UGA names new alumni president, board members

The University of Georgia Alumni Association Board of Directors has elected its 78th president, C. Lee Zell (AB ’96), and approved eight new board members. Their terms began July 1.

Zell has been on the board since 2015 and succeeds Yvette K. Daniels (AB ’86, JD ’89), whose two-year term concluded June 30. As a national account executive for WBD Sports, the sports marketing and broadcast arm of Warner Bros. Discovery, Zell is responsible for national television and digital advertising sales and sponsorships for a portfolio of sports properties in the Southeast. That portfolio includes the NBA, MLB, NHL, NCAA March Madness, U.S. Soccer, Bleacher Report and House of Highlights.

“Lee is a spirited and supportive alumna who has been involved with our board of directors for eight years,” said Meredith Gurley Johnson (BSFCS ’00, MED ’16), executive director of alumni relations. “She is passionate and committed, and I cannot wait to continue working with her and our new board members as we seek to engage alumni in supporting UGA’s faculty, staff and students throughout the year.”

Zell is a Brunswick, Georgia, native, but now resides in Atlanta. She earned a bachelor’s degree from UGA in speech communications in 1996 and began her career with Turner Broadcasting soon after. She serves on the Washington Media Scholars Foundation Advisory Board, is a member of Leadership Georgia (Class of 2023), and is the vice president of the Chi Omega/University of Georgia House Corporation.

Alumni who joined the board on July 1 include:

  • Don Grimsley (BBA ’96, MBA ’99), President, Grimsley Enterprises, Inc. / BHHS Commercial Real Estate; Gainesville, Georgia
  • Jessica McClellan (AB ’00, JD ’03), Trial Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice; Potomac, Maryland
  • Jason Morris (BSA ’97), Regional President, Colony Bank; Ocilla, Georgia
  • Rachel Perry (BBA ’93), Chief Innovation Officer – Commercial Risk Solutions North America, Aon Risk Services; Mableton, Georgia
  • Matt Sawhill (BBA ’01), Principal, Sawhill Strategic Partners; Rome, Georgia
  • Bowen Shoemaker (ABJ ’06), Assistant United States Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice Middle District of Georgia; Macon, Georgia
  • Daniel Stewart (BSFCS ’05), President and Owner, Wier/Stewart; Augusta, Georgia
  • Andres Villegas (BSA ’98), President/CEO, Georgia Forestry Association and Georgia Forestry Foundation; Macon, Georgia

The executive board members who will serve alongside Zell include:

  • Corey Dortch (BSA ’03, MED ’05, PHD ’11), Vice President – Associate Dean – Evening MBA Program, Emory University; Marietta, Georgia
  • Todd Phinney (BBA ’88), Secretary – Business Consultant-Field Operations, Chick-fil-A, Inc.; Bishop, Georgia
  • Anne Beckwith (BBA ’90), Chapters Committee Chair – Community Volunteer; Atlanta, Georgia
  • Yvette K. Daniels (AB ’86, JD ’89), Immediate Past President – Deputy Director – Division Workforce Management, Georgia Department of Public Health; Stone Mountain, Georgia
  • Paton Faletti (BBA ’99), Signature Programs Committee Chair – President and CEO, NCM Associates; Atlanta, Georgia
  • Dominique Holloman (BS ’01, AB ’01, MED ’04, JD ’04), Nominating Committee Chair – Government Affairs Professional, Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority; Atlanta, Georgia
  • Elliott Marsh (BSA ’02, MAL ’11), Student & Young Alumni Committee Chair – Financial Advisor, Edward Jones; Statesboro, Georgia
  • Raegan Tuff (PHD ’09), Affinity Committee Chair – Public Health Analyst, CDC; Lilburn, Georgia

The UGA Alumni Association Board of Directors works closely with UGA’s alumni relations staff to promote, support, and advance the programs and services that are offered to more than 355,000 living alumni around the world.

Board members who concluded their terms on the board on June 30 included:

  • Robert Watts (AB ’10), Atlanta, Georgia
  • Brian Dill (AB ’94, MBA ’19), Carrollton, Georgia
  • Jon Howell (BBA ’99, MBA ’17), Jefferson, Georgia
  • Eric Cohen (BSA ’00), Whigham, Georgia
  • Truitt Eavenson (BSAE ’83), Savannah, Georgia
  • Steve Horton (ABJ ’71, MED ’85), Athens, Georgia
  • Shondeana Morris (ABJ ’82), Atlanta, Georgia

View the full list of UGA Alumni Association Board of Directors.

Travon Walker’s TW Foundation Donates To UGA Athletics

This story was originally published on the UGA Athletics site on July 24, 2023.

Former Georgia Bulldog Travon Walker, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, has donated $44,000 to UGA Athletic Association via the Travon Walker Foundation.

“The University of Georgia has made a major impact on my career in many ways,” Walker said. “Without the University of Georgia, to be honest, I really don’t know where I would be at this point. I’m truly grateful that I went to the University of Georgia, which helped instill me with leadership, integrity and discipline. One of the main things that made me contribute and give back to the University of Georgia was just the simple fact that the university poured so much into me. UGA helped provide me with the opportunity to continue my journey and do things that I like to do, which are to play football and go to school to get a great education. Those factors played a major role in my decision to attend the University of Georgia, and I’m extremely thankful about that decision.”

Walker’s gift is part of the Foundation’s #BlessUp44 campaign. The initiative will annually donate $4,400 44 times, synonymous with the jersey No. 44 Walker has worn throughout his football career. The donation to UGA represents 10 of those offerings for 2023.

The Walker Foundation’s donation has been specifically ear-marked for UGA Athletics’ Sports Medicine program and the purchase of specific equipment to assist in both rehab and training.

“We greatly appreciate Travon’s generous donation through the Travon Walker Foundation,” said Ron Courson, the UGA Athletic Association’s Executive Association Athletic Director for Sports Medicine. “Travon represented the University of Georgia extremely well both on and off the field and continues to make positive impacts now through his play in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars and in the community through his foundation. The funds will be used to purchase a Kineo Intelligent Load system. Kineo is a new generation robotic machine from Italy designed for both rehabilitation and training. It offers a wide variety of testing and training capabilities and is the first unit that can test with both open chain and closed chain. This gives us outstanding functional training capabilities and will greatly benefit our student-athletes.”

Walker was a standout at Upson-Lee High School in Thomaston, Ga., where he was named first-team all-state in football and second-team all-state in basketball as a senior. He was ranked among the nation’s top-10 defensive line prospects in the Class of 2019 by every major recruiting services.

Walker blossomed at Georgia and started at defensive tackle in all 15 games during the Bulldogs’ 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship season. As a junior, he tallied 37 tackles, 6.0 sacks, 7.5 tackles for loss and a team-high 36 quarterback pressures, closing out his Georgia tenure with a career-best seven pressures in the national title win over Alabama. Walker was named SEC All-Freshman in balloting of league coaches in 2019 after recording 15 tackles, with 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. He helped clinch the SEC East title with a fourth-down sack at Auburn.

Walker became the fifth Georgia player to be selected first overall in the NFL Draft when he was chosen by the Jacksonville Jaguars. With the pick, Georgia tied Notre Dame, Oklahoma, and USC for the most first-overall picks by one institution at five. In his rookie season, Walker started 14 of 15 games played and recorded 49 tackles, 3.5 sacks, one interception, two passes defended and one forced fumble while helping the Jaguars reach the Playoffs for the first time since 2017.

About the Travon Walker Foundation 
The Travon Walker Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization committed to helping the youth of today be where their feet are. We show young people how to use their strengths to identify, plan, and pursue their passions. The Travon Walker Foundation aims to inspire the next generation of leaders, entrepreneurs, and community builders. The foundation’s focus areas include job creation in Thomaston, Ga., (Travon’s hometown); business and financial literacy for youth; youth sports facility & equipment improvements; and community development in Thomaston.

Support sports medicine at UGA

Rhodes to Success

Stories like Natalie Navarrete’s would not be possible without the generous support of donors. The Foundation Fellowship—and the role it played in Natalie’s journey—is just one example of how private giving sets students on a path to prosper.

This story, written by Erica Techo, was originally published on UGA Today on July 20, 2023.

Natalie Navarrete didn’t know Russian when she came to the University of Georgia. Now, she has studied it around the globe.

Natalie Navarette stands on top of Baiterek in Almaty, Kazakhstan. This is a symbol of Kazakhstan’s independence and Kazakhstan’s first president placed his hand on that podium which now has his handprint. (Photo courtesy of Natalie Navarette)

Natalie Navarette stands on top of Baiterek in Almaty, Kazakhstan. This is a symbol of Kazakhstan’s independence and Kazakhstan’s first president placed his hand on that podium which now has his handprint. (Photo courtesy of Natalie Navarette)

Navarrete graduated in spring 2023 with several new stamps in her passport, as well as bachelor’s degrees in international affairs, Russian and Spanish, and a minor in Latin American and Caribbean studies. She capped off her academic career at UGA as a 2023 Rhodes Scholar, receiving the oldest and most celebrated international fellowship in the world. She was one of only three public university students, in addition to the nation’s service academies, to receive the honor this year.

“Coming to UGA and learning Russian without knowing a single letter in the alphabet was incredibly difficult, but also very rewarding,” said Navarrete, who studied in the university’s Russian Flagship Program, a federally funded languages initiative housed in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. “Going from absolute zero to now having a business proficiency has been a really interesting and honestly exciting experience.”

And Navarrete was up to the academic challenge.

She received the Foundation Fellowship, the university’s top academic scholarship which has supported students for the last 50 years. The fellowship is available through the Jere W. Morehead Honors College and provides travel stipends, grants for research and conferences and additional funding. She is also a Stamps Scholar, a prestigious distinction only given to five Foundation Fellows each year.

“I can’t say enough good things about the Foundation Fellowship and the support that UGA provides its students in general,” Navarrete said. “I’ve learned so much by being around amazing, curious and passionate people all the time. It also helped make UGA a lot smaller and less intimidating in its first year. The Foundation Fellowship provides support for its students in a way that stands out from other universities.”

The fellowship helped Navarrete build a community, and other campus groups continued to strengthen it.

“For Natalie to accomplish so much in her four years at UGA is a testament to both her incredible drive for learning and the strength of our university’s academic programs,” said Meg Amstutz, dean of the Morehead Honors College. “From her immersion in the Russian Flagship Program to her engagement in the Foundation Fellowship, she has been an incredible example of UGA as an academic powerhouse. We are so proud of her.”

In the spring semester of her freshman year, Navarrete joined the Richard B. Russell Security Leadership Program and solidified her academic path forward.

“It was in the Security Leadership Program that I started learning about nuclear policy and nuclear strategy within the field of international affairs,” Navarrete said. “I did my first research connecting how Russian investments in media and education influence the way Latin American countries vote on security issues in the United Nations Security Council. From there, everything sort of snowballed.”

Natalie Navarette and her classmates stand in front of the grand mosque in Astana, Kazakhstan, which is the biggest mosque in Central Asia and one of the biggest in the world. She stands with Sydney Drake (UGA) and Molly Burhans (IU), who were also students in the Russian Flagship program. (Photo courtesy of Natalie Navarette).

Natalie Navarette and her classmates stand in front of the grand mosque in Astana, Kazakhstan, which is the biggest mosque in Central Asia and one of the biggest in the world. She stands with Sydney Drake (UGA) and Molly Burhans (IU), who were also students in the Russian Flagship program. (Photo courtesy of Natalie Navarette).

She seized the chance to study abroad. She improved her language proficiency, built a strong professional network and explored additional research opportunities.

“I don’t know how it all worked out, but my study away experiences perfectly built on each other,” Navarrete said.

These experiences started close to home, with opportunities in Athens and on campus, but they soon expanded worldwide.

From Middlebury, Vermont, and Honolulu, Hawaii, to Oxford, U.K., and Cortona, Italy, it all culminated in a yearlong study abroad in Altmaty, Kazakhstan. There were some disruptions due to the COVID pandemic—moving a program to Honolulu instead of Latvia, for example—but the strength of UGA’s Russian Flagship Program eased those transitions.

“Our flagship was extremely creative and managed to come up with lots of solutions,” she said. “I got to study Russian in Hawaii with two of the best Russian professors in the world, who have written dozens of textbooks on learning Russian. It was an incredible experience. And we were all very excited to go to the beach.”

The Russian Flagship Program also connected her to other students passionate about immersing themselves in a language. Daily language classes and intensive study provided their challenges, but on-campus resources offered encouragement.

All flagship students receive a one-on-one tutor and participate in intensive summer programs that help develop fluency. In September 2022, Navarrete had her capstone year at Al-Farabi Kazakh National University in Kazakstan, a program that included eight-hour days of Russian language and studies, but also opportunities to explore her interests on a new level.

Meg Amstutz, dean of the Morehead Honors College, and Rhodes Scholar Natalie Navarrete talk outside of Moore College. (Photo by Peter Frey/ UGA).

Meg Amstutz, dean of the Morehead Honors College, and Rhodes Scholar Natalie Navarrete talk outside of Moore College. (Photo by Peter Frey/ UGA).

“I took a course on the history of Central Asian Identity and Kazakh identity, and then I was able to apply that during a spring internship,” Navarrete said. “I worked with Altair Academy, a children’s literature group that promotes children’s literacy and reading in Kazakhstan. It was interesting to see how the Kazakh identity was manifested in children’s fairy tales.”

After her year abroad, Navarrete will enjoy a few weeks back in the United States before traveling to South Korea for a five-week conference. There, she will continue her research in nuclear nonproliferation before beginning her master’s program at the University of Oxford.

But first, she made a quick return to campus.

Navarrete lived in a residence hall for three of her four years as a student, even though she spent a large amount of time away from Athens. But any return to campus, she said, serves as a reminder of the university’s dedication to its students.

“You can tell in the way that campus is laid out and the programs that are available that UGA is here to support your everyday life. It really cares about its students,” she said. “And then it goes even further when you see the effort that professors put in to get students interested in different opportunities, to explore their interests and to make the most of their time here.”

Support UGA students


Hear from your peers how rewarding it is to serve as a UGA Mentor

Why now? 

Students will be back soon and looking to connect with experienced Bulldogs like you. In the video above, you’ll hear why your fellow alumni find mentoring so rewarding they don’t want you to miss out. 

Connect anywhere and on your schedule. Getting started is easy. 

  • Create a profile at 
  • Accept a student request for mentorship.

What’s the commitment? 

  • 1-2 hours per month for four months (16 weeks).
  • Share knowledge, experiences and feedback (and, sometimes, just listen).

Quick Chats require even less of a time commitment. 

If a 16-week mentorship doesn’t suit your schedule, consider making yourself available for 15-to-30-minute Quick Chats with students instead. 

Help a student realize their potential. 

I feel that the UGA Mentor Program has allowed me to grow beyond being a student and I will be leaving here with more than just a degree.UGA Student

It may surprise you how much YOU get out of giving back in this way! 

On the fence? Want to learn more? 

To help new and potential mentors, the UGA Mentor Program is hosting a webinar, UGA Mentor Program 101, on Aug. 2 at 3:30 p.m. EDT. You will hear from successful mentor/mentee pairings, learn best practices for forming a strong connection, understand all the ways the program supports mentors, and discover tips to become an effective mentor. 

UGA three-year fundraising average hits record $235.1 million

Donors have long been a powerful source of progress at the University of Georgia, and the past year was no exception. Private donations to UGA in fiscal year 2023 reached $242.8 million, the second-highest fundraising total in the university’s history.

“I want to express my sincere thanks to each and every donor for helping us continue to elevate the University of Georgia to new heights,” said President Jere W. Morehead. “UGA would be a vastly different place without the generous support of our alumni, friends and the UGA Foundation. Private giving helps faculty members raise the bar in their fields, helps connect communities across Georgia to university resources, and helps students achieve things they never thought possible.”

From July 2022 to June 2023, 71,223 donors contributed to UGA, resulting in the third consecutive year—and sixth year of the last seven—that donations have surpassed $200 million. The university’s three-year rolling average, which averages the three most recent years of giving, rose to a record $235.1 million—the third consecutive year this number has risen and the sixth consecutive year it has exceeded $200 million.

“What is so special about the UGA community is that their support is not just strong, it is always so consistent” said Neal Quirk, who chaired the UGA Foundation Board of Trustees during FY23. “Year in and year out, our donors give generously, and that reliable support is so very valuable. No matter what economic conditions arise, the university and its students can thrive thanks to the backing of our great alumni and friends. It makes our entire board very grateful and very proud.”

Over the course of the year, donors endowed 16 faculty positions, bringing UGA’s total to 356, and created 158 scholarship funds. In total, private giving established 301 endowed funds, which will provide reliable, long-term funding to a multitude of areas at the university.

But these numbers tell just a small part of the story. Donor support for UGA took many forms during the 2023 fiscal year. Among them:

  • The UGA College of Engineering is significantly expanding its work in electric mobility thanks to a $5 million investment from Georgia Power Company—the largest single gift ever made to the college. This funding will create scholarships for students pursuing an e-mobility certificate, support e-mobility research and facilitate a statewide e-mobility network and community partnerships.
  • A new, women-directed fundraising group, Georgia Women Give, launched in March to invite more women to become philanthropists and deepen their engagement with UGA. Since then, the group of 75 founding donors have raised over $1.8 million, all directed to three funds supporting scholarships, study away and UGA priority areas.
  • The UGA Poultry Science Building continued to receive significant support, including the largest single gift toward the building to date: a $3 million pledge from the Luther and Susie Harrison Foundation. The building—a 70,000+ square foot, state-of-the-art facility on D.W. Brooks Drive—will help make UGA the global epicenter of poultry science. Its doors will open this fall, with classes beginning in spring 2024.
  • A gift of $1.5 million that, along with a previous commitment, established the John and Alice Sands Offensive Coordinator position on the football team.
  • Chick-fil-A pledged $1.5 million to develop a new statewide youth leadership program and annual summit. The Youth LEAD Georgia program will provide college- and career-readiness through leadership development for 30 to 40 rising Georgia high school sophomores and juniors each year, and the summit will take place at UGA, bringing together high school students from each of Georgia’s 159 counties.

The University of Georgia’s annual Dawg Day of Giving provided perhaps the best example of how widespread support for UGA has become. On March 30, donors contributed 11,091 gifts to UGA in 24 hours, setting a single-day giving record at the university for the second year in a row. Donors hailed from all 50 states, and their gifts totaled $5.6 million.

The annual Senior Signature student giving campaign also set a record this year, with 3,377 members of the Class of 2023 donating to the class gift program, which has been in place since 1991. Parents of UGA students set high watermarks as well when the Parents Leadership Council both raised and awarded over $1 million to benefit campus organizations.

“UGA’s status as a powerhouse of academics and athletics relies so much on donor support. We just can’t thank our generous supporters enough,” said Jill S. Walton, interim vice president for development and alumni relations. “Our successes are in large part thanks to them, so watching that support grow is exciting—just imagine where our students, our university and our state will go next.”

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Alumni among new UGA Foundation leadership, members

Athens, Ga. – The University of Georgia Foundation Board of Trustees approved changes in leadership and board positions during its annual June meeting in Greensboro, Georgia. These individuals’ terms began July 1. 

The board voted unanimously to elect Allison C. Ausband as chair for a two-year term running through June 30, 2025. She succeeds Neal J. Quirk Sr., whose term concluded June 30. The board also elected trustees E. Howard Young as executive vice-chair, Bonney S. Shuman as secretary, and James G. Cochran Jr. (Guyton) as treasurer. 

The UGA Foundation elected three new trustees who will join current members to comprise a 46-member board. Those individuals include Yvette K. Daniels, Edward R. Castro and Mark L. Jennings. 

The board also accorded emeritus status to six trustees: Eleanor F. Banister, Mark B. Chandler Sr., Jennifer D. Flanagan, Ted McMullan, John H. Crawford IV and Barry L. Storey. 

Two advisory trustees, Mark A. Kauffman and R. Scott Kingsfield, were elected to assist foundation committees in defining and achieving their strategic goals. 

Individuals with new positions or status in relation to the UGA Foundation are: 


  • Allison C. Ausband, of McDonough, chair, is the executive vice president and chief customer experience officer for Delta Air Lines. She previously served as vice-chair, chair of the foundation’s Nominating and Trusteeship Committee, and strategic vice-chair. She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from UGA in 1983. 
  • E. Howard Young, of Atlanta, vice-chair, is president of General Wholesale Beer Company. He previously served as chair of the Student Scholarships and University Initiatives Committee, and strategic vice-chair, which oversaw the Development Committee, Student Scholarships and University Initiatives Committee, and Special Projects. He earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing from UGA in 1982. 
  • Bonney S. Shuman, of St. Simons Island, secretary, co-founded Stratix Corporation in 1983 and served as president and then CEO. She previously held the treasurer position, chaired the Finance Committee and, from 2017 to 2019, she was the UGA Alumni Association president. She earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from UGA in 1980. 
  • James G. Cochran Jr. (Guyton), of Carrollton, treasurer, is executive vice president and chief financial officer for Southwire Company, LLC. He earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from UGA in 1988. 

Elected Trustees

  • Yvette K. Daniels, of Stone Mountain, is the deputy director of workforce management for the Georgia Department of Public Health. Daniels is the immediate past president of the UGA Alumni Association. She earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from UGA in 1986 and a law degree from UGA in 1989. 
  • Edward R. Castro, of Atlanta, is the president of Ed Castro Landscaping in Roswell. He earned a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture from UGA in 1988. 
  • Mark L. Jennings, of Watkinsville, is the owner of Athens Construction Group, LLC. 

Advisory Trustees

  • Mark A. Kauffman, of Atlanta, is the retired former owner and president of Kauffman Tire, Inc., and Treadmaxx Tire Distributors, Inc. He earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from UGA in 1984. 
  • R. Scott Kingsfield, of Atlanta, is a partner with Luminate Capital Partners. 

Ex-Officio Voting Trustee

  • C. Lee Zell, of Atlanta, has succeeded Yvette K. Daniels as UGA Alumni Association president. Zell earned a bachelor’s degree from UGA in 1996, and is a national account executive with WBD Sports, the sports marketing and broadcast arm of Warner Bros Discovery. 

UGA Alumni affinity group leadership councils welcome new members

The University of Georgia Alumni Association has added 32 new members to the leadership councils for the Black Alumni, Latino Alumni, Women of UGA and Young Alumni affinity groups. 

“We are so pleased to welcome these passionate alumni who are committed to helping their fellow Bulldogs maintain lifelong relationships with UGA,” said Meredith Gurley Johnson, executive director of alumni relations. “I look forward to working with them and seeing how they use their unique perspectives to represent our vast alumni network.” 

The following alumni have joined the affinity group leadership councils to help build a community among specific alumni populations including young alumni, women, Black alumni and Latino alumni. 

Black Alumni 

  • Kiondre M. Dunnam, director of public relations and community engagement, The Brookman Group; Douglasville, Georgia; BSED ’16 
  • Alicea Gaston, manager of foundation communications and stewardship, Wellstar Health System; Marietta, Georgia; BS ’10, AB ’10, MBA ’18 
  • Camille Telicia Gordon, leadership and life design strategist, The Intentional Goddess; Atlanta, Georgia; BS ’08 
  • Shirleyse Haley, senior skilling marketing manager for security, Microsoft; Smyrna, Georgia; ABJ ’11 
  • Godswill Nwankwo, program manager, Google; Atlanta, Georgia; BBA ’20 
  • Aspen Robinson, Ph.D., manager of leadership development and culture strategy, Accenture; Atlanta, Georgia; BS ’14, PHD ’19 

Current council member Shayla Hill (BBA ’08) began her one-year term as president of the Black Alumni Leadership Council on July 1. 

Latino Alumni 

  • Justin Acosta, business consultant, NCR Corporation; Atlanta, Georgia; BBA ’23 
  • Char-Lynn Griffiths, staff customer researcher, Intuit Mailchimp; Atlanta, Georgia; ABJ ’07 
  • Kimberly M. Lopez, equity coordinator, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine; Cumming, Georgia; AB ’20, MPA ’22 
  • Michael E. Pérez, attorney and owner, The Pérez Law Firm; Atlanta, Georgia; AB ’97, JD ’00 
  • Orlando Burgos Pimentel, market research project manager; Decatur, Georgia; ABJ ’17 
  • Anthony Rodriguez, executive director, HUB404 Conservancy; Atlanta, Georgia; BFA ’91 
  • Marline Thomas, lead office of CIO and technology, Orbia; Duluth, Georgia; MIT ’09 
  • Claudia Trejo Valenzuela, secondary English teacher, East Forsyth High School; Flowery Branch, Georgia; BS ’22, ME ’24 

Current council member Jazmine Medrano (BSFCS ’15) began her one-year term as president of the Latino Alumni Leadership Council on July 1. 

Women of UGA 

  • Payton Anderson, director, IndustryPro; Roswell, Georgia; BBA ’18 
  • Debbie Durrence, Ed.D., executive director of data governance, Gwinnett County Public Schools; Suwanee, Georgia; BSED ’98, EDD ’04  
  • Ekta Gaur, management consultant for strategy and transformation; Atlanta, Georgia; BS ’06 
  • Audrey Lewis, attorney, Gregory, Doyle, Calhoun and Rogers; Atlanta, Georgia; AB ’07, ABJ ’09, JD ’10 
  • Sarah Sprayberry, senior manager of warehouse sales operations, The Coca-Cola Company; Atlanta, Georgia; BSA ’95 
  • Caroline Stelling; senior vice president and business unit leader, RPS Group; Marietta, Georgia; BSES ’11 
  • Tiffany Nicole Wooten, director of annual giving, The Westminster Schools; Atlanta, Georgia; AB ’11, MPA ’15 

Current council member Laura Jalbert (BSW ’99, MSW ’00) began her one-year term as president of the Women of UGA Leadership Council on July 1. 

Young Alumni 

  • Sam Canales, financial planning analyst, brand manager, Creative Financial Group, a division of Synovus; Atlanta, Georgia; BBA ’21 
  • Nickolas Collins, consumer insights manager, Ford Motor Company; Decatur, Georgia; MBA ’22 
  • Caroline Cordell, student, Emory University School of Nursing; Atlanta, Georgia; BSFCS ’22 
  • Kanler Cumbass, associate, Education Strategy Group; Atlanta, Georgia; MED ’21 
  • Isabella Joseph, junior interior designer, Lord Aeck Sargent; Athens, Georgia; BFA ’20 
  • Hanna Jon Lewis, Minute Maid brand assistant, The Coca-Cola Company; Atlanta, Georgia; BBA ’20, MS ’21 
  • Avery Monthero, in-flight service peer support program lead, Delta Air Lines; Atlanta, Georgia, BSFCS ’17 
  • Jackson O’Brien, attorney, Butler Snow LLP; Atlanta, Georgia; AB ’18, JD ’21 
  • Tyra Roberts, product manager, Bank of America; Atlanta, Georgia; BBA ’19 
  • Ariel Watt, associate consultant; Charlottesville, Virginia; AB ’19 

Current council member John Bowden (BBA ’13) began his one-year term as president of the Young Alumni Leadership Council on July 1. 


Family connection to UGA inspires commitment to giving and service

Charlene Johnson Benn (BS ’85) had a connection to the University of Georgia before she could even walk. She was named after Charlayne Hunter-Gault (ABJ ’63), who was an award-winning journalist, foreign correspondent, civil rights activist and one of the two first Black students to attend UGA. Benn has big shoes to fill, and she takes honoring her namesake’s legacy very seriously.

Charlene’s family bleeds red and black–she, two of her siblings, her goddaughter and her children attended UGA. Their family’s journey at UGA began when her older sister, Dianne East (BBA ’83, MACC ’86), made the decision to enroll.

Dianne and Charlene babysat as teenagers for a neighborhood family who was deeply connected to UGA, and the family encouraged them to apply. Although neither of the sisters’ parents had graduated from high school, they had encouraged their children to prioritize their education. Dianne enrolled first, next was their brother, Albert Johnson Jr. (AB ’82), then Charlene.

“It was a no-brainer by then,” Charlene said of her decision to attend UGA. It was the only college she applied to.

Charlene and Charlayne Hunter-Gault pose for a photo

Charlene and Charlayne pose for a photo in the UGA Chapel.

The start of a family legacy

The three supported one another during their time at UGA, all sharing one car on campus and meeting up frequently for football games and other activities. When the Georgia Bulldogs won the college football national championship in 1980, Charlene and Dianne were cheering on their brother as he played in the Redcoat Band. After Dianne joined Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Zeta Psi Chapter, Charlene joined the sorority as well, an experience she said helped bring her out of her shell and make the most of her college experience.

As a student, Charlene devoted herself to uplifting UGA’s Black community. She served as president of Delta Sigma Theta as well as being involved in Pamoja Singers and the Committee for Black Cultural Programs.

Charlene has continued her service to the university as an alumnus through her giving efforts and membership on the UGA Alumni Association Board of Directors. She has had the opportunity to meet her namesake, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, a few times, an experience which deepened her emotional connection to UGA even further.

She served on the Black Alumni Leadership Council, focusing on ensuring that all alumni feel a sense of ownership and passion for continuing the legacy of Charlayne Hunter-Gault and Hamilton Holmes through their giving and their support of diversity and inclusion.

Continuing the legacy

When it was time for her children and goddaughter to apply to college, Charlene strongly urged them to attend UGA because of her own experience. Both of her daughters and her goddaughter chose to attend and remember being impressed by Charlene’s love and commitment for the university years after her graduation.

Charlene and her sister were overjoyed that her children had chosen UGA because it continued their family’s legacy and deepened their own connections to the university. She showed her daughters around campus during their orientation, pointing out places that were important to her along the way—places at which her daughters would go on to make their own memories.

Peyton Fraser (BS ’14, BSED ’14), Charlene’s youngest daughter, said that coming to UGA “felt like a sense of home.”

“Our family legacy made our experience unique,” she said.

Charlene's daughters pose in the stands at a UGA football game

Charlene’s daughters, Taylor and Peyton, pose in the stands at a UGA football game.

The impact of giving

Charlene’s family ties to the university have inspired her to give back. Both she and her sister received scholarships to attend UGA and are very grateful for the contributions that helped make their time at UGA possible. The two created a need-based scholarship in 2020 in support of minority students. The scholarship, called the Albert and Naomi Johnson Scholarship, is named in honor of their parents and empowers students who otherwise may not have been able to attend college.

“We wanted to make a path for anyone who really wants to get an education,” Charlene said. “Small scholarship funds made all the difference for us.”

Charlene credits UGA with her professional success. She got her first job after graduating from UGA at SunTrust (now Truist) after meeting her boss, a fellow Bulldog, at a UGA job fair. The job launched her lifelong career in information technology and financial services. She currently works as senior director of operations and technology strategy at Fiserv, a financial technology company.

“I will tell anyone that my attendance at the University of Georgia has made all the difference in my life,” she said.