No business like show business

This feature was originally published in the March issue of Georgia Magazine.

Emily Hammond Cook’s (AB ’07) journey into the New York theater scene sounds familiar at first. After graduating from UGA, she moved to the Big Apple with no job or apartment—just big dreams and ambition. Cook’s interests, however, were not performing on the stage and under the bright lights, but working behind the scenes.

Since then, Cook has carved out a role off-Broadway in the management side of nonprofit theatre, helping make the art form accessible to the general public. In that capacity, she played a supporting role in the developing stages of the smash-hit musical “Hamilton.”

Cook majored in theater at UGA, while also taking business classes.

“I love UGA and am so deeply grateful to it for all the ways in which it shaped and molded me into who I am today,” said Emily. “Those four years in Athens were the most formative years of my life and I wouldn’t be where I am today if not for UGA and the experiences and relationships formed there.”

Emily now donates to the UGA Department of Theatre and Film Studies in recognition of the lasting impact it has had on her career. She hopes her gifts will help ensure the support the department deserves and will inspire others to acknowledge the need for funding.

As president of the NYC Dawgs Alumni Chapter and a member of the 40 Under 40 Class of 2015, Emily remains deeply connected with her alma mater and encourages alumni in New York City to connect with their fellow Bulldogs.

After graduation, Cook landed an internship in the casting department at the Manhattan Theatre Club, an acclaimed Broadway nonprofit theater company. “I loved being in on the audition process and seeing how new shows are developed,” she says. “It was a huge learning experience in how nonprofit theaters are run.” After the internship, Cook worked as an assistant to the executive producer of the company, Barry Grove, who became a mentor and, as she says, provided a “master class in theater producing.”

From there, Cook took a job in general management at the Public Theater, a premier off-Broadway nonprofit, where she works on budgets, contracts, and union matters. By chance, she took a role as the co-company manager of a new musical in development. Her job was to serve as a caretaker of the cast, “doing everything to keep them healthy and happy.” That production was “Hamilton.”

“We knew the show was special and were confident it was going to be a hit, but we had no way of predicting the cultural phenomenon it has become,” Cook says. The show earned stellar reviews and played to capacity houses full of celebrities at the Public Theatre before moving to Broadway.
“It was a life-changing experience getting to be a part of the revolution that is ‘Hamilton.’”

Show business goes on for Cook, who now serves as the general management planning and programs manager at the Public Theatre, which produces 10 to 15 shows a year and presents the renowned Shakespeare in the Park, which has offered free productions in Central Park for over 50 years.

Cook says her philosophy about theater aligns with the Public’s ethos: “Theater shouldn’t be an elitist art form; it should be accessible to all, created by all, and should share the stories of all walks of life.”

Know an outstanding young alumnus like Emily Hammond Cook? Nominations are open for the 40 Under 40 Class of 2017 are open until April 7!

Bulldog in the Big Apple: Josh Johns (AB ’11)

Through a combination of his serious dedication and the immense support from his professors at UGA, Josh Johns (AB ’11) is living out his dream. After landing a highly sought-after editorial internship with Marvel Comics while in college and going on to become the director of digital media for comics company Valiant in Manhattan, Josh has seen his hard work pay off starting from his UGA days to today.

Early on, Johns realized he wanted to get into the comic book industry. He knew UGA would be a place where he could grow his abilities and was proved right through his positive experiences as an English major in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. The constant support from his professors led directly to a valuable internship and propelled him into career success post-college. Now, Johns lives in New York and cheers on the Dawgs from a UGA-themed bar that gives him a slice of Athens in the big city. In a conversation with Johns, he shares his story and dishes out meaningful advice for current students.

Josh Johns (AB '11)

Josh Johns (AB ’11)

Where are you from?

I’m from Ithaca, New York, but I went to high school in Lawrenceville, Georgia.

What made you decide to come to school at the University of Georgia?

I had friends who had really positive experiences there, which made me interested in UGA. Once I got there, Franklin College was a place that—being someone who wanted to get into niche industries—helped you get where you needed to go. I had professors like Christopher Pizzino who were extremely helpful throughout my experience. Their guidance led me to get the Marvel editorial internship and I spent entire summer working there. Franklin is a very forward-thinking college and I knew that would be beneficial to me.

What was your favorite class at Georgia?

Again, Christopher Pizzino was a big influence and he taught a class I took called Graphic Novels of Alan Moore, which I loved. The works of Scott McCloud, Robert Mckee, Joseph Campbell, and Frank Miller also had an incredible amount of impact on my education in comic books.

Where do you work and what do you do?

I work at Valiant Comics in New York City. I was promoted to director of digital media and development there after working for our Editorial and Digital Sales departments. I am tasked with developing Valiant’s slate of live action and animated digital exclusive projects  in addition to a number of special publishing projects. I am lucky enough to have been with the company since our launch in 2012, joining the team right after my time at Marvel. 

What advice would you give to graduating seniors and recent graduates?

Follow your dreams wherever they’re going to take you—whether it as far as New York or farther. Spend your time at Georgia looking for internships because a quality one will directly lead to employment. Push yourself. I was denied from the Marvel internship twice but kept trying. Trust your professors as they try to guide you. Reach out to the alumni inside the areas that you want to work with and figure out how to get in contact with them—they will earnestly try to help you. Be open to their advice and counsel and you will find yourself working where you want to work. We have an incredible alumni network that is a great resource.

What chapter event are you most proud of?

Our game watching parties truly speak to the success of the chapter. We all go the bar American Whiskey for a totally authentic experience of game day in Athens. Every TV is on the Georgia game and the staff there is awesome. If you’re not going to be at Sanford, you should be at this bar.

Also, we host a yearly meet up for recent graduates. This year we got 175 grads all coming to Brooklyn to do a tour of the Brooklyn Brewery. They are always so excited because they just moved to this new city and just getting to hang out with them is great.

What is your favorite thing to do in your current city?

Me and my girlfriend are big theater fans so I always really enjoy a Broadway show. I’m also a big sports fan so you can find me at Knicks and Rangers games. Having a Georgia-friendly bar with UGA basketball and baseball always playing really makes it a home away from home.

Describe Athens in three words.

Coming back soon!

Is there anything else that you would like for me to know?

I hope to be a resource for current students interested in comics. I’ve hired 3 interns out of UGA and I’m passionate about doing so. Students looking to go into the field are always welcome to reach out at

This blog was written by Nellie Pavluscenco ’18, intern for DAR Communications. 

Meet Heather Ward, Boston Chapter President

Did you know that with the help of volunteers, the UGA Alumni Association operates more than 50 alumni chapters across the country? These chapters help alumni maintain their personal connection to the university and help connect alumni to one another. The Boston Chapter is led by Heather Ward, a 2005 Franklin College of Arts and Sciences graduate. The UGA Alumni Association recently sat down with Heather to learn more about her and her time at the University of Georgia.

When did you graduate from UGA and what are you up to now?

I graduated in May 2005. In July 2005, I moved to Boston to attend law school and have been practicing law in Massachusetts since 2008. In 2011, I started my own law practice in Boston handling family and housing law litigation. Working for yourself is truly outstanding.

Heather recently represented the UGA Alumni Association at inauguration of Brandeis University's newest president.

Heather recently represented the UGA Alumni Association at inauguration of Brandeis University’s newest president.

How did you become involved in your local chapter?

I have been attending local chapter events since I moved to Boston. Shortly after graduating law school, I joined our chapter leadership team. For the past several years, I have served as the chapter’s president.

What chapter event are you most proud of?

This is a tough question. The Boston Chapter stays quite active, and we have had numerous events over the years that have been exceptionally well-received, including Summer Freshmen Send-Off picnics and Winter Holiday Parties. Most recently, I would say it was a dinner we held with a local 40 Under 40 honoree. This event was named the 2015 Alumni Event of  the Year by the UGA Alumni Association.

How has being part of your local chapter benefited you?

On a personal level, it has been rewarding to meet and socialize with so many other alumni, to learn about what they are doing professionally and how they are contributing to the city I love so much.

What is the most important lesson you learned during your time at UGA?

The most important lesson learned was to say “yes” to the opportunities that come your way. A friend offers you a chance to go on a fun road trip? Say yes. You get the opportunity to study abroad? Say yes. Someone suggests you get involved in student government? Say yes. You get the idea!

Boston Chapter Happy Hour

Boston Chapter Happy Hour

If there is any advice you could give to a current student, what would it be?

Embrace the differences you have with your fellow students – don’t shy away from them. You are going to meet dozens, perhaps hundreds of people from a different background than that in which you come from. Embrace the differences, educate one another about them, and learn from them.

The University of Georgia is committed to inspiring future leaders and solving the world’s grand challenges. What is YOUR commitment?

I’m committed to spreading UGA’s mission throughout the Boston and New England area. When my time is up as Boston Chapter president, I will continue to stay involved with the Bulldog community here and help foster and enhance the relationship between the University of Georgia, its alumni, students and friends in my city.


UGA Extension: Bettering the World One Community at a Time

Last month, the UGA Alumni Association Board of Directors met for its quarterly meeting and had a chance to hear from Lynwood Blackmon, DeKalb County Extension Coordinator, with the DeKalb Mobile Farmer’s Market. This mobile food market is run through UGA Extension, which helps local communities as part of the university’s mission as a land-grant institution.

In addition to increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables at an affordable price, the Mobile Farmer’s Market also educates its customers about healthy eating habits.

So, how did this program get started? 

Officials in DeKalb approached DeKalb Cooperative Extension to discuss the possibility of launching a Mobile Farmer’s Market modeled after the Fulton County Mobile Market (Fulton Fresh). However, the initiative went well beyond the expected result and the market has become an amazing addition to the already established cooperative extension foundation. DeKalb County was able to provide a retired prison bus, which was retrofitted to accommodate this project.  

This program is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) initiative to promote healthy eating and physical activity and help improve health and reduce health disparities for residents in DeKalb County


What is the program’s mission? 

The mission of the DeKalb Mobile Farmers Market is to provide access to healthy, affordable food. The market makes stops throughout the county bringing fresh regionally grown fruits and and vegetables to low income communities. The Mobile Market accepts EBT (SNAP benefits), credit cards, checks, and cash. The DeKalb Mobile Farmers Market is a program of DeKalb County Extension

The DeK goes to communities without access to grocery stores within a one (1) mile radius and provides an opportunity to learn healthy eating habits and purchase items.

How successful has the program been? 

Year One:

  • More than 10,000 pounds of produce sold
  • Served 8 communities and 2 employee-based locations
  • Served 3,210 non-unique participants

 Year Two:

  • More than 19,000 pounds of produce sold
  • Served 10 communities
  • Served 5,367 non-unique participants


How can people help out?

“Get on the DeK” – This will allow community members to make one-time or continuous donations to the DeK.  The funds will be used strictly for the programming provided by the DeK in DeKalb County.

Volunteer Opportunities – This would involve assistance during large-scale events in May and September of each year and will launch in 2017. Volunteers will go through a simple screening process and half day of training.

Community Partners – Another 2017 initiative is get people involved by having them bring DeK information to their communities and encourage visits to the market.

For more information or to get involved, please email or visit this website.

Representing the Bulldog Nation in Gamecock Country

It’s a tough job keeping the Bulldog spirit alive and well deep in enemy territory, but that’s exactly what Joe Popkowski (BBA ’05) does as president of the Columbia, South Carolina alumni chapter. Jamie Lewis (AB ’12), recently spent some time getting to know Joe and finding out more about what it is like to wear the red and black in Gamecock country.

Joe Popkowski (BBA '05)

Joe Popkowski (BBA ’05)

When did you graduate from UGA and what are you up to now?

I graduated from Georgia in 2005 with a double major in finance and management. I now own and operate a risk management and insurance business, Livingston Insurance, with my wife in West Columbia, South Carolina.  I moved to South Carolina with my wife in 2012 when the opportunity to run our own business became available and to be closer to my wife’s family. We have an almost 4-year old boy whose favorite football player is Nick Chubb,  and twin 1-year old girls. Columbia is very small-business and family-oriented, so despite being in the middle of Gamecock Country, we are happy here!

How did you become involved with your local chapter?

The Alumni Association hosted a Holiday Happy Hour back in 2015, and I was excited to finally attend an event where the Bulldog fans outnumbered the Gamecock fans, so I offered to help with the event. At the time, there was not an official chapter for the Midlands Area of South Carolina, and I was inspired to start up the chapter and represent Georgia in enemy territory.

What chapter event are you most proud of?

Being a brand new chapter, we have only had a few events, which makes each one a proud moment for me as I begin to see the Bulldog pride emerging in the Midlands of South Carolina. But the one I am most proud of so far is a joint Georgia-Carolina game tailgate that we hosted earlier this season. I coordinated with the surrounding chapters in South Carolina, as well as Charlotte, Augusta, and Savannah. We established good contacts for future events at a local brewery and got to meet several new Georgia graduates in the area. Despite the low attendance due to Hurricane Matthew, it was a successful event!


UGA Alumni Night at the Fireflies Game

How has being part of your local chapter benefited you?

All businesses are people businesses, so anytime I can meet new people with a connection is a benefit to me and my business. I also really enjoy being able to introduce my kids to fellow alumni who bleed red and black. Living in a town with another SEC team can be tough for a Georgia fan, and this club has given me a chance to introduce my children to the traditions of the University of Georgia and the incredible people who have graduated from the institution.

What is the most important lesson you learned during your time at UGA?

I believe my experiences both inside and outside the classroom at Georgia gave me a solid foundation on how to succeed in life. The two most important lessons I learned were hard work in the classroom pays off and trying new things keeps you open-minded. I worked hard at my school work, and we all know it takes a lot of personal drive to stay focused on your studies in a town like Athens. But it is possible, and it does pay off in the long-run. Finally, I learned so much by simply trying new activities, meeting new friends, and going to new places. I constantly pushed myself out of my comfort zone after classes were over, and it showed me there was a world beyond my apartment with incredible people that I could learn something from if only I was willing.

If there is any advice you could give to a current student, what would it be?

Work hard and play hard! Learn as much as you can in class, take as many interesting classes as possible, even take the hard classes, just get as much out of the classroom as you possibly can. Boyfriends, girlfriends and friends come and go, but GPA’s are forever.  That’s not to say don’t have fun. Because I believe, play as hard as you can. Enjoy the most unique, fun-filled college town in America. Try the local restaurants, join clubs, and enjoy the evening festivities by the Arch.

The University of Georgia is committed to inspiring future leaders and solving the world’s grand challenges. What is YOUR commitment?

I’m committed to making people the best they can be! I try to give my children the opportunity and support to be the best they can be in whatever path of life they choose. I try to help my employees maximize their potential both during work hours and after. I try to bring positivity and thoughtful guidance to our clients so they can be the best businesses and households possible. I try to help shape my local community by supporting it through my church and other organizations so it can continue to thrive and be the best it can be. Although I drive my wife crazy, I want to be the best I can be to give my family and my community the love and attention they deserve.

From the Arch to the Gateway Arch

As a graduate of the University of Georgia, Stephanie Berrier (BBA ’07) has always been committed to staying involved with her alma mater. Originally involved with the alumni chapter in Chicago from 2007-2010, Berrier immediately reached out to fellow Bulldogs in 2013 when she moved to St. Louis. The rest is history! Today, Berrier is a president of the St. Louis Chapter, which boasts more than 700 alumni and friends in the area.

Digital communications intern Emily Middleton ’18 recently interviewed Berrier to learn more about the St. Louis Chapter.

Stephanie Berrier

Stephanie Berrier

When did you graduate from UGA and what are you up to now?

I graduated from UGA in May 2007 with a degree in International Business from Terry College, and also have an MBA from the Global Partners program at Georgia State and IAE Sorbonne in Paris. Since then, I’ve bounced around for my career and education, living in Chicago, Atlanta, Paris, and Santiago, Chile. Now I live in St. Louis with my husband, Stephen Berrier (AB ’07), and our dog, Savannah. I love to travel and I’ve been fortunate that my studies and work have made that possible!

How did you become involved in your local chapter?

I first got involved when I moved to Chicago, which has a really large chapter. My roommate and I both got involved with the leadership there in from 2007-2010. When I moved to St. Louis in 2013, I didn’t know anyone. So, I looked up the local chapter online to get involved and meet new people. It’s a great way to have a piece of home and make friends!

Meet and Greet with the St. Louis Rams

Meet and Greet with the St. Louis Rams

What chapter event are you most proud of?

Last December, our chapter was able to have an amazing event with the St. Louis Rams, including tickets and a post-game meet and greet with former Georgia Bulldogs Alec Ogletree, Will Witherspoon and Todd Gurley. It was particularly special as the team has now moved to Los Angeles.

How has being part of your local chapter benefited you?

It’s been a great way to meet people, especially as a new person in a new city. In my experience, the passion UGA alumni have for the university and Athens itself is so unique! I’ve literally met Georgia fans all over the world and we instantly had that connection, making it easy to grab a drink and cheer ridiculously within minutes of meeting.

Football Kickoff Event in 2015 with the St. Louis Dawgs

Football Kickoff Event in 2015 with the St. Louis Dawgs

What is the most important lesson you learned during your time at UGA?

It’s hard to pick just one! I think learning to embrace change during my time at UGA was most important. Friends move and change, relationships evolve, even jobs or majors can come and go. Learning to lean into changes, getting excited by the opportunities instead of being afraid or avoiding change, helps build strong character and a positive attitude. It also opens doors to life experiences you may never think you would have, which can be really fun!

If there is any advice you could give to a current student, what would it be?

Enjoy your time at UGA – not just socially, but embrace all the opportunities to get involved! It’s a time to learn and ‘fail’ in a safe environment. Learning what you don’t want to do with your life is an important part of the journey to figuring out what you actually do want to do!

Former professor, cheerleader has rooted for UGA for more than 70 years

Bonnie Bellamy Howard’s school spirit has lasted more than 70 years. And this year’s Homecoming was no different. She rode in the parade and was on the field during the first half with other cheerleading alumni, supporting the Bulldogs.

“It’s just a lot of fun,” she said. “I think it’s amazing—the reaction of the crowd when we run out on the field in our long skirts. That’s the most fun you’ll ever have—­running out on that field and having 98,000 people stand up, scream and yell.”

She started as a freshman at UGA in 1944, putting herself through school by working part time as a cashier in the dining hall.

“I was 16,” she said. “And some of the other students were going to Georgia, so I decided I wanted to go to Georgia, too. It was really that simple.”

In addition to her job, Howard also was involved in the Voluntary Religious Association, the Youth Workers Association Council, the 4-H Club and the Economics Club. On Friday nights, she enjoyed the dances.

But one of her favorite extracurricular activities was joining the UGA cheerleading squad her senior year. The football team won all 11 games that year, Howard recalled, including the Sugar Bowl. She’s celebrating the 70th anniversary of joining the squad, making her one of the oldest cheerleading alumni. And she’s been back for as many Homecoming games as possible since then.

After graduating in 1947 with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree at age 19, she worked as a secretary. Eventually, she decided she wanted more and received her master’s degree in 1950. While working on that degree, Howard taught secretarial science classes in the College of Business Administration.

Howard was teaching at South Georgia College when she met her husband, Daniel, an FBI agent. They moved to California and started a family that now includes five children—Dana, Richard, ­Camille, Gregory and Jody—10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. She continued to teach part time while raising her family. After several other posts, the Howards eventually moved back to Georgia. At

that point, she decided to continue her education even further and graduated with her doctorate from Georgia State University in 1984.

After Daniel died, she wanted to get back into teaching full time and applied for a position at UGA, where she taught

classes until she retired around 22 years ago, earning Teacher of the Year honors a couple of times.

“I expected something of my students,” Howard said. “I enjoyed teaching, and they knew I enjoyed teaching them.”

Math and statistics have always been an interest of Howard’s. She likes to study the numbers to see what data she can pull out—averages, etc.

“I just liked going to school, and I was one of those weird students who liked to study. You don’t hear that much today,” she said. “I was always the inquisitive one in classes. I would be the one who asked all the questions.”

Her advice for students today is similar. She said the most important lessons she learned as a student UGA were to study and make good grades.

“Do your homework, but enjoy your time here,” she said. “There are so many things you can do to get involved. But don’t overdo it, because if you do, you will not make good grades.”

This story was originally published in Columns on October 10.

Bleeding Red and Black in Music City

When it was time for Kelly Smith (AB ’00) to choose a college, she toured different schools: big, small, all girls, coed—she saw it all. However, upon stepping onto UGA’s campus, her decision was made. As a political science major, she studied abroad in Verona, which Smith says taught her unique ways of thinking about the world.

Today, she works at Lighthouse Counsel in Nashville, a company owned by a fellow UGA graduate, that helps nonprofits succeed through fundraising consulting. Getting connected with the Nashville Chapter of the UGA Alumni Association helped her to meet other alumni in the city, and as president, her leadership has grown the chapter. In a conversation with Smith, she shares memories of her college experience, and imparts her wisdom on how students can get the most out of college.


Kelly Smith and Diane Johnson, Director of Parent and Leadership Giving

What was your favorite class at UGA?

All of the classes I took while studying abroad in Verona were amazing. It might have just been the setting, but I really loved them. It was such a great opportunity. My favorite class on campus was the Intro to Political Science course that made me decide on it as my major. It was mind-opening and exposed me to so many ideas that I had never considered in the past. That was the beginning of my interest in political science.

How did you get involved with the UGA Alumni Association?

When I first moved to Nashville, before social media was a thing, I remember getting on a website and finding the Georgia Bulldog Club, which I was vaguely aware of. There was a contact here in Nashville and I asked him how I could get involved. He told me there were a few guys who go to the games together, and that if I wanted to get involved I could, so I did. I ended up tracking down people in Georgia T-shirts and stopping to talk to people with Georgia stickers on their cars—really defining what going organically means—to grow the group, and it took off from there.

What chapter event are you most proud of?

I remember we had a tailgate for Vanderbilt five years ago that was packed—I mean jam-packed. Locals, out-of-towners, UGA employees and people from Athletics were all there.  What was neat was that we had a connection with someone who was selling condos that weren’t open yet, so they gave us full range of the whole facility and pool for the tailgate. We probably had 300 people there, and of course the Alumni Association helped us out a ton. Another one that we have done for years is a water station at the Country Music Marathon. It’s good visibility and marketing for us, and it’s also great from a volunteering standpoint that we can help out.


What is your favorite thing to do in Nashville?

Eat. We have the best restaurants and new ones open all the time. I have a mason jar full of Post-it notes of restaurants that I want to try. I like to try all the new chefs since a lot of them come from Atlanta and beyond. We have great food!

What advice would you give to graduating seniors and recent graduates?

Get uncomfortable. Reach out, network and pick up the phone to call people. I get emails all the time. Emails are great, but I think there’s value in getting uncomfortable and putting yourself out there to grow your circle of friends and connections.

This blog was written by Nellie Pavluscenco ’18, intern for DAR Communications. 

Life the Griot

Written by Bridgette Burton

New York native and UGA alumnus Lemuel LaRoche, aka Life or Life the Griot (MSW ’03), is creating a channel for youth to activate academic success and critical thinking skills, while engaging them with their communities. As the executive director of Chess and Community, his goal is to use chess as a learning tool for young people in the Athens and northeast Georgia areas. The program also sends Athens students abroad for tournaments to learn from their peers across the globe, using chess as the common language.

LaRoche wears many hats, including author, speaker, activist and poet. He has traveled nationally and internationally to fulfill his mission of making a positive impact on youth. Most recently, he became an instructor in the UGA School of Social Work, where he earned his master’s degree. Bridgette Burton (AB ’11, ABJ ’11), marketing and communications chair for the Black Alumni Leadership Council, sat down with LaRoche to talk about his experiences in the graduate program at UGA, and what he does now in the School of Social Work.


Burton: Why UGA?

LaRoche: I had some friends that attended UGA. It wasn’t really on my list at first, but I came to visit for a party and I saw all the beautiful people and beautiful energy here, and I knew that I could come here. It felt good and I said, “You know what, I can do this.”

Burton: Where do you work and what do you do?

LaRoche: In addition to Chess and Community, I’m an adjunct instructor at the School of Social Work, where I teach Organization and Community Theory Practice. I am also the co-chair of the Youth Development Task Force headed by one of the Athens commissioners. Key members of the community serve on this committee to find ways to engage and help our local youth.

I am also working on an initiative to send Athens youth to Ethiopia through a partnership with the Global Education Foundation and Chess and Community. During the summer of 2017, the Classic City Knights (the Athens chess team) plan to travel to Kutaber, Ethiopia, where two secondary schools have accepted our challenge to a chess tournament. Chess is a universal language that will act as a platform to engage the students in meaningful interaction.

Burton: Who is a person who made a significant impact on you while at UGA?

LaRoche: When I think back on my experience, I can truly say that it was a community experience where everyone around me poured into me. My peers and colleagues helped me to grow and challenged me. So many teachers were helpful, but there are three who I am really thankful for because of their academic and personal contributions to my life: Dr. Maurice Daniels (previous dean of School of Social Work), Dr. Edwin Risler and Dr. Deryl Bailey.


Speaking at TEDxUGA in 2015

Burton: What advice would you give to graduating seniors and recent graduates?

LaRoche: Your network is your net worth. Get to know the people who you are in school with now. Get to know your classmates and work with them. Develop those partnerships and they will help increase your net worth. If I would have done more of that, I would have been in a better position. Don’t compromise your integrity. Stick to your goals, develop plans of action. Don’t compromise your humanity for any corporation.

This blog was written by Nellie Pavluscenco ’18, intern for DAR Communications. 

Checking in on past UGA Homecoming Royalty

Homecoming at the University of Georgia holds a special place in many graduates’ hearts. From the annual concert, to the parade through downtown Athens, or the carnival, there are plenty of memories to be made. This week, memories are cherished even sweeter for previous Homecoming Kings and Queens. I enjoyed the opportunity to catch up with some of UGA’s past Homecoming royalty last month to see where they are today and learn more about their experiences being crowned Between the Hedges.

1) When did you graduate from UGA? What are you doing now? When were you crowned as Homecoming King/Queen?

Mel Baxter (AB ’12): I was crowned Homecoming Queen in 2011, and graduated the following spring. After graduation, I enrolled at Clemson University for graduate school and then moved to San Francisco to work at the Stanford Visitor Center. A year ago, I accepted my dream job as the Visitor Center Director at The University of Texas at Austin. Though I left Athens soon after graduation, and have worked at a variety of schools, I still bleed red and black and am a proud UGA alumna.

Colton Fowlkes (BS ’16): I left UGA in May 2015, and I graduated with degrees in biology and psychology, a minor in religion, and a certificate in personal and organizational leadership. I was crowned during my senior year in October 2014. I am in my first year of dental school at The Dental College of Georgia at Augusta University.

Johnelle Simpson (AB ’16, BBA ’16): I graduated from UGA in May 2016. I am now employed by the Clarke County School District in Athens, where I serve as the district’s coordinator for Great Promise Partnership and Work Based Learning. I was crowned King in Fall 2015.

Christina Swoope (BS ’11): I graduated from the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in microbiology and was honored to be UGA’s 2009 Homecoming Queen. I work at the White House Office of Management and Budget as a program examiner. In this role, I have the opportunity to serve America’s most vulnerable population through my work on the Medicare program.

Collette Toney (BSED ’13, AB ’13, MED ’15): I graduated from UGA with undergraduate degrees in both social studies education and history in May 2013. I then graduated from UGA with my master’s degree in May 2015. I was crowned UGA Homecoming Queen in Fall 2012. I am now an educator and cheerleading coach.

Darryl Tricksey (BSEH ’10): I graduated from UGA in 2010. Now, I am a senior associate consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers in their People and Organizations practice. I was crowned in 2009.

Amanda Turner (’17): I finished my coursework at Georgia this past May, and am completing an internship in Augusta before receiving my diploma in May 2017 in human development and family sciences. I am the most recently crowned Homecoming Queen, having received this honor in fall 2015. I am interning with the Children’s Hospital of Georgia for the Child and Adolescent Life Department to be a child life specialist. Child life specialists are development experts, trained to help children process and cope during stressful experiences and specifically within the hospital environment. We help the child or teenager understand their medical diagnoses and corresponding procedures through medical play, procedural support, coping and distraction, family support and normalizing their environment.

2) What made you want to run for Homecoming Court?

Simpson: I was nominated by the Student Government Association to be its representative for Homecoming King.

Johnelle Simpson

Johnelle Simpson (AB ’16)

Toney: I had a lot of friends who encouraged me to run for Homecoming Court. My sorority sisters nominated me to represent our sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Personally, I thought it would be so wonderful to serve as a representative for UGA on Homecoming Court. UGA was the place where I found the most inspiring and faithful friendships, organizations that molded me into the person I am, staff members who believed in me, and academics that gave me the desire to strive for excellence. I couldn’t imagine NOT wanting to represent the place that has so much of my heart in it!

Darien LaBeach & Collette Toney

Darien LaBeach (BBA ’13) & Collette Toney (BSED ’13) pose with former UGA President Michael F. Adams.

3) Describe your crowning experience.

Fowlkes: It was pretty surreal walking my mom out Between the Hedges at the homecoming game. I’ll never forget looking up toward the front of Section 309 and looking straight ahead toward the hedges and seeing all of my friends cheering for me. My favorite part of my crowning experience, though, was being able to look my mom in the eyes and simply thank her for giving me the opportunity to attend the University of Georgia.

Colton Fowlkes

Colton Fowlkes (BS ’16) – Photo Credit: Cassie Wright Photography

Swoope: I am so thankful that someone videotaped the halftime crowning in 2009 because I was so excited and surprised that I honestly can’t remember it fully. To say it was an overwhelming moment would be an understatement as, for me, some of the most amazing moments in my life have all taken place on the 50-yard line of Sanford Stadium and never in my wildest dreams would have I have imagined that this would be one of them. Exactly five years prior, I had been invited to conduct the Redcoats at homecoming as a high school junior, and I specifically remember thinking that conducting the Redcoats that day would be a once-in-a-life-time opportunity. Three years later, I marched onto the field for my first pre-game show as a Redcoat Band Drum Major, being the first African-American female in the history of this university to do so. In that moment in 2009, I stood on the field in total disbelief as a member of the 2009 Homecoming Court representing an organization that I can honestly say has had a large hand in making me who I am today. Very rarely can you say that something has truly changed your life, but I know that I am the person I am today and the leader I will be tomorrow because of the amazing experiences, relationships, and challenges I faced at the University of Georgia. Crowning in 2009 is the moment at which all of that became apparent to me.

Christinia Swoope

Christina Swoope (BS ’11)

Turner: Wow, there are almost no words to tell you how overwhelmed and loved I felt. It is such a powerful experience to stand before a student body of 35,000 students, look into the crowd, and know that most of the incredible faces staring back at you are your friends. Not just people you pass on the bus or in the street, but real friends with whom you have had real experiences. It was such an overwhelming moment to experience all the love you’ve poured into others’ lives and experiences, reverse and pour right back onto you. It’s one of those beautiful, Heaven meets Earth, humbling moments that I think only come a few times during your lifetime. To have one of those moments, surrounded by my family and friends, on Stanford Stadium is something I will never forget. Through the entire experience, I wanted to illuminate the stories and peers that had changed me, not just what I had done during my time at Georgia. I would not be the Georgia Bulldog I am without the influence of others. I hope that in that moment of crowning, that my fellow Bulldogs in the stands felt that their stories were being celebrated right alongside mine.

Amanda Turner

Amanda Turner ’17

4) What did it mean to you to be elected Homecoming King or Queen?

Baxter: Being voted Homecoming Queen meant the world to me. I came from Kansas to be a Georgia Bulldog, and being a student changed my life in a number of ways. It was an incredible honor to represent the place that I love so much, and I will always be grateful for the opportunities that UGA has given me.

Mel Baxter

Mel Baxter (AB ’12)

Tricksey: It meant that I was able to represent the entire class of 2010 and all that we had accomplished. To this day, I am amazed at the impact that we had on the university, and I am proud not just to be a Georgia Bulldog, but to also have graduated with such a dynamic group of people.

Darryl Tricksey & Christina Swoope

Darryl Tricksey (BS ’10) & Christina Swoope (BS ’11) pose with former UGA President Michael F. Adams.

This year’s King and Queen will be crowned during halftime of the Vanderbilt football game on Saturday, October 15. To learn more about Homecoming 2016 and to view a schedule of Homecoming events for students and alumni, please visit



Athens Alumni Office
Wray-Nicholson House
298 S. Hull Street
Athens, GA 30602
(706) 542-2251 | (800) 606-8786

Atlanta Alumni Center
Live Oak Square
3475 Lenox Road NE, Suite 870
Atlanta, GA 30326
(404) 814-8820

Update Your info with UGA to stay connected

Update your info with us to stay informed of events and other fun stuff happening close to you.

Follow UGA Alumni on Snapchat!

Add us on Snapchat by snapping a pic of the snapcode above or by searching for the username @ugaalumniassoc. We cover UGA events on campus and beyond. Be one of the first to follow! This is your window back to Athens.

View the latest issue of the Bulldog Bulletin!

View the latest issue of the Bulldog Bulletin, the monthly e-newsletter of the UGA Alumni Association

Share your latest news and accomplishments

Get your UGA class ring!

Connect with fellow alumni using the UGA online directory

The University of Georgia

Connect with your school or college

The University of Georgia Foundation is registered to solicit in every state and provides state specific registration information at