Ruth Bartlett (BBA ’76) hasn’t always been the Lowcountry mainstay she is now. Originally from Atlanta, the former University of Georgia Alumni Association president retired to Hilton Head Island full-time in 2015 and made the bucolic beach town her new homebase.
However, it wasn’t until University of Georgia Public Service and Outreach began alumni outreach in the Savannah area–a mere 30 miles away–that Ruth first learned about the UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant program on Skidaway Island, a program that would eventually become an integral part of her philanthropy.
Ever since retiring to the coast, Ruth says she has had more time to delve into interests beyond her career. An accountant by trade, Ruth found herself interested in marine sciences and ecology–the sort of interests that perhaps come naturally to those who live in the Lowcountry, the region stretching across the coastal plains of South Carolina and Georgia.
UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant has a mission to improve the environmental, social and economic health of the Georgia coast through research, education and extension. Ruth’s newfound interests and her connection to UGA combined in Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, and she quickly became an advocate for the project.
Ruth is no stranger to fostering community and making connections with those who have similar interests as her. After years serving on the Terry College of Business Alumni Board and recruiting recent UGA accounting graduates to her accounting firm, she became UGA Alumni Association president in 2015. In the wake of this, Ruth created the Hilton Head alumni chapter as a way to connect her new beachside present with her Bulldog past.
“I really feel like I got an exposure to the entire university with my Alumni Association president,” she says. “I’ve done a lot of volunteer work with nonprofits by serving on various boards and such, but serving as the President of the UGA Alumni Association was by far the best experience I’ve had in my volunteer work. The connection with UGA’s outstanding students and knowing I was helping shape their lives was the best.”
The Hilton Head alumni chapter has grown quite a bit in the years since, hosting a variety of events like local fundraisers, game-watching parties and speaker series, as well as bringing Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant programming to Hilton Head.
With the PSO marine extension so close to her heart, it is no wonder that Ruth wanted to assist with their latest project–a renovation and expansion of their aquarium stationed on Skidaway Island. With a generous commitment of $150,000, Ruth wanted to help revamp the aquarium’s significant programming for school-age children in the Lowcountry.
“The idea was for my contribution to fund the addition of a live oak tree house replica inside the aquarium to serve as a sort of ‘learning tree’ for children’s programming,” Ruth describes.
It is her hope that her involvement will help get others interested in giving to the project and get alumni more involved with UGA outside of Athens. Along with her gift to the renovation efforts, Ruth also takes part in multiple events throughout the year that benefit and raise awareness for Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s programs; from fishing trawls and horseshoe crab encounters to the annual Oyster Roast for a Reason at the aquarium, Ruth believes events like these can be a way for the university to get initial contact with alumni and communicate both the breadth of UGA projects across the state and how giving back can enhance those projects.
Plus, the university knows how to connect with alumni. Ruth explains, “By attending an alumni vent, you’ll meet someone new or learn something new about the university and they’ll have a good time while doing it.”
For recent alumni or those who are interested in getting involved, Ruth has some advice. “Get involved locally; go to a game-watching party, a Women of UGA luncheon or educational program,” she advises, “Or anything else that your local chapter is doing to get you reacquainted with UGA where you live.”
With over 350,000 alumni in the United States alone and 90+ chapters across the United States and abroad, the university prioritizes alumni involvement and strives to meet them where they are. “Alumni will no doubt be able to find something that the university is doing that will pique their interest,” she says.
Engaging alumni and serving communities in ways that are distinctive to their interests and needs is part of the reason why Ruth’s journey with the university is extending far beyond her days in Athens.