UGA student Sarah Jackson turns service-learning into a career

After Sarah Jackson took her first service-learning course at the University of Georgia, she was hooked. Ten years later, she’s made a career out of service, community engagement and nonprofit partnerships.

“Through my geography major, I became involved in a bunch of service-learning courses, and I got to really apply what I was learning in the classroom into the real world in a practical sense,” says Jackson, a geography and Spanish minor in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. “It gave me confidence, new skills.”

Service-learning courses inspired Jackson to become a Public Service and Outreach Student Scholar, a year-long program that introduces students to UGA’s land- and sea-grant mission. During the spring, scholars complete an individual internship with a PSO unit that most corresponds with their academic and professional goals.

Jackson interned with the Office of Service-Learning, a partnership between the Offices of the Vice President for Instruction and the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach. The Office of Service-Learning supports the development of academic courses geared towards applying academic knowledge to the real world—a learning benefit for both students and the community.

In true service-learning nature, Jackson wasn’t just sitting at a desk. Along with another student, Jackson pioneered Campus Kitchen at UGA (CKUGA), UGA’s student-led, hunger relief organization housed at the Office of Service-Learning.

Sarah Jackson and a volunteer smile in front of a commercial kitchen.

Sarah Jackson helps prepare food with Campus Kitchen at UGA volunteers. (Photo: Shannah Montgomery/PSO)

At CKUGA, volunteers collect surplus food from grocery stores and the university’s student farm, UGArden, and deliver them weekly in grocery bags or transform them into family-sized meals. CKUGA serves those at risk of hunger, who are often on the waiting list for aid programs like Meals on Wheels.

“We partnered with the Athens Community Council on Aging [ACCA] to identify clients and found out that over 70% in the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren program were food insecure,” says Jackson. “It just seemed like a really big gap and something where we could really make a difference.”

Instead of returning to her home state of Ohio after graduating in 2011, Jackson stayed in Georgia and turned her internship into a full-time coordinator position. Within four years, CKUGA grew to more than 400 volunteers and helped reduce food insecurity of ACCA clients by 30%. CKUGA was awarded Chapter of the Year by the national Campus Kitchen Project in 2014 and became a focal point for service-learning classes in a variety of disciplines, ranging from recreation and leisure studies to public health to dietetics.

Sarah Jackson picks plants outside. A big yellow tub sits next to her.

Sarah Jackson at UGArden, the university’s student-run learning and demonstration farm. (Photo: Dot Paul/UGA)

A key component of the CKUGA’s success was the introduction of AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America (VISTAs), who serve for either a summer or a year in nonprofits or Clarke County School District’s middle schools. The VISTA network is administered by the Office of Service-Learning, and Jackson became the first VISTA grant coordinator at the university.

“Partnering between VISTA members, UGA and nonprofits in the community, we had strong core partnerships where we could do program evaluation,” Jackson says. “With the university there, we had all the resources to say what we’re doing in theory seems like it works, and we can show we’re actually improving food security of our clients. We can measure our impact.”

Since 2013, the UGA VISTA network is committed to alleviating poverty. VISTA members help organizations reduce food insecurity, develop programming and otherwise assist low-income families. Today, there are 15 VISTA members serving in Athens-Clarke County and Barrow County.

“During her time at UGA, Sarah created meaningful, impactful, lasting change. She was able to develop herself as a leader and hone her skills in community partnership management and program evaluation,” says Shannon Wilder, director of the Office of Service-Learning. “We’re grateful for her efforts in leading both Campus Kitchen at UGA and the VISTA network.”

After earning a master’s in public administration from the School of Public and International Affairs in 2015, Jackson’s journey to combat food insecurity led her career to the Georgia Food Bank Association, which helps coordinate the efforts of Georgia’s seven regional food banks. As director of strategic initiatives, Jackson facilitated partnerships, secured sponsorships and created campaigns. It wasn’t long though until she found herself in a daunting new position: coordinating statewide responses during national disasters.

“When Hurricane Irma hit in 2017, I was placed in charge because my boss was out of the country,” Jackson says. “But we had never had a storm like that before. Irma hit all across the state. It was critical all of the food banks were communicating, sharing resources and plugging in with Feeding America, our umbrella organization.”

After that experience, Jackson began serving on the board for the Georgia Voluntary Organization Active in Disaster (VOAD), a coalition of relief organizations that help each other plan, network and stay up to date on relief efforts.

Everything changed when Hurricane Michael hit in October 2018. The fifth major hurricane to hit the state, Michael destroyed much of the agriculture industry in southwest Georgia with damages surpassing $3 billion, according to University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service and the Georgia Forestry Commission.

“Hurricane Michael was devastating to southwest Georgia, which had just been hit with tornadoes the year before. The agricultural damage was huge, and that’s the foundation of our economy. It’s kind of become a lost story—when people think recovery, they think six months after. No. It takes years just to go through all the cases.”

During Hurricane Michael, Jackson served as the point of contact between VOAD and the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency (GEMA/HS), the state’s response and recovery agency. When a Community Partnerships Manager position opened up at the beginning of 2019 at GEMA, Jackson’s role was reversed—she’s now the one at the state agency helping to coordinate response efforts with volunteer groups.

Sarah Jackson points at the picture of a map in a glass office. Another person sits at the table.

When storms aren’t brewing, Jackson will be traveling throughout rural Georgia to build infrastructure and create strong nonprofit partnerships. That way, when storms strike, communities are better equipped to deal with the damages.

For an out-of-state student who wasn’t sure what she wanted to do after college, the turning point was service-learning. Now, Jackson is making a difference in the lives of Georgians every single day—and she’s just getting started.

“My experience in service-learning is what made me who I am today and I’m so grateful for that,” said Jackson. “I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing without that.”


Leah Moss Public Relations Coordinator • 706-612-0063

Shedding a light on longtime State Botanical Garden supporter James Miller Jr.

Jim Miller grew up with a mother who enjoyed gardening. When an advisory board for the State Botanical Garden of Georgia began forming in the 1980s, he was a charter member.

His gift of $5,000 was the first private funding the garden received and it forever changed the trajectory of the board of advisors.

“It was symbolic, it set the tone for the whole board to be able to succeed, and it made an incredible difference to the garden,” recalls Susan Duncan, who helped establish the board.

Since then, James B. Miller Jr., as he is known formally, has remained a steadfast, often behind-the-scenes “gentle giant” at the garden, Duncan says. To this day, Miller continues to be active and involved at the garden, giving generously both personally and through Fidelity Southern Corporation in metropolitan Atlanta, where he serves as chief executive officer and chairman.

Last fall, Miller was named the State Botanical Garden of Georgia’s 2018 Distinguished Honoree during the garden’s biennial Giving Tree Tribute celebration of donors.  The Distinguished Honoree is the highest award bestowed on donors, recognizing those who have dedicated significant time and resources to the garden.

“Without his support, the garden would not be what is today. He has helped grow the garden from the very beginning,” says Jenny Cruse-Sanders, director of the State Botanical Garden. “He recognized the potential of the garden early on and the impact it could have on education, conservation and research for the university and across the state.”

Miller has supported campaigns for the International Garden, the Heritage Garden, the Flower Garden and the Alice H. Richards Children’s Garden, to name a few. He also supports the annual Gardens of the World Ball, the State Botanical Garden of Georgia’s annual fundraiser, and served as ball co-chair in 1989 with the late Eugene Younts, then the UGA vice president of Service.

“I’ve always liked gardening, I grew up with a mother that liked gardening, and nature is so critical to us for food and life,” Miller says. “It’s amazing how much work, time and effort goes into the garden, but it’s an incredible asset for Athens and what an asset for Georgia.

He most recently contributed to the campaign to build a formal entrance to the Alice Hand Callaway Visitor Center and Conservatory near the upper level parking lots, with an elevator to make the garden more accessible to people in wheelchairs or pushing strollers, or who just have trouble maneuvering stairs.

“When my wife developed arthritis, I became very aware of what it takes to get around,” he says. “It’s also important to me now, personally, since getting a knee replacement and experiencing what many people go through.”

Miller was among the first donors to the accessibility project, said Dr. Geoffrey Cole, who chairs the garden’s board of advisors.

“It’s not just about money, though—he commits to things,” Cole says. “He’s been dedicated to the garden since it started.”

As a unit of Public Service and Outreach, the garden is dedicated to providing a place for not only UGA students, but visitors across the southeast to discover the wonder of nature and the important roles it plays in life.





Leah Moss Public Relations Coordinator • 706-612-0063

Buford marketing firm gets an edge on the competition with help from UGA

Ten years ago, Alexandra Radford and Lauren Tatum were teenagers at a Gwinnett County high school where they shared common interests like fashion, friends and cheerleading.

Today, the two women still share interests but now those are graphic design, social media marketing and business operations at the small business they own together, the Edge Agency in Buford, Georgia.

There’s often also another party to the conversation: the UGA Small Business Development Center, a unit of UGA Public Service and Outreach. The mission of the SBDC is to strengthen small business through one-on-one consulting as well as with trainings and workshops.

Radford first turned to the SBDC when she launched her first business in 2016. A UGA graduate in consumer journalism, she felt comfortable working with consultants from UGA. SBDC consultants helped her get the Limited Liability Corporation status and a business license for her company, Edge Marketing Company, LLC.

At the time Tatum was running a separate company that handled marketing for small businesses, and the two friends referred clients back and forth to each other for different services.

“One day we said, why are we doing this? This is silly. We could join and do this together,” Tatum said. “So that’s what we did. We took our two small business and put them together.”

They turned back to the SBDC to help form the new business, the Edge Agency. The transition was much easier with SBDC assistance, Radford said.

Alexandra Radford and Lauren Tatum combined their two small businesses to form the Edge Agency.

“I remember talking to the SBDC about an operating agreement, but it wasn’t something I needed when it was just me. When Lauren and I [put our businesses] together, it was something we did need and I wouldn’t have known about it without the SBDC,” Radford said.

Benny StaRomana, an SBDC consultant in the Gwinnett office—one of 17 regional SBDC offices across the state—helped the women through a strategic plan for their consolidated business.

“I helped them develop a strategy to accelerate cash flow by focusing on markets that are most receptive to their unique strengths.” StaRomana said. “Our role at the SBDC is to look at the underlying foundation and fundamentals of the business, including how to improve sales, which is always a major goal especially for emerging businesses.”

Although Radford and Tatum are young, they understand and can help their clients understand communications, relationships and psychology—a unique advantage StaRomana helped them find.

“The Edge Agency will ask clients, ‘Who is your ideal customer?’ If it’s a boutique selling clothes to 22- to 39-year-old women, earning $60,000 and above with small families, they know how to relate that demographic information to a website and design choices,” StaRomana said.

In just over two years, the Edge Agency has grown to four employees with more than 20 clients located not just in Georgia but also internationally. Clients range from companies focusing on real estate, events, fitness and wellness, insurance and nonprofits, to even plumbing.

Tatum speaking on the Digital Marketing Panel at StartSmart™ with other participants.

Now, the women are in a place where they’re regularly invited to tell their story during SBDC training classes, like StartSmart™, for new businesses, and GrowSmart™, to help businesses expand. They also regularly refer clients and industry colleagues to the SBDC.

“I recently sent a friend who was debating buying a book of business (a list of someone else’s clients) to the SBDC,” Radford said. “My uncle is also debating opening a franchise, so I told him he had to go. I tell people, why would you not go? It’s free. I throw it out there every chance I get.”

“We still meet with Benny StaRomana once, or every other month. The best leaders are always learning,” Tatum said. “Our advice to other young entrepreneurs: keep learning.”


Leah Moss  Public Relations Coordinator • 706-612-0063


Retiring in style: former corporate executive realizes entrepreneurial dream in franchise ownership

Mark Day was sure he would be an entrepreneur. After graduating from the University of Georgia with a business degree, he planned to do two years of corporate work and then set off on his own. His success in the corporate world, though, prevented him from executing his dream right away.

“I started as a sales rep, then decided to get my MBA, which enabled me to move into multiple roles in marketing, product management and sales management,” he said. Day was promoted to global vice president and then to divisional vice president for Asia, Africa and the Middle East region, where he served 10 years.

Upon retiring, Day began looking at opportunities to buy a small business.  “After 35 years in the corporate world I decided I really wanted to do something entrepreneurial. I was not ready to do nothing, not yet.”

He was frustrated, though, in trying to acquire the right business. “They were over- or under-valued or had skeletons in the closet. I could not find a good stand-alone entity to acquire at my price level.”

Day came close to buying a seasonal equipment rental business in Seaside, Florida, but the seller ended up dragging his feet on the sale, so he walked away. In late 2016, he approached the DeKalb office of the UGA Small Business Development Center for help in analyzing his options. He had known business consultant Steve Newton since their undergrad days together at the University of Georgia.

“We talked about his Seaside experience, and I invited him to several SBDC training sessions,” said Newton, “but he was unable to attend. I took notes at broker Leslie Kuban’s class on owning a franchise and invited him to meet her.”

Kuban introduced Day to several new franchise businesses, and he found others through his contacts. He worked with Newton to analyze each for its potential.

“We’d look at industry trends, references and cash flow analyses for these businesses, anything we could do to help Mark see how each business would develop over time,” said Newton. “Finding the perfect fit is the challenge. Each business has its own unique characteristics, so you must dig through the financials and other data to see what makes it profitable. The numbers may look good, but that may depend on its owner’s charisma, which may not transfer to a new owner. Leadership is important.

“We also look at whether it’s scalable. Can it grow? Is it in a growing industry? We help our clients recognize that. We do not do business valuations, but we can help a buyer understand what a typical business in that industry may be valued at, based on certain guidelines like owners’ discretionary earnings, inventory levels, average sales and profits. In Mark’s case, he ended up purchasing the franchise that was the least difficult to analyze and the most difficult to operate.”

After doing what he called “a lot of brainstorming with Steve,” Day, during a six-week period beginning in October 2017, acquired nine Smart Style full service hair salon franchises located in Walmart Supercenters in outlying metro Atlanta counties.

“I was very close to signing on with another franchise but changed my mind when I realized the salons belong to Regis, the world’s largest haircare company, and are located in the world’s largest merchandiser, where foot traffic averages 5,000 people per day,” said Day. “And hair is recession-proof. Amazon can’t do it.”

Day now manages nearly 50 employees in the nine shops while keeping his profits steady. He has learned turnover and customer loyalty are big issues. He also admits he has developed a new understanding of business management.

“I learned quickly that operating your own business is a whole different animal. You are HR, finance and the fixit person. Everything falls on you,” he said. “Steve has owned a business, so I’ve always respected his logic. Quite frankly, just having the resources of the SBDC, and being able to use Steve as a sounding board, is the best resource. I tell everybody about the SBDC now.”

Vinson Institute training helped prepare Harris County leaders for March tornado

There was no storm on the horizon the day that Harris County Commissioner Harry Lange took a disaster preparedness class with the Carl Vinson Institute of Government.

But five months later, when a tornado churned through his west Georgia community, Lange and Harris County first responders had an up-to-date disaster response plan in place to guide their recovery efforts.

“My feeling was, ‘We know how to respond to this,’” Lange said. “We had reviewed the preparedness plan, updated it and we knew what bases we needed to touch.”

Lange had attended a Disaster and Emergency Preparedness class during a training conference presented by the Vinson Institute in partnership with the Association County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG).

The class inspired him to return home, dust off the existing Harris County disaster response plan, and spearhead an effort to update it, prioritizing response and recovery needs.

On March 3, a tornado ripped through Harris County, damaging homes and leveling thousands of trees. The county was prepared, Harris County Manager Randall Dowling said.

“I think that the response was smoother since the county had a recent update to its operation plan,” Dowling said.

Since the tornado flattened most of the trees in a newly completed park, county leaders quickly decided that area temporarily would serve as a storm debris drop-off site for cleanup crews and the public, Lange said.

A tornado damaged homes and uprooted trees in Harris County.

On May 29, Lange met with department heads and other commissioners to review their response to the emergency, to discuss what worked and what they can do better. They used that information to further update the county’s disaster response plan.

The daylong Disaster and Emergency Preparedness class is part of the Lifelong Learning Academy continuing education program that the Vinson Institute and ACCG provide for commissioners and other county government officials. The class is designed to help county leaders learn more about out how planning can improve disaster response, explore their roles and responsibilities, and offer practical guidance on post-disaster action steps, said Mara Shaw, leadership development program manager at the Vinson Institute.

“At the end of the day, (Lange) commented about how much he had learned about his role in an emergency situation and the homework he needed to do when he got back to Harris County,” Shaw said. “Then, he put his learning into action. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.”


Roger Nielsen Public Relations Coordinator • 706-542-2524

UGA teams up with Georgia Chamber for High Potentials Leadership program


UGA led 19 business and organization members of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce through a leadership program in May designed for employees with the potential to help address challenges in their communities.

It was the second annual High Potentials Leadership program, led by faculty from the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development.

Along with leadership training, participants also delved into public policy with faculty from the UGA Carl Vinson Institute of Government, learning about state demographics and local government. Meanwhile, leaders within the Georgia Chamber membership helped participants by providing practical advice and real-world professional experiences.

“I have learned so much, and I feel very fortunate to be a part of this program,” says McKenzie Lewis, director of Digital Media and Communications for the Georgia Association of Broadcasters. “Learning from other professionals and being able to talk with them about best leadership practices and how we can better engage with those in our community has been very beneficial to me.”

The High Potentials Leadership program is an example of how the Fanning Institute can tailor its leadership curriculum to meet the specific needs of an organization, said Fanning Director Matt Bishop.

“Unique leadership programs such as the High Potentials Leadership program can help communities and organizations engage their members and create a network of people with advanced leadership skills who are ready to contribute to a stronger state,” Bishop says. “We commend the Georgia Chamber for its commitment to developing leaders at all levels, and we are proud to support their efforts.”

By completing the program, graduates are equipped to address emerging opportunities and challenges facing their companies and their communities, said Chris Clark, president and CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.

“The most critical component to the long-term economic prosperity of Georgia is how we develop the next generation of servant leaders in the corporate community,” Clark says. “The High Potentials Leadership program was designed to position these leaders to find personal and service-oriented success.”

During the program, Fanning Institute faculty covered servant leadership through many lenses such as personal leadership styles, board governance, dialogue and examining one’s values and behaviors.

“The curriculum prepares graduates to better understand themselves as a leader and how to apply that knowledge both within their company and when representing their company in the community to help affect positive change,” says Brittany Adams-Pope, a public service assistant at the Fanning Institute.

The 2019 Georgia Chamber High Potentials Leadership program graduates are:

  • Abby Bradley, Pinewood Atlanta Studios
  • Camron Carden, Georgia Transmission Corporation
  • David Correa, Bank of America Merrill Lynch
  • Shaun Dodson, Georgia EMC
  • Chandler Faccento, Atlanta Braves
  • Kristen Fraser, Aflac
  • Toni Hannah, Georgia Power Company
  • Stephanie Hardy, AT&T
  • Joey Heath, Oglethorpe Power Company
  • Chris Hughes, JE Dunn Construction
  • Sydney Langdon, Turner
  • McKenzie Lewis, Georgia Association of Broadcasters
  • William Mann, Grant Thornton LLP
  • Ashley Mock, CBC Bank- Langdale Company
  • James Nixon, Meadows Regional Medical Center
  • Shannon O’Keefe, Abshire Public Relations
  • Kevin Parrish, Wells Fargo
  • Rachel Rhodes, Comcast
  • Sabrina Taylor, Delta Air Lines


Creating learners and leaders at the State Botanical Garden

Students volunteering at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia are doing far more than just checking off their UGA-mandated experiential learning opportunity, they are using what they learn to teach other students who follow in their footsteps.

As a Public Service and Outreach Faculty Fellow, James C. Anderson II created mentor leadership training materials for the State Botanical Garden’s Learning by LeadingTM program, aimed at empowering students and helping them become career-ready. The program starts with freshmen, bringing them into the garden to complete a series of leadership development activities and completing service projects over two semesters.

The next year, they coordinate the activities for the new incoming students. During the third semester they develop a signature project at the garden and connect with a mentor. Finally, they spend their last year as an apprentice or intern at the garden.

The PSO Faculty Fellowship has been a welcome change for Anderson, a faculty member in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

“A lot of what I do is very theoretical-based and academic,” he says. “Being able to tap into the experiential learning and service mission of the university is so important.”

Upon completion of Learning by Leading, students will have a vast experiential learning transcript—and feel more prepared to pursue science careers.

Projects vary. Students in the education department designed activities for different stations in the Alice H. Richards Children’s Garden. Volunteers lead children through the activities at each station as they tour the garden. At one station they dress up like birds and create bird nests.

The ultimate goal of Learning by Leading is to retain students in the areas in which they work in the garden so that they will consider pursuing careers in that field.

“By getting these experiences while they’re still learning, they will connect to mentors and want to pursue these careers,” Anderson says.

In his position at CAES, Anderson researches effective mentorship. At the State Botanical Garden he led staff through six leadership modules, to help them become capable and confident mentors. He plans to adapt these modules and present them as a faculty learning series across campus.

“It’s so critical we have student-faculty mentorships that are strong and effective,” said Leslie Edgar, department head of the Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication Department in CAES, where Anderson works. “Everything he’s doing at the garden fits beautifully into his research agenda. I think he’s able to use his focus and leadership abilities in ways he hadn’t thought of before—it leverages him to be an even better faculty member.”

The Public Service and Outreach (PSO) Fellowship Program provides departmental support for tenure-track and tenured professors to immerse themselves in the work of a PSO unit for one semester. The experience offers opportunities for fellows to enhance their academic courses, conduct research and apply their academic expertise to outreach initiatives. An anticipated outcome of the fellowship experience is the sustained involvement with Public Service and Outreach after the semester ends.


Leah Moss Public Relations Coordinator • 706-583-0964

Tackling trash—and public health—on the Georgia coast

We know picking up trash helps keep our environment clean, but could it also improve human health?

Jennifer Gay, an associate professor in the UGA College of Public Health, is studying the impact of volunteer litter cleanups on the environment and human health in coastal communities.

A UGA Public Service and Outreach Faculty Fellow, Gay is partnering with Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant to learn more about the amount or type of physical activity that occurs in coastal environments, or how the environment contributes to healthy lifestyles.

“Through this study, we want to engage people who are participating in litter debris cleanups to assess the amount of physical activity they’re getting and how much energy they’re expending during these events,” said Gay, who researches physical activity and public health.

As part of the study, Gay worked with Katy Smith, water quality program coordinator for UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, to figure out how to apply the study in the Golden Isles community. Smith, who leads education and outreach initiatives focused on marine debris topics, has strong connections to the volunteer community through partnerships with conservation organizations like Keep Golden Isles Beautiful and the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, which host volunteer cleanups throughout the year.

“I’m excited to see what type of data we capture,” Smith said. “We’ve got people out there cleaning the environment, but what else are they gaining? Hopefully we can use the data to get more people involved in conservation efforts.”

Smith is helping Gay survey people in Brunswick, St. Simons and Jekyll Island to understand how they perceive the coastal environment. They are recruiting volunteers to wear monitoring equipment that collects data on physical activity during cleanups. Those that agree to participate wear heart rate monitors and accelerometers that track frequency, intensity and duration of an activity, as well as step counts over a one- to two-week period.

Sharon Hindery, who worked in a medical laboratory for several years before retiring, jumped at the chance to participate in the study.

Eventually I’d like to see what the data shows, said Hindery, who is particularly interested in the heart rate data following a cleanup event.

“I imagine that would be some kind of an indicator of satisfaction. After the event is over, you sit back and realize what you’ve done. Maybe that is kind of calming. Who knows?” she said.

Hindery and her husband Rick have lived in Brunswick for six years. During that time, they have helped with several debris removal volunteer efforts, even adopting a section of Highway 17 that they are responsible for cleaning throughout the year.

“I always joke that it’s exercise with a purpose,” Hindery said. “I go out and I pull a bag or two of trash off the marsh or the side of the road, and I look back at it and I feel better.”

Next steps in the study involve recruiting more volunteers so the team has a larger set of data to assess. Smith hopes to bring in several volunteers ahead of the World Oceans Day Beach Sweep on June 8, hosted by Keep Golden Isles Beautiful and Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant and sponsored by Yamaha. More information is available here

Those interested in volunteering for the study are encouraged to reach out to Katy Smith at

After analyzing the data, the research team plans to develop educational outreach materials designed to engage people who are aren’t as active or involved in litter debris cleanups as a way to get them involved in physical activity and environmental stewardship.

The Public Service and Outreach (PSO) Fellowship Program provides departmental support for tenure-track and tenured professors to immerse themselves in the work of a PSO unit for one semester. The experience offers opportunities for fellows to enhance their academic courses, conduct research and apply their academic expertise to outreach initiatives. An anticipated outcome of the fellowship experience is the sustained involvement with Public Service and Outreach after the semester ends.


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

High-tech helps plan ahead for road improvements

The ability to predict problems with roads and bridges could help local and state governments make needed improvements before accidents occur, using technology being developed by a UGA engineering professor working in partnership with the Carl Vinson Institute of Government.

As a Public Service and Outreach (PSO) Faculty Fellow, Sung-Hee “Sonny” Kim, in the the School of Environmental, Civil, Agricultural and Mechanical Engineering at UGA’s College of Engineering, is using Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) to look beneath the surface of roadways in a non-invasive manner and assess their condition beyond what the naked eye can see. Once the GPR has scanned the road, Kim uses that information to predict how the roadways will deteriorate in the future, and when government agencies should plan on repairing them.

“This is a really great tool for local and state governments,” said Kim. “[They can use] that information to predict how much budget should be spent this year or next year or upcoming years depending on the [road conditions]. They can manage the funds to maintain the roadway systems.”

“Other technologies just look at the pavement surface condition only, but our technology uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to predict future conditions based on continuously monitored GPR test data.”

Using funding provided by PSO to the Faculty Fellow’s academic department, Kim was able to upgrade his GPR and install it on a truck, effectively increasing the speed at which he can measure roadways from 3 MPH to 65 MPH. He and his team then spent the past year monitoring 10 different one-mile sections of highway in Athens-Clarke County.

Through his collaboration with the Vinson Institute, Kim was able to input his roadway data into the institute’s Geographic Information System (GIS), creating an interactive map that allows users to select a section of road and see its current and predicted future state.

“What Sonny’s technology and expertise allows is for brilliant imaging of those assets and to be able to use that information in a way that they can then determine where they need to invest their money,” said Stephan Durham, associate professor and assistant dean for Student Success & Outreach at the College of Engineering.

Kim has already been in contact with the Georgia Department of Transportation, which wants him to use his research to begin scanning major highway systems in the state this year. If successful, Kim hopes to eventually develop a map for the entire state.

“We’re very lucky to have [Kim] as a faculty member,” said Durham. “He’s great for us, but also great for the university as a whole, especially with the work he’s doing now with PSO.”

The Public Service and Outreach (PSO) Fellowship Program provides departmental support for tenure-track and tenured professors to immerse themselves in the work of a PSO unit for one semester. The experience offers opportunities for fellows to enhance their academic courses, conduct research and apply their academic expertise to outreach initiatives. An anticipated outcome of the fellowship experience is the sustained involvement with Public Service and Outreach after the semester ends.


Aaron Cox Public Relations Specialist • 706-542-3631

Faculty in the College of Education and in Cooperative Extension named PSO Fellows


Faculty members from the College of Education and Cooperative Extension, in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, have been named Public Service and Outreach Faculty Fellows for 2019-20.

Darris R. Means, in Counseling and Human Development Services at the College of Education, will work with the Archway Partnership to study the tools, skills and resources that rural high school students need to prepare for college. The research is designed to help underserved populations—such as African American, low-income and first-generation college students from rural Georgia—succeed in higher education. Means’ studies, which include data collected from Pulaski and Candler counties, will be replicated and expanded to include more Archway Partnership communities so that the Archway professionals there can make data-informed decisions to improve educational attainment across the state.

Svoboda “Bodie” Vladimirova Pennisi, a full professor and UGA Cooperative Extension Specialist at the UGA Griffin campus, will work with the Small Business Development Center to implement online learning opportunities. Pennisi’s online business training module will be designed to help entrepreneurs and managers run a successful landscape management business by covering critical topics such as financials, marketing, cost estimating, employee retention and customer service, all catered to the landscape management field. In the future, the module will be used across UGA Extension and adopted for a new online class for undergraduate students. An experienced online educator, Pennisi will apply her horticulture and landscape expertise to help small businesses across Georgia.

Launched in 2011, the Faculty Fellows program provides professors with an opportunity to apply their research and course curriculum to the needs of a specific PSO unit. As a result of the program, departments across the university have a sustained relationship between the designated unit and the Faculty Fellows’ departments.

UGA brings coastal constituents together to discuss sustainable tourism


Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant has launched an initiative designed to promote the state’s 100 miles of shoreline to tourists, while protecting and sustaining the natural coastal environment.

A Coastal Georgia Tourism Conference in April at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens drew almost 100 people, including representatives from the Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD), Tybee Island, the Golden Isles (Jekyll Island, St. Simons and Sea Island), the UGA Carl Vinson Institute of Government, Troy University, nonprofit environmental groups like 100 Miles, and communities along the coast (Savannah, Darien, Brunswick and St. Marys) that depend on tourism for their local economy.

Attendees discussed a branding campaign for the entire coast, which would be in addition to, not in place of current branding for individual beaches and communities.

Jonathan Tourtellot, founder of the National Geographic Center for Sustainable Destinations, was the key note speaker for the daylong conference. Tourtellot warned that marketing the coastline to more tourists should be done carefully in order to sustain the beaches, saltmarshes, wildlife and native cultures.

“You cannot put an infinite number of tourists in confined spaces,” Tourtellot said. “Managing tourism and managing places are the same job.”

It would be hard to make up the revenue lost if there was no coastal tourism, because the tourism industry is the fifth largest employer in the state, said Cheryl Hargrove, director of industry and partner relations in the tourism division of GDEcD.

On average every household in Georgia would have to pay an additional $885 a year to replace the tourism taxes received by state and local governments in 2017, Hargrove said.

Mark Risse, director of the UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, said he had wanted to bring stakeholders along the coast together to discuss these issue for several years.

“All the things I thought a conference like this might be able to accomplish, I heard today,” Risse said.

Sponsors of the conference included Georgia Power, Georgia Grown and UGA Cooperative Extension. Attendees indicated in a survey that they would like to hold the conference on an annual basis.

Worth County home health and medical transport company owner gets financing and realizes growth with SBDC assistance


Sylvester entrepreneur Gwendolyn McDaniel would often call Karen Rackley for information or contacts to support her new businesses in home health care and non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT) services.

Rackley, the top executive for the Sylvester-Worth County Chamber of Commerce and the Worth County Economic Development Authority, would, in turn, suggest McDaniel call Rob Martin, a consultant in the Albany office of the University of Georgia’s Small Business Development Center. Every time.

McDaniel refused to make the call.

“I had worked in procurement for the Army and for Proctor & Gamble, and I knew a lot about how to run a business,” she said. “I refused, seriously, to sit down and take the time for the SBDC to help me be successful.”

Until, that is, she sat down with Martin.

“Gwen had been referred to us several times and did not want to do it. She kept putting it off,” Martin agrees. “Then the city made available a revolving loan fund (RLF) she could use to expand her businesses and buy a building. At that pivotal point, her landlord was going to sell her building. She wanted the building and needed three new vehicles. She came to us with five days left to apply for the loan.”

McDaniel had been looking for creative ways to finance her companies, PremiereCare @ Home and PremiereCare Transportation LLC, when she learned about two revolving loan funds – the one offered by the city of Sylvester, the other by Worth County.

“They were both about to lose the funds. No one had applied for them yet,” she said. She chose to pursue the Worth County funding.

The applications were lengthy.

“There were 18 items I had to submit along with my information,” McDaniel said. “They were looking for a business plan, profit and loss statement, cash flow pro forma and a personal guarantee, among others. I had to put it all together, and I had no clue. When I saw that, I knew I needed help.

“So I called Karen and said, ‘Tell me that name again?’”

McDaniel called Martin, and the next day they met for three hours to go over the application.

“Once we had that meeting, I wanted to jump over the table and hug him,” she said. “Rob set the foundation, making sure I understood everything I needed to do for the loan application.”

“We went over what her business plan looked like, and she needed to do her financial projections. Then we put together a rough draft,” said Martin. “We don’t write the plans, but we do show our clients what they need to focus on. I helped her leave with the structure of the plan, and she spent the night writing it. She had it to me the next morning to review and update.”

Within two days McDaniel completed the application, Martin said.

McDaniel had opened her companies in March and April of 2016 with one vehicle and about $1,800 in monthly sales revenues. Upon receiving the revolving loan fund, she purchased five more NEMT vehicles and her building. By June 2018, she was up to 11 vehicles and 12 employees servicing three major contracts. She plans to purchase three more NEMT vehicles, and her sales earnings will double from 2017 to six figures this year. She continues to apply for major contracts and plans to expand her NEMT services to provide rides 24 hours, seven days a week.

Martin encourages small business owners to seek SBDC support earlier than five days from a hard deadline, and he says McDaniel agrees, telling him, “‘If I’d come to you the first time I was referred to you, I’d be six months further down the road today.’”

“I don’t think Rob ever met anyone who fought against him like I did, and now I love him to death,” McDaniel said. “I have sent a few people to Rob, and now they’re doing well, too. You have to go to the SBDC to get that foundation.”

UGA works with Envision Athens on planning

Wesley Chenoweth felt alone when he was starting his business.

“As a startup, minority-owned business in Athens, I felt lost,” he said. “I didn’t know where to start or if I’d ever be able to grow my business like the successful ones I saw downtown.”

His company, Grizzly Delivery LLC, specializes in courier delivery, passenger transportation, non-emergency medical transportation and more. Chenoweth’s goal is for Grizzly to be the leading transportation company in Northeast Georgia in the next five years, but to get there, he needed support.

That’s how he found himself at Emergent: Launch and Learn, a training course offered by the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center, hosted by Envision Athens.

Envision Athens is a partnership between community and government leaders with the goal of creating a 20-year strategy for community and economic development in Athens-Clarke County. The organization is based on the idea of government and community working together, making comprehensive community planning more insightful, intuitive and inclusive.

“This is essentially the best of institutional capacity and grassroots activism combined,” said Erin Barger, project manager of Envision.

In February, the SBDC, a division of UGA’s Public Service and Outreach, worked with Envision to host a training program for business owners looking to grow their companies and potential owners looking for a starting point. Michael Myers and Bart Njoku-Obi, consultants at the SBDC, instructed upward of 50 participants on subjects from startup mechanics to writing a business plan to cashflow management.

The event was held at the Goodwill Career Center and supported by Athens-Clarke County Housing and Community Development and Economic Development offices, Enlightened Media, Athens Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Northeast Georgia Business Alliance.

Myers helped plan the training curriculum.

“Envision had business owners telling them what they’d like to see,” Myers said. “SBDC does training like this all the time across the state. We took the tools and presentations that we have and used them for this specific audience.”

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Business owners like Chenoweth benefit from the economic development focus of Envision. Other focuses include — but aren’t limited to — housing, education, social services and the environment.

The organization partners with larger entities like the University of Georgia, with partnership serving as the cornerstone for Envision Athens’ approach.

“The University of Georgia and Athens-Clarke County are linked. What is good for Athens-Clarke County is also good for UGA,” Barger said. “Any movement would be remiss to not include such a key stakeholder that is the lead employer in the county and also an institution that we look to for expertise in best practices. UGA leadership is key as we pursue our vision of reaching our full potential in Athens-Clarke County in unity, equity, prosperity and compassion.”

The goals of Envision are aspirational; the committee hopes to improve every aspect of Athens-Clarke County over the next two decades. In the meantime, events like the SBDC training are directly helping citizens like Chenoweth.

“It was like a breath of fresh air to see the networking taking place at the training. Entrepreneurs from all walks of life and industries were together, engaging, encouraging and uplifting each other,” he said. “I left with a feeling of inclusion within my community and a clear path to success for my business.”

By Kellyn Amodeo


Southeast Georgia organization honored at UGA leadership conference

The Lynda Brannen Williamson Foundation, based in Statesboro, Georgia, received the Innovations in Community Leadership Award from UGA’s J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development during its annual leadership conference in February.

The foundation was recognized for its focus on developing more female leaders in southeast Georgia.

“Following the vision of Lynda B. Williamson, the foundation created a unique program that empowers women in leadership and community engagement,” said Matt Bishop, director of the Fanning Institute. “Women who graduate from the academy are paying it forward and making a difference in the Statesboro area, and we proudly recognize those efforts with this award.”

The Innovations in Community Leadership Award recognizes individuals or programs that have moved beyond traditional community leadership programming through innovative practices, partnerships and activities that better serve participants and their communities.

“Through our partnership with the Fanning Institute, we have seen the positive effects of servant leadership training being carried out by our leadership academy participants wanting to make their community a better place by giving of their time, their gifts and their talents,” said Lisa Lee, president of the Lynda Brannen Williamson Foundation. “Receiving the Innovations in Community Leadership Award is both rewarding and humbling.”

Launched in 2015, the Lynda Brannen Williamson Foundation Women’s Leadership Academy, designed in partnership with the Fanning Institute, aims to encourage and prepare women to take leadership roles in southeast Georgia. The academy addresses leadership development through a woman’s lens, examining issues such as individual leadership styles, career development and work-life balance.

The award was presented during the Fanning Institute’s fourth annual Community Leadership Conference, held Feb. 28 – March 1 at the UGA Center for Continuing Education & Hotel.

The 2019 Community Leadership Conference

This year’s conference drew a record attendance of 150 people to Athens, Georgia, to participate in workshops and panel discussions on innovations, research and best practices in adult, youth and nonprofit leadership, centered around the theme “Engaging Leaders, Engaging Communities.” In addition, the conference featured sessions focused on rural community leadership.

“It was great to be surrounded by people who are just as passionate about leadership as I am,” said Molly Jackson, who represented Leadership Lumpkin and the Dahlonega-Lumpkin County Chamber of Commerce at the conference. “We’re going home rejuvenated with new ideas to use in our communities.”

In the conference’s keynote address, Doug Hooker, executive director of the Atlanta Regional Commission, said the world is changing rapidly and substantively, and effective leaders must fully engage with their communities to discover new perspectives, resources and connections necessary to adapt.

“Community engagement is a contact sport,” Hooker said. “You have to get out of your comfort zone, your natural places of doing things, your usual ways of meeting people in order to gain their trust and get a wider and broader set of data and information.”

According to Hooker, that means leaders must visit new places in their communities and speak with different groups of people.

“You must be willing to risk your view of the world and how it works if you want to learn other ways of seeing the world,” he said. “You have to be willing to push past your personal boundaries if you want credibility in leading your organization to push its collective boundaries. Making the effort to meet people where they are makes them more willing to join you where you are.”

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Along with the conference sessions, the 2019 CLC included pre-conference events on the Fanning Institute’s Youth Leadership in Action curriculum and coordinating adult community leadership programs.

“In order to respond to a constantly changing world, communities must establish a core of leaders committed and prepared to act to shape their futures,” Bishop said. “We were again honored to host the conference as a venue for attendees to engage with colleagues and experts and gain tools to build and sustain strong leadership development programming in their communities, and we look forward to continuing and expanding these efforts moving forward.”


Charlie Bauder Public Relations Coordinator • 706-542-7039

SBDC helps Chatham County business expand to address community need

Crystal Height began her career as a nurse practitioner. She became a small business owner when she learned her son had autism and found few professionals in Chatham County that could care for him or for others like him.

While working as a nurse practitioner and clinical director at a nonprofit community health center, Height developed professional-level credentials in the field of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) to provide a comprehensive level of care to children and adults with autism and other related conditions.

“I realized many families would benefit from the services of a local Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) who was invested in the community with a desire to provide a desperately needed service for children and adults with autism,” Height says.

Fully credentialed, she began her own business in Savannah, providing services to local families. She soon realized that the need for the services she provided was even greater than she had realized.

She also wanted to ensure she was setting up her organization in an ethical and legal manner.

Height turned to Lynn Vos, then-director of the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center office in Savannah. Vos helped Height set up her business, market it, and addressed questions about human resources, real estate and access to capital.

Vos connected Height with attorneys, accountants, and other business agents that would assist in creating a well-rounded organization.

Height opened Coastal Autism Therapy Center, Inc., in Pooler, Georgia, in June  2009, with a dozen clients and just one employee: herself. The business has grown steadily each year and now employs 17 people and serves about 50 clients.

Coastal Autism Therapy Center now provides services to families in Chatham, Bryan, Effingham, Long, McIntosh and Screven counties in Georgia, as well as Jasper and Buford counties in South Carolina.

In 2015, Height began working with SBDC consultant Becky Brownlee (now the director of the Savannah office) to expand her business plan and projections for the future. They worked together to develop a new business model to adjust for the rapid growth in business.

“The bankers wanted to see the numbers behind the expansion and if the business would have sufficient cash flow with the new debt services,” Brownlee says. She also helped Height search for a building with at least 6,000 square feet of space.

“Becky is instrumental to the center. She helped me realize that I needed a practice manager because I cannot do everything myself,” Height says. “She also helped with setting up interview strategies, discussed what our administration team should function like and how to project our growth over time and identify appropriate needs.”

“I really admire Crystal because she has evolved into such a smart business person,” Brownlee says. “She knows her clients and knows what the business will look like with the expansion. She has been very frugal, so she now has the financial capacity to expand.”

The center’s revenues have also grown consistently, but Height refuses to measure her success that way.

“I measure success by the number of kids we are able to help and the number of employees we are able to help grow into professionals,” she says. “Finances are just a fringe benefit.”

Height’s son, now 18, is working toward his high school diploma and future independence. Height says he continues to model the goals she has set for her business.

“Every child who receives our services receives the service I would provide him,” she says.

New class graduates from nonprofit leadership program at UGA

As executive director of the Atlanta Hospital Hospitality House, Melissa Ehrhardt had attended many leadership conferences and assumed they were all much the same.

The Executive Leadership Program for Nonprofit Professionals at the University of Georgia proved her wrong.

“I was beyond surprised and grateful to find that the UGA ELPNO was like nothing I had ever experienced before,” Ehrhardt said. “I learned more in one week at ELPNO of what is expected of me as an executive director than I had in a year at my job. I walked away with more confidence and excitement in what I get to do.”

Ehrhardt and 24 other nonprofit professionals from Georgia and neighboring states took part in the annual conference, held at the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, a unit of UGA Public Service and Outreach.

ELPNO is a partnership between the Fanning Institute, the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University, and the Institute for Leadership and Entrepreneurship at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

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The weeklong program explores national trends, best practices and frameworks for strategic leadership. Faculty from UGA and around the nation lead sessions on topics like governance, revenue development, financial stewardship, ethics and nonprofit leadership competencies.

“We gear the program content towards existing and emerging leaders in nonprofits who influence their organization’s mission, strategy, programming and policy,” said Julie Meehan, a Fanning Institute faculty member. “By developing their individual leadership skills and exploring the latest trends and tools in the nonprofit world, ELPNO graduates not only enhance their personal leadership abilities, they leave prepared to build stronger organizations.”

Board governance, financial training and fundraising are three topics that Ehrhardt said she would put into practice out of ELPNO.

“As a new executive director in the nonprofit world, all of those things were foreign to me,” she said. “I did not understand them or my role with them. I am excited to be able to implement the information I gained into my organization and help take us to another level. I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to attend ELPNO.”

In 11 years, over 250 nonprofit professionals representing more than 200 organizations have completed ELPNO.

“Connecting with other ELPNO alumni opens the door to resources, advice and perspective that benefits new graduates and those who completed the program years ago,” said Sayge Medlin, Fanning Institute faculty member. “That support just serves to help nonprofit leaders grow even more.”


Program graduates for 2019, their nonprofits and hometown, include:

  • Glorivee Cruz-Velazquez, Goodwill of North Georgia, Decatur
  • Melissa DaSilva, Jewish Family and Career Services, Atlanta
  • Melissa Ehrhardt, Atlanta Hospital Hospitality House, Atlanta
  • TeCori Elder-Scott, 3DE, LLC, Clarkston (Dekallb county)
  • Jack Gafford, Gratitude America, Temple
  • David Garcia, The Mission Continues, Decatur
  • Lyndsy Greene, After-School All-Stars, Atlanta
  • Jeff Homan, Georgia Charter Schools Association, Griffin
  • Scott Johnson, The Warrior Alliance, Sandy Springs
  • Nina Johnson, J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, Athens
  • Angela Kiminas, Hands On Thomas County, Thomasville
  • Bettina Lyons, Hephzibah Behavioral Health Services, Macon
  • Albert Masland, Jr., Travis Manion Foundation, Raleigh, North Carolina
  • Randy McCall, Healthy Savannah, Savannah
  • Paul Miller, Goodwill of North Georgia, Decatur
  • LaTonda Milner, Georgia Humanities Council, Atlanta
  • Crystal Nasir, KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program), Atlanta
  • Tenise Newberg, Camp Sunshine, Decatur
  • Paula Scotman, New American Pathways, Inc., Grayson
  • Maya Selber, Jewish Kids Group Foundation, Atlanta
  • Anna Suarez, Harry Chapin Foodbank, Fort Myers, Florida
  • Tarin Tripp, Hope Haven, Athens
  • Jarrad Turner, The Warrior Alliance, Sandy Springs
  • Youlanda Upkins, YMCA of Metro Atlanta – Early Childhood Development Company, Atlanta
  • Janet Walden, Hall/Dawson CASA, Gainesville

The application period for ELPNO 2020, which will take place from Jan. 12–17, 2020, opens on June 1.


Charlie Bauder Public Relations Coordinator • 706-542-7039

UGA Leadership Program Helps Boost Women into Top Roles in Rural Georgia Community


One of the first priorities of the Pulaski County Archway Partnership was to identify new and emerging leaders in the community.

Today, just nine years after the Pulaski Tomorrow Leadership Program began, women are holding top leadership positions in the county for the first time.

Jenna Mashburn, elected Pulaski’s sole county commissioner in November, Sara Myers, Hawkinsville City Manager, and Christina Ruiz, manager of the Hawkinsville Hollingsworth & Vose manufacturing plant, are the first females in Pulaski County to hold each of these positions.

“I’ve been interested in running for commissioner for a number of years and my involvement in Pulaski Tomorrow was actually a strategic piece in that plan,” Mashburn said. “It gave me the opportunity to become involved with community leadership and the Archway executive committee and to learn from the challenges that surfaced as needs for Pulaski County’s government.”

Pulaski Tomorrow began in 2010, facilitated by faculty from the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development. Both Archway and Fanning are UGA public service units.

“Pulaski Tomorrow has provided a doorway for a diverse group of people to obtain leadership positions within our community,” said Shelly Berryhill, executive committee chair of the Pulaski County Archway Partnership. “We have had an influx of younger people. People of multiple races and genders are now filling up leadership positions that have seemed unobtainable in the past. By having people that may approach problems differently, we are able to be presented with multiple solutions to problems rather than the same old tired solutions.”

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Twenty-one adults participated in Pulaski Tomorrow in 2010. Since then more than 100 Pulaski adults and about 150 youth participants have graduated from the program.

“My current role as plant manager requires that I manage and lead all types of people,” said Ruiz, who worked for Hollingsworth & Vose for almost 13 years before becoming plant manager. “I often recall the experience from Pulaski Tomorrow as I handle various situations.”

Leadership must be grown from the ground up, not from the top, said Jessica Walden, an expert in communications strategy and co-business owner of Rock Candy Tours in Macon.

“Georgia is a better place when leadership programs strive to expand the understanding of our own communities and how our sense of place, and purpose, fits into our state’s overall socioeconomic well-being,” Walden said. “That’s when the gaps of Georgia are bridged, and we discover innovative, progressive solutions to our issues and opportunities.”

Myers worked in administration in healthcare before she became Pulaski County clerk in 2011 and later city manager. In that larger role, it was important for her to understand that individuals don’t all learn the same way.

“In my current position, I have employees who all learn differently,” she said. “It’s up to me as a leader to provide them with the necessary learning tools that will enable them to perform their job tasks to the best of their ability.”


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Rob Gordon Archway Partnership Director • 706-542-3268


SBDC-assisted company helps clean up explosives


Mining, construction, the oil industry and other civil uses account for about 90 percent of the explosives manufactured globally. The defense industry uses about 10 percent. All have a similar need: to eliminate the threat of explosive byproducts and those no longer in use.

UGA geology Professor Valentine Nzengung helps bases eliminate these threats using a chemical product that dissolves, neutralizes and destroys explosives without causing an explosion. Nzengung developed the product through his business, MuniRem Environmental, which manufactures and sells it to commercial explosive manufacturing facilities and military bases. His market is expanding to serve nongovernmental organizations.

You contaminate the air, soil and water when you blow up explosives to dispose or destroy them.— Valentine Nzengung

Nzengung started his business in a UGA Small Business Development Center incubator in 2001. UGA granted the license to commercialize his technology in 2007. UGA’s Innovation Gateway incubator hosted MuniRem Environmental from 2015 to 2016, when he relocated the business in Gwinnett County. He continued seeking help from the SBDC throughout the process.

“I’ve built a very close relationship with the SBDC as we’ve continued working over the years in different areas of business growth and development,” he said.

For example, after selling his technology to domestic customers for several years Nzengung was asked to export his product to a Canadian company under contract with the Canadian government. He turned to the UGA SBDC for help.

Rick Martin, director of the SBDC’s International Trade Center, helped him review the agreement and steered him to the Export Georgia workshop, which introduced him to all aspects of the exporting process. Martin connected Nzengung to a free program that provides legal advice on exports and brought in SBDC consultant Darrel Hulsey to offer guidance on potential sources of export financing that would help his organization grow.

“The main thing MuniRem, and all small exporters, must do is their homework and engage international resources to help them with the process,” Martin said. “To their advantage, in Georgia, our trade resources communicate with each other so we can bring in the information and support needed for any company.”

MuniRem successfully expanded into Canada. It also received a 2017 GLOBE (Georgia Launching Opportunities by Exporting) Award from the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s International Trade Division, for MuniRem’s expansion into Australia, Israel, South Africa and South Korea. It is also in Taiwan.

“We recently received a competitive Atlanta Metro Export Challenge grant for more international business development,” Nzengung said. “We intend to use it to go into Southeast Asia to train humanitarian organizations to use our products in supporting their demining work.”

Sales have doubled every year and are now in the seven figures. Employment varies with each project, depending on the number of highly skilled ordinance disposal technicians needed.

“There are still times when I need information or resources related to business development, so I call someone at the SBDC,” said Nzengung. “The SBDC is the place to go.”