“It is so helpful to talk with someone who’s been in our shoes …”

In honor of Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Heritage Month, the UGA Mentor Program is highlighting the pairing of mentor Avalon Kandrac (BSBE ’19) with mentee Pravalika Irukulla (BSBE ’22). Both have paired with other people through the program, but they admit their connection with each other was special.

Finding a connection

Avalon: I vividly remember being a young engineering student and longing for guidance and camaraderie in such a male-dominated program. Connecting with Pravalika, we immediately shared that unique bond of both being females with a similar ethnic background in the biological engineering realm.

Pravalika: It is so helpful to talk to someone who has been in our shoes and can help us learn from their experience. Having a mentor to guide you through your college journey and beyond is helpful. Professionally, Avalon helped me figure out if I’m making the right decision about the path I am taking.

Sharing experiences

Avalon: I saw myself in Pravalika when she talked about her future and what she hoped to accomplish with her biological engineering degree. I remember all those same feelings while working toward my degree at UGA. Being a student engrossed in obtaining an engineering degree can be so overwhelming in the moment. I was able to share some perspective and help Pravalika look toward the future, while also appreciating her current time as a student.

Pravalika: We ALL come into college with a bunch of questions in our heads. I wish I had joined the Mentor Program my freshman year and had someone to help guide me right from the start. It would have enhanced my UGA experience. After having such positive experiences as a mentee, I became a Mentor Program Ambassador so that I could make an impact and help show students that we should see our mentors as friends—someone that has been in our shoes and will help us.

Choosing a path

Avalon: Since my career began at Walt Disney World as a Construction Project Manager (Avalon recently accepted a new position with Choate Construction in Nashville), I have connected with students from various colleges interested in both the hospitality and construction fields. While I have enjoyed all the students I have met, I feel I have a special connection with the female engineering students I have been able to mentor.

Pravalika: Even though Avalon wasn’t in the career field that I’m interested in, she helped me reach out and connect with people in fields that did interest me. From there, I learned how to network and find even more people that would be helpful for me.

Creating a network

Avalon: Building a network within the female engineering community is so important. I remember all the women in engineering who gave me guidance and support during my time as a student. One thing I always do as a mentor is connect students with resources and with other incredible mentors.

Pravalika: Being included was the most meaningful part of the mentorship experience. I enjoy talking to people, but I also am shy. It can scare me to take that first step. Avalon’s introductions helped me step out of my comfort zone in a good way and strengthen my communication skills. She gave me many resources and helped me make connections, improving my soft skills and growing my confidence.

Getting with the program

Summer is a perfect time to sign up to be a UGA mentor! You can get your profile together, have your questions answered and familiarize yourself with the resources available online all before the students return in the fall. Registering for the Mentor 101 webinar scheduled for August 3 at 3:30 p.m. ET will allow you to hear from successful pairings, learn best practices for forming a strong connection and discover tips and tricks to becoming the best mentor possible.

Pravalika noted that she appreciated the opportunity to connect with multiple mentors in a variety of ways—be it a 16-week mentorship or 15-30-minute informational interviews. She also loved that there is a diverse group of mentors in the program—and there is always room for more!

A student is coming in the fall who can benefit from your unique perspective and experience. And it may just surprise you how much you get from giving back this way. Sign up today!

 

 

Bulldog Bestseller: ‘A Flicker in the Dark’ lands on NYT bestseller list

January 2022 was quite the month for Stacy Willingham (ABJ ’13).

Her beloved Georgia Bulldogs defeated the University of Alabama to claim the national title on January 10. The next day, her first published novel, “A Flicker in the Dark,” was released. And on January 30, that novel landed on the New York Times bestseller list—the same day she turned 31.

For the 2013 UGA graduate who now lives in Charleston, the process of becoming a published author was a whirlwind affair … one that began on UGA’s campus more than a decade ago.

“My sister attended UGA in the Class of 2010,” says Willingham. “When I was deciding between schools, I spent one weekend with her in Athens and was sold.”

A Start in Athens

While on campus, Willingham—described by her college roommates as “creative, uplifting, easygoing and active”—kept busy. She joined Alpha Omicron Pi sorority, majored in magazines in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, and studied abroad.

“I was lucky enough to study abroad twice,” Willingham reflects. “The first time was in Cortona, Italy. The second time was in London, where I interned at a marketing and PR company called Bespoke Banter. I still think about both experiences often and never take them for granted.”

But it was her Grady classes that laid the foundation for the transformation of her writing hobby into a career.

“Learning how to interview is a skill I still use, even though I don’t interview people anymore. Understanding how to get past surface-level answers taught me how to find the real meat of a story, which now influences the way I create my characters,” explains Willingham. “Studying journalism helped me realize that everyone has a story to tell, and it’s usually not the one we expect. In addition, knowing how to craft a pitch—which I learned at UGA—was invaluable when querying agents.”

Finding the ’Write’ Path

After graduation, Willingham moved to Atlanta and worked for a local marketing agency, Havas Sports & Entertainment. Even with some occasional freelance work on the side, she yearned for more opportunities to write. She began dabbling in fiction, noting that while she had dreams of being published, she was primarily seeing it as a creative outlet. After a few months, though, she realized that she enjoyed writing fiction more than anything. She decided to pursue a Master of Fine Arts in writing from the Savannah College of Art and Design while continuing to work full-time.

By 2019, she had completed graduate school, was back home in Charleston and had two finished novels under her belt. She unsuccessfully shopped the first book around to publishers for five years, but her second novel catapulted her into the high-stakes world of book publishing.

“I secured a literary agent about two weeks after finishing ‘A Flicker in the Dark;’ we spent about six months editing it together,” says Willingham. “Then, we sent it out on submission in June 2020, which ultimately led to my book deal. The road from book deal to publication took another 18 months, during which I got to peek under the hood of the publishing process.”

A Flicker in the Dark book cover

A Dream Come True

By January 30 (her birthday), Willingham’s thriller hit the New York Times bestseller list and was being developed into an HBO Max series by actress Emma Stone’s Fruit Tree and A24.

“I did a lot of anxious thumb-twiddling until it finally hit the shelves,” she says. “It landed on the bestseller list instantly, which means our presales and first-week sales were enough for it to debut at No. 9. I’m still in shock! Hitting the New York Times bestseller list was a dream come true.”

A Cheering Section

After years of hard work, Willingham celebrated with an array of supporters—many of which are listed at the end of “A Flicker in the Dark.” This includes her husband, Britt (BSES ’13), who she met through a mutual friend during her junior year at UGA.

Stacy and Britt on their wedding day

Stacy met her husband, Britt, during their junior year at the University of Georgia.

“Being married to a fellow Dawg is amazing—he’s even crazier about football season than I am, so we spend a lot of time watching games at our local alumni bar (Home Team in Charleston), as well as going to Athens as often as we can and traveling for the big away games. The most fun was probably the UGA vs. Notre Dame game in 2017.”

Stacy and Britt travel frequently to attend UGA football games.

When Stacy and Britt aren’t traveling to watch the Bulldogs play in person, they attend the Charleston Alumni Chapter’s game-watching parties. You can find your local alumni chapter’s game-watching parties posted to alumni.uga.edu/gamewatching during football season.

As she answers questions for this profile and reflects on her dream coming true, she admits she had doubts and fears throughout the process. The words of Teddy Roosevelt, shared by her dad, ring true and spur her on.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Advice for Future Dawgs

Stacy Willingham

Roosevelt’s remarks resemble the advice she would share with graduating Bulldogs.

“Entering the working world is amazing in many ways, but don’t forget to make time for yourself and your passions. Your job is important, but so are your hobbies and your free time. A lot of figuring out what you want to do with your life is through trial and error and giving yourself the space to explore. It’s tough to do that when you’re glued to your desk.”

Just think if Willingham had not dabbled in writing fiction and given herself the freedom to write novels. It’s a risk that paid off—and a success that can never be taken away.

“It’s an accomplishment that I get to carry with me for the rest of my life.”

Willingham’s thriller, “A Flicker in the Dark,” is a page-turner from start to finish. Set in Louisiana, the novel’s lead character explores a tumultuous and sordid family history to discover new secrets that threaten her happiness. Secure your copy from any major bookseller—or Avid Bookshop, a Bulldog-owned business in Athens. (And mark your calendar: Willingham’s second book, All the Dangerous Things, will be released on January 10, 2023!

Alumni collaborate with Bulldog Basics for G-Day tailgate

The Athens Area Alumni Chapter began a new tradition during this year’s G-Day. Before the big game, the chapter organized a tailgate to reconnect with UGA fans and alumni from all over the state.

The chapter held the tailgate at The Intersection at Tate. The chapter provided free food to the attendees from The Flying Biscuit Café, gave away UGA swag and fostered a fun environment where people could enjoy themselves before the scrimmage began.

Bringing in Bulldog Basics

Beyond engaging with their fellow alumni, the Athens chapter wanted to make a positive impact on the Athens and UGA community. They partnered with Bulldog Basics—a nonprofit that provides donated, unused toiletry and personal-care items to UGA students—and hosted an item drive in tandem with their tailgate.

“I know our event was some people’s first exposure to the great work Bulldog Basics does,” said Carrie Campbell (AB ’99, ABJ ’00, MPA ’18), vice president of the Athens chapter and senior public relations specialists with University Housing. “Spreading the message about how they support students was a big part of why [we] wanted to partner with them.”

The chapter encouraged guests to bring supplies or to purchase them ahead of time from Bulldog Basics’ wish lists. With over 130 registrants for the event, the chapter collected around 10 standard-sized moving boxes worth of items—enough to fill a truck! This doesn’t even include the items that were pre-purchased.

 

Bradley Erbesfield (BSFCS ’07, MSW ’10), one of the co-presidents of the Athens chapter and senior coordinator at UGA’s Disability Resource Center, recalled a special moment that happened within the first hour of the event.

Three alumnae approached him and asked him about the chapter, the item drive and Bulldog Basics. Bradley sat with them and explained the event and the impact it had on students in need.

“I love to see people feel comfortable enough asking us questions and showing interest,” he said. “I could really tell that their hearts came out to help others.”

Looking back

While this marked the first G-Day tailgate the Athens chapter ran, this was not their first time holding an item drive. In December of 2020, the Athens chapter partnered with Bulldog Basics again and hosted a donation drive virtually.

Though this was during the pandemic, the Athens chapter still wanted to find ways to support the UGA community. By hosting an online drive, the chapter was able to work with Bulldog Basics without the need for person-to-person contact.

Those who participated could purchase items from Bulldog Basics’ online wish lists or donate money directly to the organization. No one had to leave their home to take part in the drive.

“We wanted to engage with the community and push forward despite the difficulties,” Bradley explained. “It was tough, but the drive ended up having this great impact.”

Looking ahead

While both saw amazing results, shifting from a virtual item drive to their in-person tailgate allowed for the Athens chapter to physically see the UGA community come together. The amount of people who showed up—lugging heavy items like detergent or shampoo for the drive—exceeded expectations.

“The event mixed fun with engagement and philanthropy. Those are sometimes hard to bring together,” Bradley said.

With two successful donation drives done, the chapter is already looking ahead and hoping to do more with Athens-based organizations moving forward to support UGA students and the Athens community.

 

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Honor your alma mater with a UGA Ring

As the spring semester comes to an end, many seniors are preparing to graduate and begin a new phase of life. As students transition to alumni, seniors can take part in a time-honored tradition: the UGA Ring.

UGA Rings serve as a reminder of one’s achievements and memories from their time at the university. They represent the bond between students and their alma mater, allowing them to bring a piece of UGA with them wherever they may go.

While being worn as a student, the Arch on the ring should face toward the wearer. Once a student graduates, the ring should be turned around so the Arch faces away. As students make that turn, it signifies they are graduates of the University of Georgia.

Nash Davis (BBA ’19), a Terry College of Business alumnus and former Student Alumni Council president, bought a ring during his junior year in 2018. Nash wanted to have a UGA Ring to wear to the various events held by the Alumni Association during his final year at UGA. Even after graduating, Nash wears his ring often, showing it off when he returns to Athens or attends university events. He recommends that everyone consider purchasing a UGA Ring.

 photo of two hands holding UGA rings

“It is an investment for sure, but it is something that you will always be glad you have and are able to wear,” Nash said.

Just by seeing his ring, Nash remembers the hard work he put into his college career and feels a sense of pride. His ring also serves as a great conversation starter with fellow alumni as well as friends within his professional career.

“The first time that an alum recognized my signet ring, it paid for itself. The ability to build those relationships and relate to all sorts of people over a symbol like this is awesome.”

Though Nash bought his UGA Ring as an undergraduate, it’s never too late to get one. Purchasing a ring is open to juniors and seniors with 60+ credit hours as well as alumni. Juniors and seniors who purchase a ring before the end of Ring Week each February can expect to receive their rings in April prior to Commencement. All other orders are filled after Commencement.

There is a wealth of options to customize your UGA Ring. You can choose the metal, engrave a message on the inside of the band, and select the side design to display your degree.

However you choose to customize your UGA Ring, this tradition is more than an accessory. The ring and the Arch are reminders that tradition never graduates.