fort. Memory and US Park Service officials are exploring ways to finance the project.

A map showing the wastewater pipe proposed by UGA student group.

The sewer line proposed by the UGA engineering students would replace Fort Pulaski’s existing septic system, which has been failing due to rising sea levels.

For the students, the project provided an opportunity to put their academic education to the test in the real world.

“This is a huge passion of mine,” Mitchell said. “Water quality engineering specifically. I’ll be pursuing this in the future, and this is a major steppingstone in my career. I’m just extremely grateful to be on such an incredible project like this, especially with so many stakeholders and importance of everyone involved.”

The demand for coastal engineering will only increase in the years to come. The students’ efforts — both in engineering and politics — is a showcase for how communities need to work together to combat the growing effects of sea level rise, said Brian Bledsoe, director of the College of Engineering’s Institute for Resilient Infrastructure Systems who mentored the students on the Fort Pulaski project.

“Fort Pulaski is not the only park or monument that’s grappling with having to adapt to climate change and sea level rise and a rapidly changing world,” Bledsoe said. “I think this could be a good example of how partnerships with adjacent communities can work. When we share infrastructure, we can keep our options open and maybe find more long-term and cost-effective solutions. Hopefully this is something that the park service can hold up as an example of what other entities can do.”


Aaron Cox Public Relations Coordinator • 706-542-3631


Brian Bledsoe UGA College of Engineering Director of Institute for Resilient Infrastructure Systems • 706-542-7249


Mark Risse Director of UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant • 706-542-5956

Registrations for UGA’s grant writing programs jump as more nonprofits and public organizations seek grants to cover costs

When the pandemic forced Dekalb County schools to transition to online learning, the system used part of a $3.8 million grant from the federal government to pay for Chromebooks and wireless hotspots for students.

Another grant, pursued by the Dekalb County schools in partnership with the Georgia Department of Education, covered resources teachers needed to improve literacy among elementary school students.

“Coming from the classroom myself, I know that it’s very helpful to write grants to obtain those extra resources rather than everything coming out of pocket,” said Marcia Oglesby, grants and partnership development coordinator for the Dekalb County School District said.

Oglesby has taken three grant writing courses offered by the UGA Center for Continuing Education. She took the first course after the district moved her into a position that included grant-writing responsibilities. The district has since added a second grant writer, and much of Oglesby’s time now is spent helping teachers learn to apply for grants.

“I was able to gain information from the [Georgia Center] courses to provide more professional learning for teachers,” she said. “They gained some valuable information that they could use in applying for their own grants.”

More often, public service organizations are depending on grants to pay for programs once covered within their budgets.

Increasingly, prospective grant writers have turned to the Georgia Center for Continuing Education to develop grant-writing skills.

In FY 2013 and FY 2014, the grant writing certificate program was offered through the Georgia Center twice a year, drawing about 50 participants each year.

It grew incrementally, with a third and fourth class offered each year based on demand.

In FY 2021, which ends June 30, the Georgia Center offered eight grant writing programs, with 163 registrations.

“Not only have the number of offerings doubled, but additional delivery formats (times) are being offered,” said Stacy Jones, director of the Georgia Center. “The goal of the offerings is to ensure that anyone who is interested in taking the program can find a course and time that work for them.”

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For nearly 25 years, the University of Georgia Center for Continuing Education has helped grant writing professionals build the skills they need to successfully apply for corporate, foundation and government funding.

The Grant Writing Certificate program offered through the Georgia Center teaches essential information needed to write a successful proposal, such as characteristics of fundable proposals and how to analyze requests for proposals. Participants learn how to write letters of intent and inquiry, describe programs and their implementation, and design measurable goals and objectives. The certified grant writers leave knowing how to craft an executive summary and abstract, develop evaluation methods with outcomes and impact, and draft a program budget and narrative.

Sheila Garcia-Wilder, senior grant writer for Savannah-Chatham County Public School System, said the certificate program honed her skills so that she was more efficient in writing proposals.

Garcia-Wilder had written four grant proposals over eight years before earning the Grant Writing Certificate from the Georgia Center. Within four months of completing the certificate she wrote four more proposals.

“The courses affected my ability to work faster,” she said. “The federal grant I’m currently working on is difficult — probably the most difficult I’ve written — but I pull up my University of Georgia manual that I received with the course. It’s like my handbook. It helps me organize a template to give to the team members so they can give me information that I want or need to help write it.”

Grant money has become a necessity for many organizations that depend on a strong economy.

During the pandemic, the demand for employees with commercial drivers licenses (CDLs) increased because consumer supply companies needed to get their products to stores.

Robin Patterson-Hill, who works for the Georgia Department of Driver Services, was able to use grant money she had secured to quickly get more commercial drivers on the road.

Patterson-Hill completed the Georgia Center’s grant writing program in November 2020. Since then, she has written grant proposals for $475,000.

“With the pandemic, one of the big things was making sure that the supply chain kept running,” she said. “When we started the grants, the wait time for someone to get [CDL] certified was six weeks. We now have a specific team that goes out and helps decrease the amount of time. That gets more qualified CDL drivers on the road.”

The added benefit of the certificate program is that those who complete it have the knowledge and the materials to help others hone their grant writing skills. Both Oglesby’s and Garcia-Wilder’s job responsibilities include passing on the skills they gained through the Georgia Center courses to their colleagues.

“What we have established in the metro area is the Metro Atlanta Collaborative,” Oglesby said. “All of the counties come together—people with common goals in grants and partnership development departments. Even though these grants are competitive, we try to help each other because we are coming together in a common purpose, which is helping the students in this area.”

Find more information on grant writing courses through the UGA Center for Continuing Education at

UGA webinars to help government leaders better understand American Rescue Plan Act

The UGA Carl Vinson Institute of Government is providing a series of free webinars to help government leaders plan and think strategically about how to invest in their communities with American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. These webinars, part of the Vinson Institute’s Funding the Future series, will cover the funding governments are receiving through the act, how it compares to the recent Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding, allocations and distribution, audit requirements and reporting, internal control, and strategic planning.

The American Rescue Plan Act has allocated significant financial resources to local governments of all sizes. These funds must eventually be accounted for, their use reported, and sub-recipients must be monitored. In Managing ARPA Funds, UGA faculty, the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget, the State Accounting Office, the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts, Georgia Department of Community Affairs, as well as city and county financial officers will discuss both mandatory requirements and best practices in managing these funds.

The Managing ARPA Funds webinar will be on June 29 from 10-11:30 a.m. Register Now

Georgia Center graphic designer in the Spotlight in May

Natalie Stephens, a graphic designer for the UGA Center for Continuing Education & Hotel, is the latest Public Service and Outreach staff member to receive the PSO employee Spotlight Award.

PSO Vice President Jennifer Frum surprised Stephens with the award during a sales and event coordination division meeting at the Georgia Center, and praised her work.

“You totally make (the Georgia Center) look great on Instagram and Facebook,” Frum said.

Stephens was nominated for the award by colleague Sue Smith, who supervises Stephens.

“Natalie makes my department run faster and better, has brought a host of new ideas and visuals to the work that the Georgia Center produces, and … has yet to say no to anything she’s been asked to do,” Smith wrote in her nomination. “She adds so much value to the Georgia Center … and I believe she should be recognized and celebrated beyond our unit.”

Stephens received a gift basket of treats and a framed certificate recognizing the award.

Find out more about the PSO Spotlight and how to nominate an employee at

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Foster care, homelessness are higher education hurdles

A college education is estimated to add $1 million to a person’s lifetime earning potential, but for some students the path to earning one is riddled with obstacles. That journey is even more difficult for students who have been in the foster care system or experienced homelessness, according to a new study from the University of Georgia.

But the more college administrators and faculty know about these students’ problems, the more they can do to ease the burden.

Getting into universities in the first place can frequently be a challenge for students who’ve had unstable home lives, said David Meyers, co-author of the study.

“Research tells us that every time a student moves from one foster care placement to another, they lose six months of educational progress,” said Meyers, a public service associate in the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development. “That’s a pretty serious setback. It’s a challenge for them to participate in after-school activities or athletics. Their college resume is not going to be as strong as those students who don’t face those same challenges.”

It’s a similar struggle for students who’ve experienced homelessness. For those who beat the odds, getting into college is just the start of a whole new set of hurdles. The added stressors of having to figure out how to pay for courses, books and housing once they get there—something many of their classmates don’t have to think about—take a tremendous toll.

“Having to act like an adult when you’re still a kid presents huge challenges for students trying to get into college,” said Kim Skobba, co-author of the paper and an associate professor in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences. “But then when you get to college, you’re still on your own.”

Entirely on their own 

The study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Research, focuses on the experiences of 27 college students, all attending four-year institutions, who had been in foster care, experienced homelessness or both. The researchers conducted a series of three in-depth interviews with each participant over the course of one academic year, and several clear themes emerged.

These students all had to “get by” largely on their own. They often were without parental guidance or support during high school, and in college they were entirely on their own. Many took jobs, sometimes going to school full time while also working full or nearly full-time hours.

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One student described having six classes while also working 40 hours a week, saying, “I kept breaking down. … I was staying up to about 2 or 4 in the morning doing homework and waking up at 7.” (This type of experience was more common among students who had been homeless than those who were in foster care at the time of their high school graduation.)

One of the biggest expenses for all the students in the study was paying for and maintaining stable housing. Eleven of them experienced at least one period of homelessness since beginning college, living in their cars or couch surfing.

Another constant issue was finding money for books and food. Even with scholarship support, many of the students would ask professors whether the book was essential for success in their course and if so would borrow a friend’s book or even one of the professor’s copies, if possible.

Perhaps not surprisingly, these stressors made it difficult for students to focus on their academics.

“It takes a mental and emotional toll on these students,” Meyers said. “We think about it in financial terms, but it really, I think, also shows up in sort of this constant emotional challenge. Being thoughtful, being vigilant, never really having the luxury of being able to set it aside.”

Finding solutions 

Institutions like UGA are taking steps to address this issue, with programs that provide emotional support while connecting students to resources they might otherwise not know exist.

Embark@UGA, for example, is the campus-based component of Embark Georgia, an effort led by Meyers and Lori Tiller, a colleague at the Fanning Institute. The program is a statewide network that connects the University System of Georgia and Technical College System of Georgia to the Division of Family and Children Services, the Georgia Department of Education, and numerous nonprofit and community organizations seeking to increase college access and retention for students who have experienced foster care or homelessness.

Through Embark, each USG university and technical college campus and every high school in Georgia has a point of contact to help identify and provide resources to homeless and former foster students who need help.

Additionally, scholarships like Let All the Big Dawgs Eat, which provides a food stipend for students, have also helped narrow the gap. UGA also has made a point to start using free online textbooks in many courses.

But not all schools have the same resources.

“Expanding programs at the federal level that would serve students who’ve been in foster care or homeless would really help close that gap,” Skobba said. “We also don’t want them taking out huge loans because that’s not a good financial situation long term. And some kind of financial aid grant program serving this group would make a huge difference.”

Another big help? Understanding and awareness from professors that not all students are able to spend hundreds of dollars on textbooks or don’t have a personal laptop to use for class assignments.

“I think I was already a pretty flexible understanding professor, but just realizing that if you’re working 40 hours because that’s what it takes to stay in school, some things are going to drop from time to time,” Skobba said. “Having a little bit of breathing room in your syllabus and assignments is probably beneficial to all students, but it’s going to be especially helpful for this group of students.”

Diann Moorman, associate professor in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, is also a co-author on the study.


Leigh Beeson


Kim Skobba

Experience UGA goes virtual during the pandemic, with activities that K-8 students can use in the classroom and at home

The stage lights are shining and the curtain is in place, ready to be opened with the click of a computer mouse. Push play, and the story of Adelaide and the Fairy World comes to life on the computer screen.

Normally, the Children’s Theatre Troupe, a UGA student-run organization, would be performing on the Fine Arts Theatre stage in front of hundreds of third-grade students from throughout Clarke County. This year the stage is in the Experience UGA Google classroom.

The third-graders can watch the 32 minute play and view a Q&A with the cast and crew. There are theater warm-up games and a puppet-making video also included on the Google page.

“It’s always been so cool to see the third-graders’ excitement about theatre,” said Elise Harvin, the Children’s Theatre Troupe artistic director. “Shifting to virtual has been hard, but also really cool at the same time because it gave our organization the opportunity to grow as a whole. We had to think outside the box in order to bring our show and even theatre games to kids virtually.”

Three masked students perform in front of a camera

UGA stduents Kyle Huemme (left), Megan McGoldrick (middle), andLeslie Oroyemi (right) choreographed a dance as a fun way for kids to exercise for Experience UGA’s Public Health trip. (Photo: Shannah Montgomery / PSO)

Experience UGA is a partnership between the University of Georgia Office of Service-Learning and the Clarke County School District (CCSD) that brings every student in a Clarke County public school—about 12,000 total in grades pre-K through 12—to the UGA campus for a field trip once a year. The goal is for the CCSD students to experience learning on a college campus, explore college options and interact with UGA students.

The program is led by the Office of Service-Learning, which reports to the UGA vice presidents for Public Service and Outreach and Instruction, and is facilitated by students and faculty that make up Experience UGA planning teams.

With in-person field trips cancelled in 2020-21, teams had to find a way to provide a virtual experience that would be meaningful to students. They developed a Google classroom with Bitmoji characters (cartoon figures similar to emojis) of the UGA students to guide Clarke County teachers and students through the content. Links on the classroom page take viewers to activities created for each grade, pre-K through eighth. There were no virtual classroom developed for the high school grades.

A screenshot showing virtual BItmoji characters

Experience UGA utilized Bitmoji characters on their Google webpage to help interact with students virtually during the pandemic. (Submitted photo)

PreK students visit the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, where they learn about the senses. Students watch virtual puppet shows to learn about taste, touch, sight, smell and hearing.

Students in Mecca Romney’s pre-K class at Timothy Road Elementary School learned about the different sounds made by birds by watching a video of Caroline Parker, an education specialist at the State Botanical Garden, and Foreco, short for Forest Ecosystem, a puppet tree.

“We talked about the five senses and how we use them to explore, to ask questions to further understand, and to communicate,” Romney said. “We practiced listening.”

Seventh-graders also virtually visited the State Botanical Garden and student-run UGArden to learn about plants and animals.

“For the seventh-grade trip, we made several short follow-along at home videos,” said Audrey Stadler, the children’s program coordinator at the State Botanical Garden. “One activity was a plot study, focusing on observing how a plot of land changes over time.”

The plot study is an ecological succession, the order that organisms appear in an ecosystem over time. Each season, the students assess their plots and chart which insects or arthropods have appeared. They also chart the vegetation that has grown over time and take smudge samples of the soil to study how its color changed.

“So, ideally a class or a student at home could do that in their backyard or school yard,”  Stadler said.

The virtual classrooms for each grade include a guide to the pages, links to different activities and information about the UGA students who created the virtual experience. As of early May, the virtual Experience UGA web site had been viewed almost 5,000 times, which includes individual viewers as well as classrooms with 20 or more students.

Three masked students looking at a video camera on a tripod

UGA students Emma Powers (left), Hannah Fordham (middle), and Mecca Slocum (right) record a video to use for a virtual Experience UGA session. (Photo: Shannah Montgomery / PSO)

Seventh grade students also could watch biological engineering student Erika Bowen extract DNA from strawberries. Using two measuring cups, isopropyl alcohol, plastic zip bags, plastic wrap, salt, dishwashing detergent, a metal strainer, a coffee filter and 10 strawberries, Bowen walked viewers through the simple process of mixing and straining ingredients to separate the DNA from the rest of the strawberries. Watch here:

“This year we were excited about the opportunity to do things differently because it would allow us to showcase some types of engineering that we haven’t been able to before and even some small-scale experiments,” said Lauren Anglin, director of experiential learning and outreach for the College of Engineering.

Fifth-graders learn about art through UGA’s Georgia Museum of Art and music through the Hugh Hodgson School of Music. Each student in fifth grade got a bag of art supplies from the museum so that they could do the online projects at home.

They felt so special getting the art supplies,” said Caroline Allums, a fifth grade teacher at H.B. Stroud Elementary School. “They felt like rock stars.”

“We really loved the experience.”

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Experience UGA student ambassadors, who typically act as tour guides and volunteers, this year were tapped to create additional content for Google classroom, including welcome videos for each trip and additional activities for each grade.

“We have about 25 ambassadors this year and they all have their own little Bitmoji characters that appear throughout the site, like in the introduction video,” said Josh Podvin, assistant director for community partnerships in the Office of Service-Learning. “They’re making additional fun content like a time lapse of a bean growing or countless other things that they come up with and bring to the table to complement the trip content.”

The advantage to the virtual experiences is that they can be accessed any time and as many times as needed. The content will still be helpful when in-person field trips resume.

While Romney says she prefers the in-person field trips, she says she will continue to use the online content.

“It would be great to to use them in tandem,” Romney said. “We could use it as a precursor to the campus trip.”

Explore the Experience UGA Google classroom at


Émilie Gille Public Relations Coordinator • 706-583-0964


Shannon Brooks Office of Service-Learning Director • 706-542-0535

Former foster kids turned authors Alexis and Justin Black highlight UGA’s 2021 virtual Embark Georgia Leadership Conference

Alexis Black was 6 when her mother died, 13 when her father went to prison.

Justin Black lived in abandoned houses in a bad Detroit neighborhood before his parents surrendered him to the state at age 9.

Alexis and Justin met at Western Michigan and bonded over their shared childhood experiences. Together they overcame the obstacles and made a life together. They share their story in Re-defining Normal: How Two Foster Kids Beat the Odds and Discovered Healing, Happiness and Love, the autobiography they co-authored in October 2020.

Alexis and Justin Black will share their story in person, via Zoom, at the 2021 Embark Georgia Leadership Conference, which will be held on-line May 24-26.

The conference will also feature other state and national speakers sharing their experiences with students in foster care or homeless during the pandemic and how they are moving forward to serve those students. With this year’s conference taking place in a virtual format, Embark Georgia has been able to attract an even more diverse field of nationally recognized speakers.

“While we certainly wish we were gathering in-person, the virtual format provides us an opportunity to bring in even more of the top experts in this field, strengthening the conference further,” said Lori Tiller, Fanning Institute public service faculty and Embark Georgia co-network director.

The UGA J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development runs Embark Georgia, a statewide program that partners with the University System of Georgia (USG), Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG), the Division of Family and Children Services, the Georgia Department of Education, and numerous nonprofit and community organizations to increase college access and retention for youth who have experienced foster care or homelessness. Through Embark Georgia, each USG and TCSG campus has a point of contact to help identify and provide resources to homeless and former foster students who need help.

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“Campus points of contact are one part of a broader system that Embark Georgia brings together that plays a crucial role in ensuring these students have a support system,” said David Meyers, Fanning Institute public service faculty member and Embark Georgia co-network director. “This conference provides an opportunity for individuals throughout this support system to learn from each other, learn the latest research in this field and strengthen networks.”

Since its inception in 2017, the conference has provided attendees with necessary resources and knowledge that applies directly to the students they serve, said Shanequa Warrington, special populations and Title IX coordinator at Chattahoochee Technical College.

“The conference is amazing,” Warrington said. “It has allowed me to open my eyes to different perspectives. Embark Georgia brought in quality speakers that demonstrated in a practical manner how to implement new strategies and resources.”

Open to higher education and high school professionals, case managers, homeless liaisons, private foster care professionals and any other interested community partners, the conference will also include virtual breakout sessions and networking opportunities.

Conference sessions will take place in the morning only on all three days and registration costs $40.

“Embark Georgia is part of the university’s commitment to ensuring students, regardless of background, have an opportunity to achieve their educational goals and pursue their dreams,” said Matt Bishop, director of the Fanning Institute. “This leadership conference plays a vital role in building the statewide support system needed to make that happen, and we look forward to welcoming everyone virtually.”

Click here to register for the 2021 Embark Georgia Leadership Conference.


Charlie Bauder Public Relations Coordinator • 706-542-7039


David Meyers Embark Georgia co-network director • 706-542-5062

Preserving pollinators, preserving a neighborhood

The preserved remains of the old St. Mark’s A.M.E. Church rise up in the center of Atlanta’s English Avenue neighborhood like an ancient ruin.

Soon, they will be flanked by native grasses, wildflowers and shrubs, installed on Earth Day by volunteers, with guidance from the State Botanical Garden of Georgia at the University of Georgia. The west side Atlanta church is at the heart of a neighborhood revitalization project that includes pollinator gardens and green space. The Rev. Winston Taylor, who owns the church remains, hopes to make it a cultural gathering spot for the community.

“Green spaces can function on many levels,” said Jenny Cruse-Sanders, director of the State Botanical Garden, who participated in the Earth Day planting. “They create sanctuaries for people who need accessible outdoor areas that are safe and they can support pollinators and other wildlife in an urban environment.”

Lauren Muller, conservation outreach coordinator for the State Botanical Garden, led the planting effort, which included more than 20 species of native plants propagated at the University of Georgia. Residents of the English Avenue community, college students, USDA Forest Service partners and city of Atlanta employees were among the volunteers who turned out on that chilly morning to put the plants in the ground.

Mamie Moore and Lauren Muller in front of St. Mark's AME church

Mamie Moore (left) and Lauren Muller in front of St. Mark’s AME church. (Photo: Mack Brown / PSO)

Local resident and activist Mamie “Mother” Moore helped organize the pollinator planting, part of the Westside Land Use Framework Plan.

“This project is geared to spark the movement of pollinator planting in the neighborhood, and Lauren’s design qualifies us for the Rosalynn Carter Butterfly Trail,” Moore said.

Designed by Muller, the garden includes plants that take into account the insect life cycle and include larval host plants for caterpillars as well as bee balm and mint to provide seeds for birds.

“This garden will be an opportunity for people to see these species that are integral to ecosystems in Georgia,” Muller said. “It’s inspirational to see that a relatively small garden like this can have an impact.”

The garden is part of the State Botanical Garden’s Connect to Protect Program. It is also within the Georgia Pollinator Partnership, the brainchild of Dennis Krusac, an endangered species specialist with the USDA Forest Service and his biologist wife Jackie Belwood. What began as a 10-by-10-foot garden at a school has grown to include hundreds of pollinator gardens statewide.

A child plants a pollinator plant in a garden

Nashoba Khalid, 5, plants a pollinator plant in the new garden. (Photo: Mack Brown / PSO)

Cruse-Sanders met Krusac and Shannon Lee from the Conservation Fund Atlanta office about a decade ago when they first worked in the English Avenue and Vine City communities to establish the neighborhoods first two greenspaces.

She recalls planting 140 milkweed plants with partners at the Greening Youth Foundation on a site not far from the old St Mark’s. Within a month, the plants, which are important to monarch butterflies, had attracted 65 monarch caterpillars.

“For the monarchs to find that spot in the middle of the city just goes to show that these efforts make a difference,” Cruse-Sanders said.

The new pollinator garden is a joint project between the State Botanical Garden of Georgia — a unit of UGA’s Public Service and Outreach — the city of Atlanta, the Westside Future Fund and the USDA Forest Service.

The front of the historic St. Mark’s AME church.

The front of the historic St. Mark’s AME church. (Photo: Mack Brown / PSO)

The Conservation Fund paid for the pollinators planted at the old church on Earth Day. Elizabeth Beak, a food systems planner for the city of Atlanta, was there representing Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ goal of having 85% of Atlanta residents living within a half mile of fresh, affordable food.

“Fresh food access is a really big piece of our work,” said Elizabeth Beak, food systems planner for the city of Atlanta. “There are community gardens every few blocks in this area and bees and bee habitats help pollinate every three bites that we take.”

Cruse-Sanders’ neighbor in Athens, Yvonne Studevan, came to the planting as a volunteer with a rich history of the A.M.E. faith. Studevan is a seventh-generation descendant of Richard Allen, who founded the first Bethel A.M.E. church in Philadelphia in 1794. AME churches, she said, were designed to be within walking distance of predominantly African American neighborhoods.

“I think this garden will help revitalize and bring life into the neighborhood,” Studevan said.


Heather Skyler Managing Editor • 706-542-4285


Jenny Cruse-Sanders State Botanical Garden Director • 706-542-6131

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With the help of UGA students, rural southwest Georgia community embraces transit to protect local economy

When most people think of public transportation they envision populous, metropolitan areas.

Not Moultrie, Georgia.

But when local residents started missing doctor’s appointments, were routinely late for work and many had to depend on other people to get where they needed to go, city leaders decided it was an idea they needed to explore. They reached out to the University of Georgia.

Soon the community will have four bus routes in operation, covering 35 miles with about 20 stops, thanks to research conducted by students from the UGA Terry College of Business. The 10 UGA students created a survey to determine residents’ interest in a bus system, identified routes that would best serve the community, conducted a cost analysis of the service and identified grants the city could apply for to offset the cost.

“The caliber of work produced by this group was superior to anything I could have expected, and for that I am incredibly grateful, not only to the students but to the UGA faculty and staff that helped make this project a reality,” said Cole Posey, the Moultrie City Council member who worked with the students.

The students took on the project at the request of the Colquitt County Archway Partnership, a UGA program that connects communities to the vast resources of the University of Georgia through a UGA employee based in that community. Colquitt County was the first Archway Partnership community, launched as a pilot program in 2005.

“Community leaders recognize Archway as one of the first stops when seeking resources to address community issues,” said Chip Blalock, chair of the Colquitt County Archway Partnership executive committee. “That kind of relationship is why we have been partners with Archway and UGA for so long and hope to keep the relationship going for many years.”

A light pole sign reading Welcome to Moultrie

Moultrie, GA is the county seat for Colquitt County, which helped launch the UGA Archway Partnership as a pilot program in 2005. (Photo: Shannah Montgomery / PSO)

The survey, which polled more than 400 residents, showed that over 70 percent “strongly agree” that a bus system would be worth its cost. Of respondents who identified as low-income, 62 percent indicated they would pay to take the bus and 80 percent said they would take a bus if it saved them money.

Businesses told Posey and other city leaders that eventually the lack of reliable transportation would affect the city and county’s ability to grow.

“During my discussions with these businesses, the overwhelming recurring theme was that this was not a workforce issue, this was an absolute transportation issue,” Posey said.

Demographics tell the story. About one-third of Colquitt County residents lives below the poverty line, with half of those who work earning less than $35,000 a year. Half of the population does not drive.

“It is a challenge often discussed in our administrative meetings,” said Dr. Michael Brown, a pulmonologist and chief medical officer at Colquitt Regional Medical Center in Moultrie. “Lack of adequate transportation definitely plays a role with access to healthcare, particularly in rural communities. Patients cancelling appointments due to lack of transportation is a frequent occurrence.”

Because of age, income or disability, millions of Americans don’t drive, the majority of them living in rural communities according to Smart Growth America, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit advocacy group that helps empower communities across the United States to create livable places, healthy people and shared prosperity. The inability of rural residents to easily access medical appointments, work, community events or even a grocery store has become a more critical issue.

Between 2007 and 2015, the demand for transit in rural areas increased by nearly eight percent nationwide, based on research by the American Public Transportation Association. Options for these smaller communities include dial-a-ride service, vanpools and buses.

“When the word transit is mentioned, people often think of subway trains and large bus fleets in major cities like Atlanta with a large and populous suburban area,” said Tom Q. Gehl, government relations director for the Georgia Municipal Association. “But nearly all exurban and rural communities in this state have citizens who rely on transit services — whether it is fixed routes or the more common paratransit that requires appointments. Investments in rural transit options are important in ensuring access to healthcare, education and jobs.”

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In Georgia, the City of Hinesville and other cities across Liberty County launched a bus service with a one-way fare of $1, with discounts for seniors and Medicare cardholders. The service area is about 263 square miles, with a population of nearly 49,000.

Currently, Moultrie has a similar limited transit service that is first come, first served and must be scheduled before 2 p.m. on the day before you need it. Colquitt Regional Medical Center offers a non-emergency medical transport van service, but it too must be scheduled at least a day in advance.

Carpools have been ineffective. Moultrie City Manager Pete Dillard talks about one resident who launched a carpool. When his car broke down, he and his four passengers had to find a new way to get to work.

“Many of us don’t realize how much one dead battery or one bad radiator can blow up opportunities,” Dillard said. “Transit or the lack thereof affects the elderly, potential job prospects and healthcare. It really impacts all facets of life, even grocery opportunities or maintaining a healthy lifestyle.”

The tardiness of employees at National Beef became so bad that the company started offering bonuses to those who made it to work on time.

“We see our perfect attendance percentage average around 90 percent pretty consistently and we do contribute a lot of this to our attendance bonus,” said Kareem Kelly, general manager of the National Beef plant in Moultrie. “With our operation being somewhat of an assembly line, it is critical that we have our scheduled crew here.”

The UGA students’ research identified the four routes that would be the most helpful to local residents. The Red Route will serve residential areas, with a stop at the Boys and Girl Club. The Blue Route will serve local industries like Sanderson Farms and National Beef, and the Colquitt County Airport.  The other two routes will serve several senior living communities, with stops at the hospital and the YMCA.

A cost analysis by the students estimated it would cost about $966,000 to launch the service, and would take about four years to recover that investment with sales of bus tickets and passes. Individual tickets initially will cost $2, or riders cab buy a weekly pass for $12.

The students also identified grants that the city could apply for to offset the initial cost.

“Projects like this give the UGA students real world experience that can’t be taught in a classroom,” Blalock said. “The transportation study revealed what we suspected, that there are those in our community who do not have adequate transportation to get from point A to point B. A mass transit system of some sort would greatly enhance the quality of life for this sector of our residents.”

Terry College student Cameron Falk said that the project, working with a local government and working as a team with other students, was a valuable experience.

“In any career, team-based activities will be incorporated and this Moultrie transportation project taught me how to manage my time, efforts and skills more effectively to successfully execute our final presentation,” said Falk, a Finance, Management and International Business major from Marietta, Georgia.


Baker Owens Archway Partnership Public Relations Coordinator • 706-542-1098


Sarah Adams Colquitt County Archway Professional • 229-921-3170