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 with help from UGA

Dozens of area leaders gathered in downtown Albany Tuesday morning for the official unveiling of 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 Vinson Institute 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 Vinson Institute. “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.”

Three working groups have already begun addressing the key priorities established in the initiative, beginning with the creation of a job website for the entire area. The Vinson Institute will continue providing technical assistance throughout the initiative’s implementation phase.


Aaron Cox Public Relations Coordinator • 706-542-3631


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

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.

On the front lines: Sean McMillan is at the heart of economic development in Georgia

With an office located in the Centergy building in Midtown Atlanta, McMillan plays a critical role in attracting new industry and growing businesses already here. When it comes to showcasing all that the University of Georgia has to offer, he is a one-stop shop.

“I consider myself an ambassador,” said McMillan, who serves a founding director of UGA’s Atlanta-based office of economic development. “I take business prospects to campus to introduce them to whatever they’re interested in. But-just as important-I also bring the campus to them.”

From introducing business prospects to UGA’s various centers and institutes-such as the Food Product and Innovation Center (FoodPIC) in Griffin, which helps companies develop new food products-to connecting industry to faculty members who can provide expertise in a specific field, to identifying internships and job opportunities for UGA students, McMillan helps tie the state’s flagship university to businesses and communities across Georgia and-in some cases-around the nation and world.

“When companies know they’re going to get the next generation of workers trained to meet the needs of the 21st century, when they have access to the professors and programs we have in an environment of creativity, folks want to come and innovate,” said Chris Carr, Georgia’s commissioner of economic development. “The ease of access by having one point person is huge. We want to make it as easy as possible for people to have access to the University of Georgia.”

Carr’s office also is in the Centergy building, which houses the economic development department for the Georgia Electric Membership Corp., Georgia Power, Electric Cities of Georgia, Georgia QuickStart (part of the Technical College System of Georgia) and the Georgia Workforce Development as well. In addition, several of the roughly 80 industry innovation and design centers in Midtown Atlanta are in the Centergy building, including Home Depot and Panasonic. The innovation centers are offices-separate from a company’s headquarters-that allow creative teams to contemplate new ideas and products.

“As a land-grant institution, one of our most important priorities is to help foster economic growth and prosperity in this state,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. “Providing a central doorway for businesses to access UGA’s vast resources is key to achieving this priority, and the economic development office serves as that doorway.”

Morehead established the Atlanta-based office in 2013 as part of a broader strategy to strengthen the university’s role in economic development. McMillan reports jointly to UGA Vice President for Public Service and Outreach Jennifer Frum and UGA Vice President for Research David Lee, signifying the far reach of the university’s economic development enterprise.

McMillan’s background with QuickStart-he helped launch Kia and its parts suppliers in West Point in 2008-and his roles as an adviser to the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s board of directors, a member of the board of directors for the Georgia Economic Developer’s Association and a member of the board of directors for the Korea U.S. Chamber of Commerce keep him connected with domestic and international opportunities that help the state prosper.

“He knows better than we do what the university has to offer,” Carr said.

And he knows what the community has to offer UGA.

Eddie Mabe, human resources director for the Athens-based McCann Aerospace, reconnected with McMillan in Athens last year. The two had worked together years before in LaGrange.

McCann, which recently had been acquired by Accurus Aerospace Corp., needed qualified employees. McMillan connected Mabe with UGA’s College of Engineering and Terry College of Business.

Four students, three from engineering and one from business, are interning with McCann this summer. Hopefully, McCann said, the company can hire some of these students after they graduate.

“If it weren’t for Sean, we probably wouldn’t have made the right connections,” Mabe said.

Jay Mathias, program specialist for international business programs in the Terry College of Business, is working with McMillan to identify international internship opportunities, which are among the requirements for students who co-major in international business.

“[Sean] will shoot me an email about an opportunity, and I’ll blast it out to the students,” Mathias said. “He’s a great resource to have.”

Kevin Shea, president of the Georgia Economic Developers Association, said McMillan’s presence in the Centergy building and in Atlanta generally has made him a go-to person for anyone needing support from UGA or the university system.

“He can get people to the right individuals,” Shea said. “I think he’s worth his weight in gold to UGA and the state of Georgia.”

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UGA’s Campus Kitchen rolls in, delivering home-cooked meals to those who need them

Going on a delivery route with the University of Georgia’s “Campus Kitchen” was an eye-opening day for two UGA freshmen Thursday.

Amelia Vu, 17, and Liam Grant, 18 are participating in UGA’s “Freshman College Experience” program, which means they come to campus for the summer semester, live in a residence hall and take two courses — one of which is meant to teach them both the skills they’re going to need to succeed as college students, and to get them out into the larger Athens community to see what it’s like, and to pitch in as volunteers — “service learning,” as it’s called.

They signed up this summer to help out with Campus Kitchen, a UGA group whose volunteers twice a week prepare and deliver meals to people who can use the extra food — mainly older people on low, fixed incomes, including a sizeable number who are grandparents taking care of grandchildren, sometimes full-time.

Vu and Grant were there mostly to learn as a more experienced UGA student volunteer, Mary Beth Robertson, distributed bags of meals to seven houses or apartments.

“It’s a blessing,” they heard from one recipient, Mildred Huff, who turns 90 in two months. Her retirement income is a meager monthly Social Security check, and the Campus Kitchen meals Robertson drops off twice a week make a difference, said Huff, who worked many years as a school cook.

It was the first trip out for the two freshman, but Robertson has been slowly getting to know the people to whom she’s bringing meals.

“I fell in love with Athens,” Robertson said. “I want to be a part of the community, and not in that student bubble. It helps me know there’s more to life than school.”

And she likes getting to know people and hear about their experiences, she said.

“I just love talking to people,” she said.

Robertson could finish her route in half an hour, but stays to talk a while to Huff and the other people on her route — so on Thursday, Vu and Grant got to hear the stories too — to hear Huff tell a little about growing up in Lexington, where her mother took in washing and her father drove a truck, for example, or about peeling potatoes by hand for about 500 to 600 children.

“I just cooked enough so I could give the kids extra,” Huff said.

It’s students like Robertson who kept Campus Kitchen going for more than six years now, said Campus Kitchen coordinator Bradley Turner. Turner is a UGA employee, and gets help from full-time AmeriCorps worker Kalei Evans and interns.

The program has become a centerpiece for UGA’s Office of Service Learning since it began in spring semester 2010, first by a class taught by Cecelia Herles, assistant director of UGA’s Institute of Women’s Studies, but now as a standalone group. About four years ago, the UGA Campus Kitchen affiliated with the national Campus Kitchen organization, which offers training and help for student groups who begin Campus Kitchen groups on their campuses. The national organization also holds the university chapters to some rules, such as making sure some of the staff are trained in safe food handling practices, Turner said.

It’s tougher to keep the food deliveries going in the summer, when UGA’s enrollment is less than half what it is in fall and spring, and there are fewer volunteers available.

Robertson’s route is longer, and some families instead of getting meal deliveries this summer accepted free subscriptions in a community supported agriculture group called Collective Harvest, where members pay a membership fee to get a weekly allotment of groceries from the farms that are part of the group.

That slightly lightens the load for the Campus Kitchen staff and volunteers, Turner said.

They do more than just deliver meals, he explained. In the first place, someone has to gather up the food — much of it from the student-run UGArden, and much also donated from area supermarkets.

Then the food is cooked and packaged into individual meals at Talmage Terrace, a retirement community behind the Beechwood Shopping Center, which allows Campus Kitchen to use its large kitchen.

Campus Kitchen volunteers go out once a week on routes, and once a week take meals to the Athens Community Council on Aging, for older people participating in the council’s daily programs or for delivery through the council’s Meals on Wheels Programs.

Turner also began a new program this year, once a month preparing community meals for the residents of Denny Towers, whose residents are mainly older people on limited incomes.

“It’s like a well-oiled machine,” Robertson said.

About a third of the students volunteering at Campus Kitchen last year were enrolled in UGA service learning courses, which require students to do service as part of their coursework.

The rest are students who just want to do it, like Robertson, who just turned 20.

“I really like helping people and I can’t seem to shake it,” she said.

Written by Lee Shearer, Athens Banner Herald on June 23, 2016 

Follow education reporter Lee Shearer at

Every day a new adventure at the UGA Aquarium


By noon, Devin Dumont and Lisa Olenderski have fixed a pump that provides necessary sea water from the Skidaway River to the exhibit tanks inside the UGA Aquarium, guided a group of students on an aquarium tour and separated a pair of squabbling turtles in a pool at the entrance to the building.

That’s in addition to the daily tasks that include keeping the 16 aquarium tanks functioning satisfactorily, feeding all of the sea life and getting the facility ready for the school groups and individuals who will visit t the UGA Marine Extension Aquarium and Education Center that day.

Dumont’s the only fulltime troubleshooter and daily manager of the facility. Olenderski spends half of her time on that, the other half on education programming. Over the years, the two have become proficient in plumbing, electricity, and animal health.

“I think it helps having people understand it’s more than just having a fish in a tank…. When (the groups) come back here and see the functionality of what it takes, there’s definitely some surprise,” Dumont said. “But that’s what drives us, to impart some knowledge about what it takes to keep this whole thing going.”

Nearly 24,000 people visited the aquarium last year and another 31,564 participated in outreach programs coordinated by the education staff in Savannah. The aquarium is funded in large part  by admission and program fees, and it’s up to Dumont and Olenderski to use the limited resources to not only keep all the building’s aquatic life healthy and happy but educate visitors about the Georgia coast.

Tanks have to be regularly cleaned and monitored for water quality. Pre-made filtration systems sold at the local aquarium shop are extremely expensive, so Dumont and Olenderski assemble all of the hardware, plumbing parts, and various filtration components to custom fabricate filtration systems and solutions for the aquarium’s unique needs.

Then there are days when a new arrival may show up unexpectedly, a new young sea turtle that needs care or something completely different, like the injured honeycomb moray eel— native to the Pacific Ocean—that a local resident recently found in a lake. It can be like “fish tetris” trying to find a spot for every animal, Olenderski said.

“Each situation is unique,” Dumont said. “The problem-solving skills we have to employ are never routine.”

Jessica Hernandez, a Georgia Sea Grant intern, said she’d never cooked for herself before coming to the Georgia coast. Now, she chops shrimp to feed to the animals.

“I figured I’d help with feeding animals, not preparing the food, so this is an awesome experience,” Hernandez said. “Seeing the full process of taking in fish from the river in the trawl and taking them into the kitchen and preparing them to feed the other animals was just incredible.”

Behind the mechanics of keeping the aquarium humming is the core mission of education about the Georgia coast.

Education programs range from lectures for adults to summer camps where kids study native sea life. The aquarium hosts a number of groups that are there for a day or that spend the week in the on-site dormitory. Groups come from across Georgia and from out of state, including an extension group that regularly visits from the University of Kentucky.

“When we talk about our jobs to students, I try to talk about how we’re trying to inspire people to get out and care about what’s on the Georgia coast,” Dumont said.

Written by Christopher James

New “friends” program will help UGA aquarium expand

Sea turtles, sea horses, and moon jellies are among the sea life exhibited at the UGA Aquarium on Skidaway Island in Savannah and plans are underway to expand the facility to add even more.

Education programs at the aquarium reach 55,000 people annually. School groups visit throughout the year and children flock to day camps during the summer. While there, they go on estuary trawls, explore barrier islands, observe dolphins and examine sea life under microscopes.

Those groups, as well as the public, leave Skidaway with a better sense of the thriving ecosystems along the Georgia coast.

Friends of the Aquarium, a new program offered by UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, will help expand the exhibits and programs.

“We are grateful for the resources we receive from the state and federal government, but we have an opportunity to really enhance our programs with private support from donors,” said Mark Risse, director of UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, which oversee the aquarium. “Friends of the Aquarium is our mechanism for expanding and enhancing our programs.”

The aquarium is funded almost entirely from public admission fees and program fees. A small staff, with the help of dozens of volunteers, maintain the 16 exhibit tanks in the aquarium, an educational building with two teaching labs, an art lab, a computer lab, a dormitory and dining room.

“We are so excited to launch the Friends program,” said Cherie Duggan, director of development for UGA Public Service and Outreach. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to publicly say thank you and engage people. I have heard from donors how much they’ve appreciated the summer camp experiences their children and grandchildren have had or their own amazement at what they learned exploring a barrier island with us. With support, we can do so much more.”

The new Springer Mountain Farms Pavilion, made possible by the generosity of Gus Arrendale III and Springer Mountain Farms, is evidence of the impact donors can have. Set alongside the Skidaway River, the pavilion provides an outdoor education space for school groups, summer campers and visitors, complete with water, power, picnic tables and overhead fans.

Donors who join Friends of the Aquarium before June 30, 2017 will be recognized as Founding Friends on a new donor wall in the aquarium lobby. As a thank you to Friends of the Aquarium, admission will be free to these donors and some future programs will be available only to them.

For more information or to join, visit 

Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant is a unit of UGA Public Service and Outreach.

UGA Archway Partnership tackles childhood obesity

The University of Georgia helped kids in this South Georgia town work up a sweat.

From Zumba dancing to tackling an obstacle course to doing a few push-ups, the third Grady County Youth Fit Fest, organized by the UGA Archway Partnership, aimed to give parents and their children tools to stay active and healthy.

“I like the information that’s being provided to the community,” said Roger Pierce, a 32-year-old father of three. “It’s very important. You have to exercise. You have to eat right. More people would do it if they had the literature and information.”

The Fit Fest is the first step in the community’s strategy to tackle childhood obesity, said Betsy McGriff, the Archway Partnership professional in Grady County. Grady is 105th among Georgia’s 159 counties in overall health outcomes according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“Folks just don’t realize that it’s (such a problem) or maybe they do realize it but don’t know what steps they can take prevention-wise,” McGriff said. “We just want to increase somebody’s knowledge base and couple that with tools to help.”

Henry Young, the Kroger Professor in Community Pharmacy in the UGA College of Pharmacy, is working with Archway’s Community Health and Wellness Workgroup on targeted solutions. Those future plans will build on awareness the community is generating through the Fit Fest.

Activities included body mass index calculations and blood pressure screenings. Another station offered samples of healthy snacks: smoothies and lettuce wraps instead of soda and potato chips.

Volunteers from the Cairo High School football team helped kids run through an obstacle course in Davis Park. Competitors were challenged to flip over tires, jump rope and do push-ups. Eleventh-grader D.J. Donaldson helped some of the younger children, holding their hands as they ran to the finish.

“They have so much energy,” Donaldson. “When they see us playing football, they wonder how we get the strength and the energy. Now, they see what it takes.”

Some of those kids made it to Lisa Starling’s table for a quiz about healthy living. Starling, a UGA Extension Agent, was promoting Walk Georgia, a program that encourages regular exercise.

Starling said it has become clear that childhood obesity is a problem. She wants to see the Youth Fit Fest become an important part of springtime in Cairo.

“It brings the community together for the kids,” Starling said. “It allows them to learn how to do exercises and we can teach them about other options than picking up a soda. Something we talk about a lot is the obesity of the kids in Grady County, how high it is and what we can do to help.”

The Archway Partnership is a unit of UGA Public Service and Outreach.