It may be a coincidence that Grady College and Grady County share the same namesake in Henry W. Grady, but they also share something else: a group of dedicated students making an impact with their skills and talent.
Students from the New Media Institute in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication spent the spring semester helping Grady County officials develop a plan to increase the visibility and tourism potential in the small, rural south Georgia community.
The students worked through the Grady County Archway Partnership, a UGA public service and outreach unit that helps communities tap into UGA resources to address challenges.
For their capstone project, the seven New Media Institute students created a new logo and slogan for the county, took high-quality photographs to be used in promotional materials, produced a 90-second video to be shown in visitor’s centers in neighboring states, designed print advertising and a one-page tourism guide, and enhanced Grady County’s Facebook and Instagram presence. They also created a website for the community.
“Our goal was to change this county for the better,” said Kelly Buckman, a Grady College student majoring in Entertainment and Media Studies.
Since January, the students made the 500-mile round trip between Athens and Grady County three times, getting to know the community, meeting and talking with residents and discovering hidden gems that make the community special.
Their guide was Sharon Liggett, an operations coordinator with the Archway Partnership. Liggett’s role is to match designated Archway Partnership communities, like Grady County, with UGA resources. When the Grady County Archway Partnership executive council determined it needed more contemporary, current messaging focused on tourism, Liggett turned to the New Media Institute, which offers an interdisciplinary certificate program focused on using technological applications to address problems. The certificate is open to all majors and is housed in Grady College.
“This was a pretty exceptional project for Grady County and we couldn’t have done it without the New Media Institute students,” Liggett said. “There is a real source of pride that we are bringing UGA home to Grady County. It’s exciting to have students share their experiences with community members, and to have the residents share their community with the students.”
Projects like this are a win-win, Liggett said. Communities get fresh ideas from the students and materials the county would not have been able to afford, while students get to use their academic education in a practical, real world setting. The students learn how to work with clients, meet deadlines and manage expectations.
“This is a real project, not just a class project,” said Megan Flory, who is majoring in graphic design in the Lamar Dodd School of Art. “It has the potential to change people’s lives. That is more pressure, but it feels really good.”
Word of the project spread quickly in the small community, said Tony Phan, an Entertainment and Media Studies major, who served as the group’s photographer.
“Most of the residents were super welcoming and were really interested in everything we had to offer,” Phan said.
Grady County residents opened their homes to the students, inviting them to dinner, showing them their personal car collections, introducing them to sites known only to locals, and hosting bonfires where the local residents and students shared stories about their work and studies.
Community leaders are pleased with the outcome.
Trey Gainous, director of the Cairo-Grady Chamber of Commerce, said work with the UGA students had helped the county find a clear direction on which to focus its tourism efforts.
“It’s programs like this that help small communities like ours that have the will power, motivation and even some assets to grow, but lack the direction or clear picture to move forward with growth,” Gainous said. “These students and programs are vital to small communities like Grady County for ideas, direction, and fresh eyes on a project or campaign.”
Baker Owens Public Relations Coordinator
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Rob Gordon Archway Partnership Director