Brothers make business a family affair

How do two brothers from tiny Hopeful, Georgia, manage to take Atlanta’s entrepreneurial spirit to a new level? Well, ask the Shirah brothers, Benjie (BSFR ’07, MFR ’10) and Jamey (BBA ’10). Since leaving Athens, the business-savvy brothers have embarked on a number of successful endeavors, including The Ivy Buckhead and Atlanta-based companies Kill Cliff – The Recovery Drink™ and Vida-Flo: The Hydration Station. Now, the brothers are heading in a new direction – your feet.

This fall, Benjie and Jamey launched their latest project, JL The Brand, a flair-filled sock company. Together with friends, the brothers are working to add a little jazz to the mundane black and blue men’s suit with top-notch socks.

Designed with unique patterns and colors, JL The Brand offers affordable high quality socks that add a subtle yet sophisticated pop to any outfit. JL The Brand socks are the perfect gift for any guy this holiday season!

With the Shirah brothers’ keen eye for business development, these young alumni are sure make a lasting mark on Atlanta’s entrepreneurial scene.

Keep up with the Shirah’s businesses on social media:


40 Under 40 honoree to direct UGA’s state government relations


Tobin R. “Toby” Carr (BBA ’01, BSAE ’01) was named associate vice president for government relations and director of state governmental relations at UGA. Vice President for Government Relations J. Griffin Doyle announced the appointment of Carr, who currently is planning director for the Georgia Department of Transportation.

Carr was appointed to his current DOT post in 2012, a position in which he has led a team of some 30 planning professionals in guiding strategic planning and project budget documents that direct state and federal resources to fund transportation projects. He graduated from the UGA Honors Program in 2001 with bachelor’s degrees in business administration and agricultural engineering. Before assuming his DOT post, Carr served as Deal’s transportation policy adviser and the governor’s liaison to the Georgia House of Representatives. He previously was director of Deal’s gubernatorial transition committee.

An active student leader while at UGA, Carr served as president of the Interfraternity Council and was named to Sphinx, Omicron Delta Kappa, Blue Key, Mortar Board, Phi Kappa Phi and the Arch Society. He currently serves on the UGA College of Engineering Alumni Advisory Board and was recognized in 2014 as a UGA 40 Under 40 and as the 2012 Blue Key Outstanding Young Alumnus Award winner.

“I’m humbled and thrilled to serve my alma mater in this role,” Carr said. “I’m very grateful to Gov. Deal for his support of this new endeavor and to President Morehead and Vice President Doyle for giving me the opportunity to advance the mission of UGA.”

Carr will serve as primary liaison between the university and state government officials, representing the university in all matters involving legislators, agencies, departments, and the other higher education institutions of Georgia. The transition will occur in early January.

Read more about Carr’s new position.

UGA’s Thank-a-Teacher Program

Did a teacher at UGA enrich your life or inspire you to pursue your dreams? Was there a professor or teaching assistant (TA) that pushed you to do your best and discover your passion for a subject?

Now is the time to let that teacher or TA know how grateful you are for their support. UGA’s Center for Teaching and Learning invites UGA students and alumni to participate in the university’s Thank-a-Teacher program.

What is Thank-a-Teacher? It is a program that allows students and alumni to express gratitude for teachers who have impacted their lives in a profound and meaningful way. If a teacher (professor, instructor, TA) made a positive contribution to your experience at UGA, please consider sending them a brief note using the form linked below. You may choose to remain anonymous or have your name attached to that note.

When participating, you will be asked to fill out a simple form to acknowledge your appreciation for your teacher’s work. Share a brief thank you or an anecdote to let that teacher know what you enjoyed about his or her class and why it was important to you.

Click here to complete the Thank-a-Teacher form.

Former UGA football player gives back to the community

In recent years, the Lumpkin Street School in Hawkinsville, Georgia, one of 500 Georgia equalization schools built for African-American students during segregation, has fallen into disrepair. The town’s Deacons and Stewards Association wants to turn the space into a community center and museum, and a former Georgia football player is helping to make that happen.

Charles Johnson (M ’08), through the Charles Johnson Foundation (CJF), has issued a $25,000 challenge grant to renovate the school. The challenge, which states that CFJ will donate $25,000 to match the $25,000 that the Deacons and Stewards Association raises, has been instrumental in gaining donations for the project from other organizations.

Charles Johnson teaches a basketball clinic in his hometown of Hawkinsville, Georgia, during the Charles Johnson Foundation’s annual Community Weekend.

This isn’t the first time Charles Johnson has helped out his hometown. The captain for the Carolina Panthers has donated funds to support Parent Cafes for single mothers, sponsored women to attend the Pulaski Tomorrowprogram, donated to other middle Georgia foundations, and has provided scholarships to Pulaski County students during his organization’s annual Community Weekend in Hawkinsville.

For more information about the Lumpkin Street School project and how you can help, please email Greg Brown.

Thank you for helping preserve the history of Georgia, Charles! The UGA Alumni Association is proud of your accomplishments on and off the field.

Spotlight on a Bulldog Business: FotoIN

Class of 2014 40 Under 40 honoree Sly Barisic (MBA ’04) and his brother, James Gates (AB ’01, MPA ’04), founded FotoIN in 2012, an automated mobile and management solution for capturing, documenting and filing site photos to a customer’s storage repositories.

The startup is located in Atlanta and Zagreb, Croatia, Sly’s native country. It serves an array of industries, including construction, real estate and property management.

James Gate

Sly Barisic

The company has seen growth in the construction industry,  managing projects for Brasfield and Gorrie, the lead company in the development of the new Atlanta Braves baseball stadium. Barisic was also invited to speak at tech conferences in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco last year.

The UGA Alumni Association is proud to showcase the success of hardworking alumni! For more information about startups founded by UGA alumni, click here. If you have an alumni-owned or -operated startup that you would like featured on this blog, please email Assistant Director of Communications Jamie Lewis (AB ’12, AB ’12) at

Introducing Executive Director Meredith Gurley Johnson (BSFCS ’00)

The UGA Alumni Association is excited to announce that former Interim Executive Director Meredith Gurley Johnson (BSFCS ’00) has been named executive director effective December 1.

In this role, she oversees all alumni engagement activities and services, including student programs, young alumni outreach, regional programs, special events and collaborative projects on campus.

“In her capacity as interim executive director, Meredith has shown the leadership, vision, creativity, spirit and energy necessary to take the university to the next level in our efforts to closely engage our alumni and parents alike,” said Kelly Kerner, vice president for development and alumni relations. “After conducting a national search, it was clear that Meredith is the right leader for this time in our history.”

In 2001, Johnson joined the UGA Alumni Association as its first Atlanta programs coordinator based out of the new Atlanta Alumni Center in Buckhead. In 2006, she was named director of the Atlanta Alumni Center and managed the facility, Atlanta-area programming and special projects relating to alumni in Metro Atlanta. Seven years later, Johnson became associate director of alumni relations, the position she held prior to being named interim executive director.

Prior to joining the UGA Alumni Association, Johnson served as coordinator of annual giving and alumni relations for the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

Since joining the UGA Alumni Association, she has helped launched various signature programs, including Bulldog 100 and UGA Days. In 2014, Meredith was awarded the Georgia Education Advancement Council’s Award for Excellence in Alumni Relations for her work at UGA.

“It is an honor to be selected as executive director of alumni relations for the University of Georgia. As a graduate of UGA, I have never been more proud of the hard work put forth by the administrators, faculty and students that make this place so special,” said Johnson. “I am thankful for the alumni and friends who support this university, and look forward to energizing my peers and the UGA community as we advance the institution together.”

The UGA Alumni Association looks forward to Johnson’s continued leadership!

Click here to read the official press release. 

UGA alumnus takes daring dive


One grad’s recent daring journey into a volcano turned into a viral video that captivated the world. Assistant Director of Communications Jamie Lewis (AB ’12, AB ’12) spoke with Sam Cossman (BBA ’03) about the video, his time at UGA and his plans for the future.

You’ve mentioned that UGA is the place that inspired and fostered your adventurous spirit. Can you talk about this?

While at UGA, I had the pleasure of meeting people from all around the world. Combined with a newfound sense of freedom and self-discovery, I finally had the opportunity to take a few international trips. These journeys were incredibly empowering and transformational in that they helped shape my worldview and gave me perspective on how incredibly lucky I was in many regards of my life. This was also partially what inspired my developing sense of social responsibility.

Where did you get the idea to venture into a volcano? 

After co-founding a charity and building a school in Haiti, I returned to San Francisco with a renewed sense of purpose and desire to pursue my passion for adventure. I started a tech company called Qwake, a Kickstarter for new and unusual experiences. It was a tool to help others pursue their own passions and earn a living doing what they loved most. The volcano experience was born out of this. I heard from a friend that a rarely seen magical volcanic wonderland existed deep in the South Pacific, but was unsure if it was real. After much research, I discovered that this seemingly mythical place did indeed exist. However, due to the complexity and cost of a potential expedition, I had to abandon the project after six months. It wasn’t until more than a year later that the opportunity finally materialized. There are only five known lava lakes in the world; Marum (the one we visited) is by far the most active and the rarest.

Your video’s been viewed more than 3 million times on YouTube and your story was featured in the Huffington Post, ABC News,Buzzfeed and more. Were you surprised by the video’s virality, and what opportunities has its popularity created for you?

I had zero formal training in shooting or editing film. However, I was so excited by the experience that I spent the flight home editing a video to share with family and friends. Much to my surprise, I awoke the following morning to millions of views, thousands of comments and dozens of publications contacting me. I was incredibly surprised and humbled by the global response.

Discovery and exploration have long been a part of my DNA, and I think that partially originated from my upbringing in Georgia where much of my childhood was spent exploring the outdoors. As an adult, my passion for adventure has become a part of who I am. I do it because it makes me feel alive. Being in extreme and wild places, like inside of a volcano, reminds me of my mortality and that I am at the mercy of forces much greater than myself. Most importantly, my adventures serve as existential wake-up calls to live with intention, push boundaries and chase my dreams.

The experience has opened a number of doors, professionally speaking, and reminded me that it’s OK to take an occasional literal and figurative leap into the unknown. I quit my job to embrace the amazingly unexpected opportunity to become a professional explorer and filmmaker, and am currently in discussions with a number of TV networks and iconic film brands. What the future holds is still uncertain, but it feels good marching to the beat of my own drum.

I’ll return to the volcano in December with a team of volcanic pioneers, scientists and filmmakers to make history in an attempt to be the first to document, record and explore the world’s rarest and most newly-formed lava lake. I’m currently seeking funding and will allow six guests to join the expedition.

What were some of your favorite things to see and do while living in Athens?

Some of my favorite memories are of lying in the grass on the beautiful grounds of North Campus, soaking in the intellectual energy of my surroundings. I loved interacting with my twin sister and our diverse group of friends, celebrating game days, spending time at coffee shops downtown, enjoying the amazing live music scene and day dreaming of ways in which I’d one day leverage my education and experiences to inspire others to pursue their own passions.

To learn more about Sam and his volcanic journey, click here