UGA map helps state leaders distribute federal money for broadband expansion

Nearly a year after unveiling a groundbreaking map that showed far more Georgians than previously thought were without broadband access, the University of Georgia  has helped the state distribute more than $400 million in grants to bring faster and more reliable internet service to communities throughout the state.

“The (UGA) Carl Vinson Institute of Government has been an incredible partner in the mapping and grant effort,” said Jessica Simmons, deputy chief information officer for broadband and special projects at the Georgia Technology Authority.

The broadband projects, funded by the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), will affect nearly 184,000 locations in 70 counties, with approximately 132,000 of those locations currently unserved by broadband, according to state data.

Final numbers, which will indicate how many locations the grants will serve, should be available soon, Simmons said.

The map, created by UGA for the State of Georgia Broadband Initiative, became the national gold standard for its accuracy in identifying populations in Georgia unserved by high-speed internet. Unlike maps produced by the Federal Communications Commission, which consider a census block served if only one address has access to broadband, the UGA map identified unserved and underserved locations down to the address.

“Your average home has two and a half people, based upon the U.S. Census Bureau, so you can pretty much extrapolate that this is going to have a major impact on a large population of the state of Georgia,” said Eric McRae, associate director of information technology outreach services at UGA’s Vinson Institute.

In February, Gov. Brian Kemp announced $408 million worth of grant awards to fund 49 broadband projects for communities, households and businesses across Georgia. During the selection process, decision-makers relied heavily on UGA’s broadband map as well as other map data produced by McRae and David Holcomb, the institute’s enterprise spatial data infrastructure manager.

While it helped the committee check the accuracy and cost-effectiveness of proposals, UGA’s broadband map also gave community leaders and internet service providers crucial data for the grant application.

The Carl Vinson Institute of Government map shows where broadband access is limited through much of Georgia.

Jason Smith, chief operating officer for Ellijay Telephone Company, says engineers used the map to verify locations in the field and “more or less built all of our applications around the most current data that was available.” The broadband provider will be part of ARPA projects in the North Georgia counties of Gilmer, Pickens, Dawson, Fannin and Cherokee—among the rural areas of the state that are the primary focus of the broadband initiative.

“I think (the map) was extremely valuable, just because of the fact that it allowed us to know that we had a pretty clean application,” Smith said.

One of those applications helped the Gilmer Pickens Joint Development Authority obtain nearly $21.4 million in ARPA grants to build out service to almost half of about 10,000 unserved locations in the two counties. More broadband expansion funding is in place through additional federal grants from the FCC and U.S. Department of Agriculture. The FCC’s Rural Development Opportunity Fund has awarded $326 million that will bring broadband service to nearly 180,000 unserved locations in rural Georgia communities.

Preliminary calculations from the UGA Vinson Institute indicate that in 2022, 4.9 million Georgia locations will be considered served by high speed internet, with about 455,000 still unserved. By 2026, when the ARPA and other federal grant projects are expected to be completed, only 205,000 locations will remain unserved, according to state data.

“It’s really going to make a huge impact,” Simmons said.

McRae said the map work exemplifies UGA’s commitment to public service and outreach in the state and puts Georgia at the national forefront of broadband expansion.

“I think what it says is that having access to mapping scientists and data scientists from UGA basically put Georgia well ahead of the curve of other states because it allowed us access to this information like nobody else had,” he said. “And so, basically, what it did is it just once again proved the whole purpose of the [UGA] land-grant mission.”


Roy Parry Senior Writer • 706-542-3631


Eric McRae Associate Director of Information Technology Outreach Services • 706-542-3442

Hand-crafted brightly lit animals delight children and adults at UGA’s first winter light show

Eight whimsical creatures are stirring up magical memories at the UGA State Botanical Garden during the inaugural Winter WonderLights event that runs through Jan. 9.

Created by local artists using welded metal and thousands of dazzling lights, a cardinal, a unicorn, polar bear, penguin, bluebird, goldfinch, giraffe and elephant dot the landscape along the half mile path of the show, which is presented by the Office of the President of the University of Georgia.

Local metalwork company St. Udio made the metal frames for the animals, and local artist Chris Taylor wrapped the sculptures using holiday lights and zip ties.

Caty Swanson, the lead vent hood fabricator at St. Udio, built most of the animals, working off of sketches she made from looking at photos of the animals, said Mike Harboldt, who owns St. Udio. She used machines like a compact bender and hand roller to sculpt the metal into the shapes she needed to create the animal forms and welded the pieces together, he said.

“She built all of the animals, so any life those animals have really came from her,” Taylor said. “I can’t emphasize what an amazing job she did. Every time I went to go pick one up [before installing the lights] I was just floored at how beautiful, they were works of art in and of themselves.”

Taylor started working on the animals in August, and installed the giraffe and finished the unicorn the day the light show opened, on Dec. 1.

“We are grateful that St. Udio and Chris Taylor worked so hard to create the animal sculptures for Winter WonderLights,” said Jenny Cruse-Sanders, director of the State Botanical Garden. “The animals add so much fun and light to the show, especially to the children’s garden.”

All the individual lights on the animals are zip-tied onto the frames. Each animal has at least 2,000 lights. Taylor said the giraffe and the polar bear both have the most lights, 5,600 lights each, or the equivalent of 28 boxes of string lights.

Taylor said you can’t find any information about how to wrap holiday lights onto sculptures like these, he had to figure it out on his own, and the learning process involved a lot of trial and error.

“I cut a few wires and got shocked a couple of times,” Taylor said. “I learned a lot about LED lights, I think we all did.”

He said it took at least 12 hours to wrap each animal in lights, but a better idea of the time spent on the animals may be how many movies and TV shows he watched while making them.

“The polar bear, I watched the entire series of The League, the elephant I watched almost all nine seasons of Seinfeld,” Taylor said.

Taylor worked with the designers of the show on the colors for the animals. He decided that the unicorn should have a rainbow mane, tail and horn, and the penguin should be purple with orange lights.

“It was very collaborative, everybody that worked on it, we all worked together,” said Taylor, who spent 17 years as the director of art for the UGA Terry College of Business.

“That Hairy Dawg picture with the penguin, that meant a lot to me. That was really, really special. He’s got his head cocked, and the penguin’s got its head cocked, and to know that I became part of the face of this whole thing, I couldn’t have asked for anything more,” Taylor said.

Hairy Dawg checks out the penguin sculpture that’s part of Winter WonderLights. (PHOTO: Shannah Montgomery/PSO)

He added that it has been a thrill to see the animal sculptures in the garden. “Knowing that so many people will see it has been a little daunting. I’ve had shows before, but I’ve never had this many people.”

“We are now a part of all these kids’ memories, forever. If this continues, there will be kids in Athens that will be coming back to this for years and probably bringing their kids 15 years from now. That’s very powerful,” Taylor said.

For more information about Winter WonderLights and to purchase tickets, which are only sold online, visit


Laurel Clark Public Relations Coordinator • 706-542-6014

Public Service & Outreach COVID-19 Resources


Athens healthcare employees weren’t finding time to eat. UGA made it easier for them.

Healthy food for healthcare workers. That’s a new initiative for the UGA Campus Kitchen program, which has expanded its operations during the COVID-19 crisis to provide nutritious snacks and quick meals for employees at Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center.

Every Tuesday for the past three weeks, Shannon Brooks has loaded her car with a variety of quick meals—trays of veggies, hummus, cheese, fresh chips and salsa, prepared by employees at the UGA Center for Continuing Education & Hotel—to deliver to the hospital.

The prepared platters of food are meant to provide hospital staff — everyone from ICU nurses to the cleaning crew — with an energy boost while also serving as a ‘thank you’ for their hard work.

“It just seems like the more we can support our healthcare workers, that to me is the point of your whole community,” said Brooks, director of the Office of Service-Learning, which houses Campus Kitchen, a student-run food program for food insecure families in Athens. “We just want them to know that UGA is in it with them. We honestly just do it out of concern for their wellbeing, because they’re certainly working for ours right now.”

A volunteer wearing a protective face mask and gloves loads boxes of food into his car.

Steve Brooks, husband of OSL Director Shannon Brooks, loads boxes of food into his car to deliver to Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center. (PHOTO: Shannah Montgomery/PSO)

The coronavirus pandemic has led to a flurry of partnerships in Athens, with UGA working alongside other public organizations and the private sector to address food insecurity throughout the community. Campus Kitchen is sending its excess food to Manny Stone, director of the culinary arts program at the Athens Community Career Academy. He is partnering with Athens Chef Peter Dale to cook meals and provide groceries to Clarke County School District employees and Athens food service workers who have recently become unemployed. Campus Kitchen also is providing weekly meals to three families served by the Athens Area Homeless Shelter.

“Our goal right now is to make sure any food we receive finds a home in a food assistance program or goes to workers like healthcare workers who need food to come to them,” Brooks said.

The food deliveries to Piedmont Athens Regional began after Brooks learned that the increasing workloads for the center’s staff was making it harder for them to break away to get to the cafeteria.

“A lot of these units, they don’t feel like they can leave the floor and go down to our cafeteria,” said Libby Hayes, senior human relations generalist at Piedmont Athens Regional. “So, the fact that we’re bringing food to them is just a game changer. The UGA group has just been phenomenal with what they’ve delivered. It’s absolutely kept our staff going. I can’t say enough positive things about how generous they’ve been.”

Meals for Piedmont Athens Regional are being prepared by a skeleton crew operating Campus Kitchen without student volunteers, who are no longer on campus. About 10 Office of Service-Learning employees and volunteers have maintained the weekly program, providing prepared meals and bags of food to more than 50 local families, most of them grandparents raising their grandchildren.

A Georgia Center chef

Chef Luke Simmons prepares healthy meals in the UGA Center for Continuing Education & Hotel kitchen for use in Campus Kitchen deliveries. (PHOTO: Shannah Montgomery/PSO)

Other UGA units have added support. The State Botanical Garden of Georgia and UGArden provide fresh produce. Employees in the Office of Service-Learning pick up the produce and additional food donated by Trader Joe’s, Nothing Bundt Cakes and the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia and deliver it to the Georgia Center. There, Georgia Center food service employees prepare meals and trays of food in the center’s kitchen before it is stored in coolers at the UGArden for later delivery.

“We’re only able to do this because we have the Campus Kitchen operation,” Brooks said. “It’s really because we have these new partnerships in place and we’re able to take on some requests that we’re getting from the community.”

Luke Simmons, a special events chef at the Georgia Center, was eager to help healthcare workers in Athens after learning about his sister’s own food struggles while working as a nurse in South Georgia.

“At the end of the day, you walk out of there feeling like you did something better than normal,” said Simmons, who creates the food trays delivered to Piedmont Athens Regional. “When you get done [working] a banquet, you’re glad everyone is happy and fed, but this is actually helping the community. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”

If you would like to join Campus Kitchen in serving families in our community during this time, a gift of any size will have an impact and be gratefully received.



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


Shannon Brooks Office of Service-Learning Director • 706-202-2013

Undergraduate students head out on the second annual Great Commitments Student Tour of Georgia

The Great Commitments Student Tour of Georgia hit the road today, with 34 University of Georgia undergraduate students spending their spring break on a week-long trip around the state – learning firsthand how UGA is making a difference in Georgia communities.

Ranging from the north Georgia mountains to the coast, stops on this year’s tour include Amicalola State Park, the state Capitol and Martin Luther King Jr. Center in Atlanta, the City of Senoia, Hardy Farms, the Pinpoint Heritage Museum, and the Augusta Cyber Institute.

Coordinated by Public Service & Outreach and the Division of Student Affairs, the second annual tour is based on PSO’s popular New Faculty Tour, which introduces new faculty to the state each August. It is specifically designed to help students gain a real world understanding of the university’s land- and sea-grant mission and see how UGA is working towards its commitment of healthier people, stronger communities, and a more secure future.

The five-day tour, which is sponsored by the Office of the President and is free to all students selected to participate, also provides students an opportunity to network and develop relationships with their peers, who represent 10 different colleges and departments from across the university.

Albany-Dougherty County launches workforce development initiative

Dozens of area leaders gathered in downtown Albany on a February morning to officially kick-off Albany-Dougherty County Works!, a comprehensive workforce development initiative facilitated by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government.

Developed by a steering committee of 20 community leaders in collaboration with the Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission (EDC) and the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce, the initiative is designed to help strengthen the area’s workforce development by aligning the business and educational efforts of the community.

The Institute of Government team helped collect and analyze the feedback of more than 100 community members, including students, educators, employers, and job seekers. They also provided additional data comparing Albany to its peers in both the state and region.

“Like many communities, we used to be much more siloed in terms of our approach to community development and economic development and leading this community forward,” said Bárbara Rivera Holmes, president and CEO of the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce, and a member of the University System Board of Regents. “Now we’re much more collaborative, much more geared towards partnerships and asking for help when we need it or extending the arm to say this is something we could do better together.”

Steering committee members David Castellano- Manager, Hamilton Relay (L) and Michael McCoy, Dougherty County administrator, discuss next steps after the launch event.

The initiative focuses on the necessary steps to establish a skilled, local workforce – a key ingredient for attracting new jobs, supporting existing businesses, and strengthening the community. It establishes both short- and long-term strategies to accomplish that goal, with a focus on three key priorities: Community Connection and Coordination, Youth Pipeline Development, and Continued Adult Preparation.

“Through the feedback we received from the community and the steering committee, we learned that the community already has numerous workforce development assets that are all doing good work,” said Greg Wilson, a workforce development and economic analysis manager for the Institute of Government. “This initiative is designed to help get everyone on the same page and pulling in the same direction.”

The area already has lots of good jobs, with the potential for more according to Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital CEO and steering committee member Joe Austin. The initiative will help inform existing job seekers of what’s available, while also helping to develop the workforce necessary for the future.

“If we continue to let our kids in junior high and high school know that if you stay local and get your education, that there’s going to be a job when you finish, why would they choose to leave?” Austin said. “We’ve got to make ourselves magnetic as a community. We’ve got to teach them early why they should want to stay home and work.”


Aaron Cox Public Relations Coordinator • 706-542-3631


Greg Wilson Carl Vinson Workforce Development & Economic Analysis Manager • 706-542-6271

Christina Allen-Wise wins PSO Employee Spotlight Award for work with Fanning Institute

Christina Allen-Wise, a program operations coordinator with the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, was surprised with the Public Service and Outreach Employee Spotlight Award on February 5 during the Community Leadership Conference luncheon.

Allen-Wise, who helps coordinate the CLC for the Fanning Institute, was busy working to make sure the conference was running smoothly and had to be coaxed into the luncheon for her surprise award.

“The best way to sum up everything Christina does is the fact that we kept trying to get her in here for the surprise, and she kept trying to work,” said PSO Vice President Jennifer Frum. “She helped make this conference happen and is critical to the success of the Fanning Institute.”

The fourth winner of the PSO Employee Spotlight Award, Allen-Wise has worked with the Fanning Institute since 2015, where she coordinates numerous leadership conferences including the CLC and Locate South Georgia Leads. She also added the Vivian H. Fisher PSO Leadership Academy to her responsibilities in 2019.

Fanning Institute Director Matt Bishop personally nominated Allen-Wise for the award.

“Whether it is preparing refreshments for a program or assisting faculty with budgeting and contracting programs, Christina plays a vital role in ensuring the institute promptly and effectively responds to clients to ensure they receive the best program experience possible,” Bishop wrote in his nomination. “She always ensures that programs run smoothly, the clients and participants have a positive experience and the institute faculty are supported in every way possible to allow them to focus on their work.”

The Employee Spotlight Award was created as a way to acknowledge and celebrate the achievements and contributions of PSO employees throughout the year. The award highlights employees who go above and beyond their normal responsibilities, who produce outstanding work and who contribute significantly to the strategic mission of the division.

Any full or part time employee of the Office of the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach, the eight PSO units, and the Atlanta economic development office are eligible for the award. Employees can nominate themselves or someone else.

For more information or to nominate someone for the award, go to

Walton County high school honored at Fanning Institute leadership conference

Walnut Grove High School in Loganville, Georgia, was honored by UGA with the 2020 Innovations in Community Leadership Award for its success in implementing a leadership curriculum that has led to higher graduation rates and greater student engagement.

The award was presented to Walnut Grove High School Principal Sean Callahan by the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development during the institute’s annual Community Leadership Conference Feb. 5.

Walnut Grove began implementing the Youth Leadership in Action curriculum, developed by Fanning, in 2015. The school’s graduation rates increased from 78.3 percent in 2013-14 to 93.6 percent in 2018-19. The state average is 82 percent.

“I think this approach and our partnership with the Fanning Institute not only gives students a voice and makes Walnut Grove High School a better place, it builds a legacy that will continue for Walnut Grove for years to come,” Callahan said in accepting the award. “This is a real honor for our school. This project is a school commitment to our students and our community as well.”

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.

PSO Vice President Jennifer Frum talks with representatives from Walnut Grove High School during the 2020 Community Leadership Conference.

PSO Vice President Jennifer Frum (L) talks with representatives from Walnut Grove High School during the 2020 Community Leadership Conference.

Also during the conference, Fanning Institute Director Matt Bishop announced a new Innovations in Community Leadership Initiative (ICLI), that will provide resources to underserved communities and organizations across Georgia that aspire to begin, restart or revamp a leadership program.

“Communities that provide leadership development opportunities for its citizens, across all ages, have a competitive advantage in attracting investment and opportunities for the community,” Bishop said. “Recognizing the correlation between leadership development and economic vitality, this initiative will help communities and organizations leverage the Fanning Institute’s leadership development expertise to create and implement solutions to community challenges.”

Projects the ICLI could support include community-focused, skills-based programming that focuses on community and civic engagement; leadership development for underserved populations within a community; programming that enhances workforce vitality; leadership programs that enhance student opportunities and leadership skills; entrepreneurial leadership development; or multi-county, regional leadership development programming.

This year’s conference, “Together. Serve. Transform.” drew about 120 people to Athens to participate in workshops and panel discussions on innovations, research and best practices in adult, youth and nonprofit leadership.

“This is my third time attending the Community Leadership Conference, and it was a great experience,” said Tommie Beth Willis, president of the Moultrie-Colquitt County Chamber of Commerce. “The breakout sessions were right on point with what I needed professionally and what our community needed for our leadership program.”

For more information in the ICLI, including deadlines for application, go to


Charlie Bauder Public Relations Coordinator • 706-542-7039


Matt Bishop Fanning Institute Director • 706-542-6201

Garden celebrates its 50th anniversary with flame azalea exhibit

An exhibition of artists’ representations of the Southern flame azalea—the State Botanical Garden’s signature plant for its 50th anniversary— will be on display in the Visitor Center through April 27.

Twenty local artists were invited to contribute paintings, photographs, drawings and other art that reflects their own unique styles. The artworks were donated by the artists and are for sale, with proceeds going to support the State Botanical Garden of Georgia at UGA.

The Southern flame azalea, known for its pleasant fragrance and fiery colors, is native to Georgia and grows throughout the entire state. The plant will be available for purchase at the garden’s gift shop.

The State Botanical Garden of Georgia, a unit of the University of Georgia’s Office of Public Service and Outreach, this year celebrates 50 years of serving the citizens of Georgia. The garden attracts more than 230,000 visitors each year. With walking trails, garden displays and educational initiatives, the State Botanical Garden of Georgia is dedicated to inspiring, educating and conserving.

The Southern Flame Azalea

Veteran city leaders and newly elected officials from Jackson County participate in municipal government training at UGA

Jan Webster was a new Nicholson City Council member when she first attended the Newly Elected Municipal Officials Institute at the University of Georgia several years ago.

Over two days, she learned about planning and zoning, city finances, ethics and legal issues, such as the state’s open meetings law, among many other things.

“I walked out going, ‘Oh my goodness, what have I gotten myself into,’ ” said Webster, now in her first term as mayor of Nicholson, which is located in Jackson County.

But, she said she also left with a lot of good advice, relationships with fellow city officials across Georgia, and a promise from UGA Carl Vinson Institute of Government and the Georgia Municipal Association that they would help her if she needed it.

Since then, she has accumulated hours of additional training on specific topics related to small town governance.

“Every time, I come back with something I can hand down to the city,” Webster said.

Mandated by state law in 1990, the Georgia General Assembly directed UGA and the GMA to introduce new officeholders to the legal, financial and ethical responsibilities of city officials. Besides exploring their roles and responsibilities, first-term officials study government finance and budgeting, land use, and staff relations to fulfill the six-hour training minimum set by law.

More than 250 new city officials attended the training held at the UGA Center for Continuing Education & Hotel on Feb. 16 and 17. A second Newly Elected Municipal Officials Institute will be held in Tifton in March.

Richard Parr, elected to his first term as a council member in the City of Maysville, attended the February training in Athens.

Parr decided to run for city council as he approached his retirement from Jackson County emergency management last year.

“I’ve lived here 50 years; this is my home,” Parr said. “I want to be able to give back to my city.”

The training, he says, provides him a basic understanding of city government, “what we can and can’t do.”

“I’ve seen a lot of things done I didn’t agree with. I want to get in there and do something about it.”

Webster says her training has taught her that some things the city might consider simply aren’t feasible. Like having a municipal police department or a city court, which was something the Nicholson City Council was discussing several years ago.

They dismissed the idea after learning that they would have to hire a defense attorney, an interpreter and a clerk of court, and pay for all of their training.

“It wasn’t ‘let’s just go hire an attorney to be a judge,’ ” Webster said.

Other tasks were easier to accomplish. After she attended a training session on parks and recreation, she began work on a plan to improve outdoor recreation opportunities for city residents.

Nicholson now has an improved walking trail and a fitness park.

“I thought parks were swings and a slide,” Webster said. “Training gets you into things you might not ordinarily do.”

In addition to her own training, Webster encourages city employees to take classes through the Institute of Government and GMA “anytime they can go, whenever they can fit it into their schedules,” she said.

“It’s money well spent.”



Kelly Simmons,, 706-542-2512



Laura Meadows,, 706-542-6192

Veteran city attorney and freshman elected official sharpen skills at UGA governmental training

Even after almost 40 years as a city attorney for the Polk County towns of Cedartown and Rockmart, Mike McRae admits to learning something fresh each time a rookie city council member returns from the Newly Elected Officials Institute at the University of Georgia.

He expects no different this year when Cedartown’s newest commissioner, Jessica Payton, heads home from Athens after her training Feb. 16-17. (Payton is a city official; Cedartown calls its town board members commissioners.)

The training is a partnership between UGA’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government and the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) and has introduced incoming city leaders to best practices in local governance since 1984.

Over two days, mayors and councilmembers study policy-making, finance and related topics to better understand city government and fulfill the state’s six-hour training requirement for new officeholders. Up to 450 new officials will attend one of two events in Athens and Tifton this year.

A partner at the McRae, Smith, Peek, Harman and Monroe, LLP law firm, McRae is called on to present at the annual program often and was a keynote speaker on ethics for municipal officials at the training in Athens. He also authored and co-founded GMA’s Model Code of Ethics.

“There are three parts of the larger Carl Vinson Institute and GMA training that are critical for newly elected officials,” McRae said. “The most important part to me is governance. If you’re dysfunctional as a government and you don’t govern yourself accordingly, then you’ve got major problems trying to get anything done within your municipality.”

Setting policy and budgeting public funds are other critical sessions for a new city council member or mayor.

Payton, a Cedartown native, single mother and certified neuromuscular therapist, owns Balanced Movement studio in Rome and says she ran for the open commissioner’s seat upon encouragement from friends and other citizens.

Her key takeaways from the Newly Elected Officials Institute are the skills she needs to communicate better with the citizens of Cedartown and to find ways to make the community better.

“As a non-politician, I understand that most people don’t know how a smaller city government works,” said Payton. “I would hope that I am able to bring some of that to the commission, just helping people understand.”

McRae says there are clear distinctions among small, medium and large city governances, with large governments similar to Atlanta’s being complex and geographically driven.

“I think there’s a huge difference in the way you operate. Medium-size communities have to gel on strategic planning for their future of growth,” he said. “And then I think the hardest part of governance is for your small communities where everybody knows everybody.”

McRae is confident that Payton can successfully navigate local government using the curriculum taught at UGA’s Newly Elected Officials Institute to guide her.

“She is going to be energetic. She’s going to want to do things,” McRae said. “I would think that Jessica’s one role would be to try to blend the personalities and to get the commissioners to look at the broader sense of what we need to do to help our community in the next five to 10 years.”



Jana Wiggins, 706-542-6621,



Laura Meadows, 706-542-6192,

Veteran city leaders and newly elected officials from Hall County take part in municipal government training at UGA

That first city council meeting after an election can be a splash of reality for newly elected local leaders.

“When you first get in office and sit in front of your first meeting, you feel like a fish out of water,” said Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan, who was first elected 12 years ago. “Governing is very complicated. It’s not something that you can just walk in and start doing.”

The Newly Elected Municipal Officials Institute was mandated in 1990 by state lawmakers, who directed the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government and the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) to provide the curriculum. First-term city officials who participate earn the minimum six hours of training set by law.

More than 250 participated in the training at the UGA Center for Continuing Education & Hotel on Feb. 16 and 17, learning about the legal, financial and ethical responsibilities of city officials. A second institute for newly elected municipal officials will be held in Tifton in March.

Among the participants at the Athens institute was Stephen Hendrix, who was elected to the city council in Oakwood, next door to Gainesville in Hall County, in November. Hendrix admits his first two council meetings were a little overwhelming as he began adjusting to the nuances of local government operations.

By lunchtime on the first day of the training, Hendrix had gotten some helpful insight on ethics. As co-owner of McGee’s Cleaning Services, he realized he would no longer be able to do work for the City of Oakwood as that would be a conflict of interest.

“Being in local government can be overwhelming not knowing the ins and outs of things,” Hendrix said. “The handbooks (from the training) will be something I go back and look at. It just helps (local officials) be more informed and do a better job for people.”

Gainesville City Manager Bryan Lackey, who participated with Dunagan in a panel discussion on relationships between elected officials and city staff, says the city benefits when the mayor and council members have had some basic training in governance. Budget training is among the most beneficial, he says, because it helps new officials, many of whom have been in private business, more quickly understand the the limitations of tax generated revenue as a funding source for public services.

“Most of the time someone runs for office because they have a passion for a particular issue,” Lackey said. “I think this type of training helps them understand the broader context of the rules and procedures their city operates under.” If you look at the days before this existed, there was just a haphazard (understanding) of how local governments were run.”

Ruth Bruner was first elected to the Gainesville City Council in 2003 and attended the institute the following year. She says she learned a lot about how to run an executive session and the ethical rules municipal officials must follow.

“We don’t have the background that city managers do,” Bruner said. “A lot of cities are very small and people get elected off the street pretty much. You don’t know how things are supposed to be run. It really helps you to make sure a city is run more efficiently and ethically.”

That foundation helps Georgia’s cities run smoother, Lackey said.

“It gives such an anchor for people,” Lackey said. “If you look at the days before this existed, there was just a haphazard (understanding) of how local governments were run. For newly elected officials to come together and talk to each other and gain a perspective of what they’re seeing from other officials, that helps them from the start.”



Christopher James,, 706-542-3631



Laura Meadows,, 706-542-6192

State Botanical Garden of Georgia takes No. 7 spot in USA Today poll

The votes are in and the State Botanical Garden of Georgia at the University of Georgia is among the top 10 gardens in the U.S. in the most recent USA Today poll.

The State Botanical Garden came in seventh in the 10Best Botanical Gardens contest, ahead of bigger facilities, including the Atlanta Botanical Garden and the Chicago Botanical Garden.

“The State Botanical Garden has been recognized along with some large and impressive gardens across the nation,” said Jenny Cruse-Sanders, director of the State Botanical Garden of Georgia. “What I love about this is that it has brought attention to what we love about gardens and how they enrich our lives.”

The 10Best contests are readers’ choice awards sponsored by USA Today. A panel of experts selected the top 20 contenders in each category and then gave readers four weeks to vote for their top choice.

Cruse-Sanders says she believes the extensive research, education and outreach initiatives at the garden contributed to its popularity with voters.

“Some of the garden programs, such as student experiences and training in the garden, the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance and pollinator conservation through Connect to Protect, are helping to address grand challenges facing our communities,” Cruse-Sanders said.

Each year, more than 200,000 people visit the State Botanical Garden of Georgia garden, with thousands coming for classes, volunteer opportunities and events.

Click here for a list of the USA Today 10Best contest’s top 10 winners.

Contact: Jenny Cruse-Sanders,, 706-542-6131

UGA engineering students help Spalding County determine infrastructure needs

University of Georgia senior Mariana Ozier looked like a professional engineer, scribbling notes as she walked a site pegged for redevelopment in Griffin, Ga.

She and Spalding County Community Development Director Chad Jacobs discussed zoning, building plans and possible locations for a storm water detention pond. It was exciting, Ozier said, to be part of a group that was working on a real project, not just something from a textbook.

“Just getting to see how we can help make it happen and how our work is going to impact what they want to do is pretty cool,” she said. “I do feel like a professional engineer.”

Ozier, along with UGA College of Engineering classmates Mitchell Massengill and Alec Trexler, were in Griffin, Ga., as part of their Capstone Senior Design course.

The project they are assisting with is a possible mixed-use development and aquatics center. The students’ job will be to help determine the infrastructure needs for the development and their estimated costs.

Engineering expertise is one of many university resources that the UGA Archway Partnership offers to communities across the state.

Archway’s collaborations with the College of Engineering has led to many opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to get hands-on experience before they join the workforce.

“It’s engaging not just a couple students, but an entire class of students,” said Angel Jackson, an Archway operations coordinator. “At the end of the day, the community benefits because they get phenomenal project deliverables, but the students also benefit from working on real-world projects, outside the classroom and with actual clients, so it’s a great win-win process.”

The projects build on theoretical classroom work. Assistant Professor Jason Christian, who co-teaches the class with Assistant Dean Stephan Durham, said real-life complexity forces students to use problem-solving skills they don’t develop in the same way when all the numbers work out on an exam.

“If you look at engineering programs across the country, most will have a capstone class but the projects are typically created by the mentors or instructors,” Christian said. “This is unique. I’ve never seen it where we’re sending our students out into the community.”

The projects boost career prospects for students, he said. Future employers tell him they love hiring graduates who have interacted professionally with clients.

For communities like Griffin, having the students do the initial research is a big help.

“It’s an excellent resource to have. You get some good engineering input,” Jacobs said. “Moving forward, we can have some more concrete ideas. Will this site work? Will it not work? Here’s some things we need to think about before we start spending dollars that are dedicated to the project.”

Since 2014, Christian and Durham have supervised 38 students in the completion of 13 Archway Partnership projects. For the 2016-2017 academic year, 10 projects from five Archway Partnership communities have been selected by 30 students who will focus solely on their respective project for the next two semesters until graduation in May 2017.

Meet the 2016-17 Public Service and Outreach Student Scholars

Nineteen undergraduate students have been named Public Service and Outreach Scholars for the 2016-17 academic year.

The students are part of a year-long program that provides them with a deeper understanding of PSO’s mission through meetings and outreach, helps them link these experiences with their career and educational goals, and creates a community of student scholars who understand the role of university outreach and engagements. Over the next few months, we’ll be featuring each of the students on our website and linking their spotlights to their names below.

The PSO Student Scholars, their majors and internship locations are:

  • Julia Allen, psychology and sociology, Office of Service-Learning
  • Rachael Andrews, international affairs major with minors in women’s studies and public administration and policy, Carl Vinson Institute of Government
  • Jeff Bowden, applied biotechnology, State Botanical Garden of Georgia
  • Genesis Castro, human development and family sciences major with minor in personal and organizational leadership, J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development
  • Corbin Farr, chemistry major with minor in Spanish, J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development
  • Molly Gaynier, horticulture, State Botanical Garden of Georgia
  • Suzie Henderson, ecology major with a minor in horticulture, State Botanical Garden of Georiga
  • Sarah Howard, political science major with minor in international affairs, Office of Service-Learning
  • Meghan Kalia, biochemistry and molecular biology major with minors in Spanish and public health, Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant
  • Magali Lapu, French and international affairs, J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development
  • Vira Ogdanets, management information systems major with minor in Russian, Georgia Center for Continuing Education
  • Kavi Pandian, sociology and economics, J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development
  • Diane Park, biological sciences major with minor in sociology, J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development
  • Shivani Rangaswamy, biology and anthropology, Archway Partnership
  • Liz Schreiber, economics and international business major with minor in Spanish, Small Business Development Center
  • Dhairya Shukla, genetics and health policy major and also enrolled in the Master of Public Health program, Office of Service-Learning
  • Hannah Turner, sociology and criminal justice major with minors in public policy and management, J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development
  • Siva Venkatachalam, international affairs and biology, Carl Vinson Institute of Government
  • Tracy Wong, communication sciences and disorders major with minor in Chinese, Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant

National award celebrates UGA and statewide conservation programs

A statewide conservation alliance headquartered at the UGA State Botanical Garden of Georgia has received a rare national recognition for its decades of efforts to conserve native plants.

The Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies presented the special award to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which represents the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance (GPCA). The award celebrates the GPCA’s “outstanding contributions” to the association and to advancing professional fish and wildlife management in North America.


Formed in 1995, the alliance is an innovative network of 42 public gardens, agencies, schools, companies and conservation organizations committed to preserving Georgia’s endangered flora. The DNR Nongame Conservation Section is a charter member.

The group initiates and coordinates efforts to protect natural habitats and endangered plant species statewide through management, education, and rare-plant propagation and outplanting. Recovery projects target 100 imperiled species, from swamp pink to whorled sunflower. Members also helped develop and revise the State Wildlife Action Plan, Georgia’s guiding strategy for conserving animals and plants.

Wilf Nicholls, director of the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, said ensuring “our state is as rich and biodiverse as the one we inherited is a lofty goal. But in a true spirit of openness and sharing the GPCA has brought together dozens of institutions and agencies all working together toward well-defined conservation goals. It has proven to be a recipe for success for which we can all be proud.”

Recognized as a national leader in plant conservation, the alliance has become a model, DNR Commissioner Mark Williams said.

“GPCA has proven incredibly effective in focusing and increasing efforts to conserve Georgia’s rare plant species and their habitats,” Williams said. “Not only is this work benefiting our state, other states are considering setting up alliances, meaning plant conservation in those states will reap from what the GPCA has sown in Georgia.”

The State Wildlife Action Plan identifies 290 plant species as a high priority for conservation. Conserving that range of species, along with others, now and for future generations requires collaboration. By focusing the efforts of members, the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance is meeting that need.

In addition to the State Botanical Garden of Georgia and DNR and its Nongame Conservation Section, alliance member institutions include Atlanta Botanical Garden, Atlanta Botanical Garden Gainesville, Atlanta History Center, Augusta University, Beech Hollow Farms, Botanic Garden at Georgia Southern University, Brenau University, Callaway Gardens, Chattahoochee Nature Center, Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, Coastal WildScapes, East Georgia State College, Columbus State University, Fort Valley State University, Georgia Botanical Society, Georgia Department of Transportation, Georgia Exotic Pest Plant Council, Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia Native Plant Society, Georgia Power Company, Georgia Southern University, Georgia Wildlife Federation, Jacksonville (Fla.) Zoo and Gardens, Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center at Ichauway, Kennesaw State University, Piedmont College, Shorter College, The Nature Conservancy of Georgia, The Nature Conservancy (Fort Benning), U.S. Department of Agriculture National Seed Laboratory (Macon), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Athens, Mississippi and South Carolina Field Offices), U.S. Forest Service Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests, U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service (Georgia), University of Georgia, University of North Georgia, Valdosta State University Herbarium and Zoo Atlanta.

Learn more about the alliance at (click “Conserve”) and on Facebook ( Work during fiscal year 2015 is detailed in DNR Nongame Conservation Section’s annual report, www./


UGA public health faculty/student assessment leads to medical clinic in Archway community

An assessment of community health needs, led by University of Georgia faculty and facilitated by the UGA Archway Partnership, has contributed to a new urgent care center for one middle Georgia county and resulted in a scholarly article in the “Journal of Georgia Public Health Association.”

Graduate students from the College of Public Health helped conduct the IRS-mandated Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) at Hawkinsville’s Taylor Regional Hospital under the direction of UGA College of Public Health faculty members Marsha Davis and Grace Bagwell-Adams.

They provided the kind of expertise that isn’t easily found in small communities, said Michelle Elliott, Archway operations coordinator and Archway Partnership professional in Pulaski County.

“Students come in and partner, get the local knowledge from the Archway Professional and the people that are invested in the community, and really make something of value for the hospital and community,” Elliott said.

The students, Ayanna Robinson and Sabrina Cherry, analyzed data from 400 surveys developed by Davis, the associate dean for outreach and engagement in the College of Public Health. They also conducted three focus groups to get additional feedback. The team used a five-step process recommended by Georgia Watch, the state’s leading consumer advocacy organization, following a study of 38 CHNAs and 29 implementation strategies across Georgia.

The assessments, which are required every three years in order for hospitals to maintain their nonprofit status, can be a burden to smaller hospitals, Davis said. Universities like UGA can help gather direct input from local residents, including vulnerable populations, which can lead to a more comprehensive strategy for improvement.

The assessment already supported the opening of an urgent care facility in Hawkinsville, Taylor Express Care, which served 10 patients on opening day earlier this summer. The hospital also is conducting monthly forums that provide information on healthcare issues like diabetes and access to prescription drugs.

Robinson said the work in Hawkinsville was the highlight of her two-years with Davis.

“I had work experience before coming back to get my Ph.D.,” Robinson said. “But nothing like the translation of what we learned in class to hands-on, real-life experience. It really enhances the learning process. It’s easy to learn methods and theory, but being able to apply them shows you mastered that skill.”

The process of conducting the assessment, which could become a model for other communities, is the subject of a paper written by Robinson, Cherry, Elliott, Davis and Bagwell-Adams, an assistant professor in the College of Public Health. “Leveraging university-community partnerships in rural Georgia: A community health needs assessment for hospitals,” was published on June 15, 2016.

Fostering cooperation between communities and the state’s land-grant university is the reason the Archway Partnership was launched more than a decade ago. The Public Service and Outreach unit has worked in 12 communities in Georgia, using UGA resources to overcome and address challenges identified by those communities.

“This is a great example of how the Archway Partnership helps support all three missions of the University of Georgia: service, teaching and research,” said Archway Director Rob Gordon. “These types of collaborations are certainly valuable to the university, but at the same time address real needs on the part of these rural communities.”

Read the journal article at


Writer: Christopher James,, 706-542-3631

Contacts: Rob Gordon,, 706-542-1098; Marsha Davis,, 706-542-4369


New faculty at UGA see the state from the mountains to the coast

Starting with a lesson on the growing agritourism industry at Jaemor Farms near Gainesville, Ga., to hearing about the state’s first oyster hatchery at UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant in Savannah, Ga., 36 new faculty from 13 schools and colleges saw the economic engines that drive the state during the 2016 New Faculty Tour.

At the State Capitol in Atlanta, the faculty members got a crash course in Georgia politics from Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, who talked about the changing demographics of the state and how that could affect voting patterns in coming years.

In Senoia, Ga., where The Walking Dead television series is filmed, tour participants were surprised to see “walkers” wandering the streets downtown and stunned when people stepped into the street and killed the zombies. Actors from Georgia Tours, who offer walking tours of Senoia to visitors, provided the drama.

In West Point, Ga., the faculty members visited Kia Motors, Kia’s first North American plant, where an assembly line of robots assemble Sorentos, Optimas, and Sedonas among other models of Kia cars as well as some Hyundai models.

Roosevelt’s Little White House in Warm Springs, Ga., the Carnegie Library in Americus, Ga., the UGA campus in Tifton, Ga., and the CSX Rice Yard, the largest train transfer station in the southeast, in Waycross, Ga., were among the stops where the new faculty learned about the economy, culture, history and people of Georgia.

Scott Nelson, a UGA Athletics Association Professor of History, appreciated the history of the Little White House, built as a retreat for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt first visited Warm Springs, Ga., in 1924 when he traveled there to see if the natural warm mineral springs would help his polio-related paralysis. Roosevelt died at the house on April 12, 1945 while sitting for a portrait, which was later completed and iws displayed at the site.

“I knew that it was in the South but I didn’t realize it was in Warm Springs, Ga.,” Nelson said. “It was fascinating to see it.”

On the last evening of the five-day tour, faculty members visited the Savannah base for UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, where they went out on a trawl in the Skidaway River and learned about the key drivers of the coastal economy: shrimp, jelly balls, freeze-dried at a nearby processing pant, and shipped to Asia, where they are a culinary delicacy, blue crabs and clams.

On the way back to Athens, the bus stopped in Sandersville, where faculty members learned about the Archway Partnership, another public service and outreach unit, and Kaolin, a white, alumina-silicate clay used in hundreds of products, including paper and cosmetics. Sandersville, in Washington County, is known as “the Kaolin Capital of the World.”

“Not being a Georgia native, I’ve learned a lot about Georgia and what it has to offer,” said new faculty member Jennifer Tucker, assistant professor of animal and dairy science in the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “I have learned a lot of interesting things and areas that I would like to go back and visit at some point.”

The New Faculty Tour was launched in 1977 after the Georgia business community indicated it wanted to see more understanding and collaboration between Georgia industry and higher education. More than 1,400 UGA faculty members have made the tour, which has been held all but seven years since it first began. Those years—1991, 2003-2004, and 2009-2012—tours were cancelled because of budget constraints.

The tour is coordinated by the Office of the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach and is made possible by major support from the Office of the President and the Office of the Provost. It also receives support from the UGA Alumni Association as well as numerous other units and supporters of the university. Faculty members who have been at UGA for fewer than two years are eligible to participate.