Betting on Bulldogs: John Shurley’s legacy of entrepreneurship at UGA

Each year, the University of Georgia Alumni Association unveils the Bulldog 100, a list of the 100 fastest-growing businesses owned or operated by UGA alumni. The 2021 Bulldog 100 celebrated organizations from over two dozen industries, including agriculture, construction, health care, nonprofits and software.

Powered by the expertise of Warren Averett CPAs and Advisors, the program celebrates Dawgs on top and demonstrates the incredible value of a degree from UGA.

There is one unforgettable member of the Bulldog 100 community: John Shurley. Without his early commitment to the program and dedicated leadership ever since, Bulldog 100 would not be possible. John has supported the program with his facts, figures and insights for over a decade.

Joining the Bulldog 100 community

John is a proud Bulldog, earning his bachelor’s degree in accounting from UGA in 1977. As a student, he was an active member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity.

John Shurley

John Shurley (third from right) with his fraternity brothers in 1977.

The UGA Office of Alumni Relations first approached John with the idea of starting a program to celebrate successful alumni entrepreneurs in 2007. John was an early backer of this startup idea. His love for UGA – and his support for hard-working business leaders – were invaluable in getting the Bulldog 100 off the ground.

John and his Atlanta office of Warren Averett have been Bulldog 100 partners since the program began in 2009. Warren Averett verifies financial information submitted by each company to determine the 100 fastest-growing, alumni-owned businesses. Bulldog 100 would not be possible without the generous sponsorship of John and his team.

Leaving his mark

From the beginning, John and the associates of Warren Averett provided pro bono accounting work, verified applications and finalized a ranked list with sound calculations. His leadership perfected the Bulldog 100 verification process and fostered development within the Office of Alumni Relations.

John values the Bulldog 100 mission to lead and serve. He appreciates the diverse backgrounds of alumni who make the list, from pharmacy to forestry resources, and always highlighted them at the annual Bulldog 100 ceremony.

“I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the trust he placed in our team and for helping us realize our vision. His dedication has touched the lives of so many and put wind in the sails of countless alumni,” said Meredith Johnson Gurley, executive director of the UGA Alumni Association.

John’s legacy

John announced his retirement from Warren Averett last year. Though this year was our last with John helping lead Bulldog 100, his voice and guidance will be evident in the legacy of the Bulldog 100 for years to come. As an alumnus, champion of students and mentor to staff, John remains an integral member of the UGA family.

David Crabtree (BBA ’04), a fellow UGA graduate and accounting professional, will be assuming John’s position as a leader of the Bulldog 100.

“We look forward to working with David Crabtree at Warren Averett, who has been mentored by John these last few years – and what better preparation could he have?” said Meredith.

Where is John now?

John retired with his wife in St. Simons Island, Georgia. But no matter where John calls home, he will never bark alone. From Sanford Stadium to St. Simons, we’re ringing the bell in celebration of John’s impact on UGA.

World Chocolate Day: Q&A with alumni-owned Condor Chocolates

Condor Chocolates store front

The Condor Chocolates cafe located in Five Points. A second location in Downtown Athens is coming soon.

Located in the historic Five Points neighborhood of Athens, Georgia, Condor Chocolates produces bean-to-bar chocolates, confections, gelato and beverages. Brothers and co-owners Peter Dale (ABJ ’99) and Nicholas Dale (BSA ’04) opened the city’s first specialty chocolate shop in 2014 as a homage to the world-class cacao of Ecuador. Visitors can witness chocolate production while indulging in handcrafted desserts. In honor of World Chocolate Day (July 7), we sat down with Peter (a UGA 40 Under 40 honoree back in 2012) to learn more about this alumni-owned chocolate shop.

Peter Dale

Peter Dale, co-owner of Condor Chocolates.

Tell us about your background.

We’re brothers, born, raised and educated in Athens. Nick worked in agriculture after graduating from UGA. His expertise has been invaluable in sourcing beans directly from Ecuador. I graduated with a journalism degree before realizing my passion for food. There’s still a storytelling piece of what we do, which relates to my experience at Grady College. We tell stories through food and beverage rather than the written word.

What advice would you give to an aspiring entrepreneur from UGA?

Lean into the UGA community for advice, support and a very loyal customer base.

What is Condor’s mission?

We bring people together through delicious and beautiful flavors. Crafted with pride and integrity, grown in Ecuador, made in Georgia, from our family to yours.

What product would you recommend to a first-timer at Condor? 

The affogato! Meaning drowned in Italian, the affogato is a shot of espresso with a scoop of chocolate gelato. The gelato sandwich is also a perfect option for summer! It’s two cookies, filled with gelato and coated with cocoa nibs.

How has Condor grown?

Since opening in 2014, we have expanded chocolate making to the Chases Street Warehouses, allowing us to make more products and reach more people. We also have a new café coming soon in downtown. Check it out!

Can you give us a sneak peek at any new products?

In a few weeks, we’re launching our Bulldog Bark, a milk chocolate bar with dried strawberries, pecans and cocoa nibs. With football season coming up, we’re excited to share a red and black product with our Dawgs.

How can alumni support Condor?

We love seeing alumni at the café. Our Bulldog bars and upcoming Bulldog Bark make great hostess gifts and stocking stuffers. Out-of-state alumni can shop for Condor at condorchocolates.com.

How is Condor celebrating World Chocolate Day?

Every day is World Chocolate Day at Condor Chocolates. But on July 7, we will show our customers the whole chocolate production process from bean to bar.

Pete Correll

In May 2021, the University of Georgia lost one of its most accomplished, supportive and proud alumni: Alston D. “Pete” Correll, Jr.

Meet Daniella Singleton, UGA Young Alumni Leadership Council secretary

The University of Georgia’s Young Alumni Leadership Council is made of graduates of the past two decades who connect alumni in their age demographic to UGA. Whether that means raising money for Campus Kitchen at UGA through a Cooking Class with Peter Dale (ABJ ’99) or interviewing alums like comedian Mia Jackson (AB ’00), they work to ensure that the 40,000 young alumni living in metro Atlanta are connected to their Bulldog family and that they Never Bark Alone.

We recently chatted with Daniella Singleton (BS ’08, AB ’08), secretary of the Young Alumni Leadership Council, to learn about her role as a project manager at Google and her experience at UGA.


Daniella SingletonHow did you become secretary for the Young Alumni Council?  

A good friend, Shayla Hill, was on the council when it first started. When she saw that they were taking applications for new members, she encouraged me to apply. I’ve enjoyed working with Luke Massee, Frances Beusse and Realenn Watters [from UGA’s Office of Alumni Relations]. I liked being as involved, so B.C. — before Corona —  I signed up to be the secretary. I was especially excited to be part of the all-female executive team with Elizabeth Cox, the president, and Jasmin Severino Hernandez, the vice-president.

What do you enjoy most about being on the council?

I enjoy the interactions that we have. It was hard this past year with COVID-19 and trying to be safe and respect people’s boundaries. Being on the Young Alumni Leadership Council is about engaging with other graduates, who I may or may not have known, and learning about their UGA experience and their passions.

What’s the most important thing you learned at UGA?

One of the biggest takeaways has been that while I might not be from Athens, it will always be home — that includes my dearest friends who were involved in my life and my child’s life. UGA is also where I learned how to communicate. It’s where I had a full-time internship through the criminal justice program. I learned how to balance. I’ve learned so many things about myself that Athens will always be home. As soon as get off 316, I immediately feel like I’m home.

What advice would you give to a UGA student? 

Cherish it, make memories, and stay up late laughing with friends. Because 1) you won’t get naps when you’re an adult and 2) it’s not as easy as an adult. Just continue to learn. Feed that hunger. Fuel that thirst of just wanting to know more. So say yes. Do it. Be more involved. Do what you can, meet who you can, and create memories that will last forever.

What’s your favorite UGA memory? 

It’s a tie. The first was serving on the committee for Dance Marathon (now UGA Miracle), and how emotional and amazing an experience it was. The second was the 2007 UGA vs. Auburn “blackout” game in 2007.   

 

 

Meet Morgan Cook, UGA Young Alumni Leadership Council member

The University of Georgia’s Young Alumni Leadership Council is made of graduates of the past two decades who connect alumni in their age demographic to UGA. Whether that means raising money for Campus Kitchen at UGA through a Cooking Class with Peter Dale (ABJ ’99) or interviewing alums like comedian Mia Jackson (AB ’00), they work to ensure that the 40,000 young alumni living in metro Atlanta are connected to their Bulldog family and that they Never Bark Alone.

We recently chatted with Morgan Cook (BBA ’15, MBA ’19), a member of the Young Alumni Leadership Council, to learn about her role as a project manager at Google and her experience at UGA.

Morgan CookHow did you become a member of the Young Alumni Leadership Council?

I serve on Terry College’s Young Alumni Board, and when I thought I was going to roll off it last year, I explored ways to stay involved at UGA. I had attended some Women of UGA events, and learned that there was also a Young Alumni Leadership Council. Once I applied, I talked to Luke Massee [in the Office of Alumni Relations] about it and then got on it! 

What do you enjoy most about being on the council? 

There are probably two things. One of them is just staying active with UGA. I got so much out of my college experience that I’ve always wanted to give back. Another is just the social interaction and the networking with the council and the alumni relations staff. 

What’s the most important thing you learned at UGA? 

It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. 

What advice would you give to a UGA student? 

I would say get involved in campus life and organizations because it’s only going to enhance your college experience. 

What’s your favorite UGA memory? 

Probably either the 2013 Georgia vs. LSU football game or running into Miss Sandra on campus. 

 

Tech industry leader, academic honors UGA mentor with scholarship

“Do not let the problem defeat you!” These words of wisdom have inspired Dr. Greg Lavender (BS ’83), since the moment they were delivered 40 years ago, when he was a Computer Science major at the University of Georgia. He attributes these encouraging words to Dr. Jeffrey W. Smith, associate professor in UGA’s Department of Computer Science.

Smith made his mark at UGA as one of the first faculty members to teach computer science. Even in those early days, it wasn’t an easy program of study. Enrollment ranged from a couple of hundred students in the first years to over a thousand in subsequent years. The fledgling department’s work was made even more challenging due to an evolving curriculum as the field of computer science rapidly expanded. However, after several years, the program stabilized and the faculty members were able to steadily expand the rate of computer science graduates at UGA. Today, computer science is one of the most popular majors on campus.

Lavender considers himself lucky to have been in the first graduating class of computer science majors to have studied under Smith. For Lavender, Smith was a role-model professor who demonstrated excellent teaching ability combined with advanced research.

Smith saw research as his obligation—understanding it was important to add to the burgeoning field of computer science—but teaching was his priority. He wanted students to learn what was useful and memorable. For example, seeing the evolving field of computer science and the rapidly growing interest in game programming, Smith developed a course to be taught around video game programming. He is a firm believer that during the short period of time students are at the university, faculty should strive to make an impact in their lives and teach what is meaningful.

Dr. Jeffrey W. Smith in his UGA office during the late 1980s

This meaningful connection was not lost on Lavender. With Smith’s encouragement and a letter of recommendation, Lavender chose to pursue his master’s and Ph.D. in computer science at Virginia Tech.

Upon graduation from Virginia Tech with a Ph.D. in computer networking, Lavender became a research scientist at a premier research laboratory in Austin, and he also started teaching in the Department of Computer Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin (UT-Austin). His teaching style was inspired by Smith’s style, always putting students first and motivating undergraduate and graduate students with the same words that motivated him: “Do not let the problem defeat you!”

During his years in academia, Lavender became Associate Chairman for Academics, which included supervision of the graduate program. One year, a new graduate student admitted to the top-10 UT-Austin Computer Science Ph.D. program was Alison Norman (née Smith). She introduced herself to Lavender as the daughter of his long-ago undergraduate professor.

Alison exhibited a strong interest in gaining classroom teaching experience, so Lavender assigned her to teach an introductory undergraduate programming course, rather than be a traditional teaching assistant. Alison is now an Associate Professor of Instruction at the Department of Computer Sciences at UT-Austin. This was truly a full-circle moment for Lavender to be able to help the daughter of his undergraduate professor follow in her father’s footsteps.

Lavender, who is currently Chief Technology Officer of VMware, Inc., in Palo Alto, has had a long and successful professional career in research, academia, startups and major tech companies in Silicon Valley. Reflecting on that success and the people who helped him get there, Lavender wanted to honor Smith’s lifelong dedication to teaching, which he credits for inspiring him and many other students. In 2019, Lavender established an endowed undergraduate scholarship in Smith’s name as part of the Georgia Commitment Scholarship Program to pay tribute to the impact he made in his life and the lives of other UGA students.

Lavender had the privilege of sharing this news with Smith and his family over a barbecue in Texas, where Smith, now retired and emeritus, resides with his wife, daughter and her family. The scholarship was awarded to a deserving UGA student in Fall 2019.

“Having a scholarship in my name is beyond gratifying,” remarked Smith. “It does acknowledge the appreciation for the attention to teaching.”

You can help support the Dr. Jeffrey W. Smith Georgia Commitment Scholarship fund by donating via this giving form.

From locker room to board room: UGA helped Chuck Kinnebrew learn to get around any block  

Written by: Charles McNair

Most Bulldog fans need no introduction to Georgia trailblazer, Chuck Kinnebrew (BSED ’75) 

They already know that, in 1971, he lined up with Larry West, Clarence Pope, Horace King and Richard Appleby to play football between the hedges of Sanford Stadium – one of UGA’s first five Black college football players. 

Fifty years later, Chuck’s office in Smyrna, Georgiahas a wall of fame – a floor-to-ceiling display of UGA memorabilia. His Bulldog letter jacket hangs there. So do postgraduate achievements, awards and photos. He’s proud of his diploma. 

“I received a degree in education,” he says. “I didn’t want to be the kind of former athlete that ends up with nothing to hang his hat on. I wanted to leave the university with something tangible, something to use. I wanted to be an alum.” 

He played nose guard, though small even for that football era (6-foot-1, 260 pounds). What he lacked in size, he made up in strength, toughness and quickness. And, like every Black Bulldog on that first integrated team, he held himself to impeccable standards of performance, behavior and discipline. He and his Black teammates felt they had something to prove. 

If one of us started slipping up, the other four would get on him and make sure he got headed in the right direction again, Chuck explained to UGASports writer Patrick Garbin in a February 2021 interview. We had a tight bond and nothing was off-limits, be it football, academics, dating. We knew how important it was that we succeed. We weren’t going to let one another down.  

Because they successfully blazed the trail, others would succeed. The Bulldog Nation would come to marvel at hundreds of Black football players in years to come, including legends named Herschel Walker and Champ Bailey and Hines Ward. 

Those football heroes followed Chuck as he buckled his chinstrap and trotted onto the field. 

Servant leadership

Yes, most Bulldog fans know about Chuck’s football career. But they don’t know the rest of his success story. Chuck has never stopped blazing trails. 

He first wanted to be a coach. He had it worked out with legendary Bulldog head coach Vince Dooley that he’d get his degree, then stick around to become a graduate assistant and maybe climb the coaching ranks.   

And he did become a coach – of teams in the corporate world.  

While waiting for his UGA whistle, he half-heartedly accepted an interview for a suit-and-tie job. To his surprise, he got an offer. 

“That job paid twice the salary of a graduate assistant,” Chuck says. “I talked it over with my dad. He said, “That sounds like pretty good money, son. I think I’d look pretty hard at that offer.” 

Suddenly, the kid from Rome, GA, found himself managing a team of 30 in a DuPont textile plant in Athens, Ga. 

Now Chuck did start climbing the corporate ranks. He brought along UGA lessons from classes and coaches. 

“My style of leadership is coaching,” he says. “I see myself as an inclusive servant leader. Ever since I was exposed to that concept, it’s made sense to me.”   

The biggest challenge

Chuck gained expertise at DuPont in manufacturing operations, planning, marketing, and supply chain. His achievements there took him to The Home Depot where, in time, he led a department with a $7 billion budget overseeing the supply company’s indirect sourcing purchasing team, part of the supply chain operation.  

Often, he found himself among the first, and only, Black faces in meeting rooms.  

“It was actually no big deal,” Chuck says. “All my life, I’d been in predominantly white environments, from junior high school through UGA and now in the business world. I’d grown accustomed to it. When you’ve been the first one here, the first one there, you get used to it.” 

The biggest challenge?  

“Honestly, it was getting white people accustomed to me. I was familiar with being who I was, comfortable in my skin. I learned to be approachableto help people see Chuck Kinnebrew the person instead of Chuck Kinnebrew, the Black guy.” 

He’s still a trailblazer – in his latest role, Chuck serves as the first DE&I (diversity, equity, and inclusion) officer at Floor & Decor, based in Atlanta. He and his team have responsibility to develop and execute best-in-class strategies to help the growing company become an industry leader in hardsurface flooring and something else hard: diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

He looks back in gratitude at the UGA experience. 

“Georgia and my fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi, helped prepare me for life,” he says. “They set me up to succeed.” 

Editor’s Note: 

Our Georgia trailblazer series profiles UGA Black alumni who took the first brave steps to create the diverse and inclusive university we are today. Want to know more about other pioneers?   

Charlayne Hunter (ABJ ’63) and Hamilton Holmes (BS ’63) were the first Black students to enroll at UGA. Read their accomplishments here: desegregation.uga.edu  

Mary Frances Early (MMED ’62, EDS ’67) was the first Black student to graduate from UGA. The College of Education is named for her.

From midfield to Capitol Hill: Sanford Stadium means the world to Christina Swoope Carrere

Written by: Charles McNair

Christina Swoope Carrere (BS ’11) first stood on the 50-yard line in Sanford Stadium in the fall of 2004The nervous teen from Alpharetta, Georgia was only a junior in high school. 

It was halftime during a University of Georgia football game, and she was conducting the Redcoat Marching Band as it spelled out GEORGIA on the gridironShe had earned this opportunity after winning the UGA Summer Marching Band Camp Drum Major Conducting Competition, representing Atlanta’s Johns Creek High School. 

Christina dreamed of one day leading the splendid UGA troupe, even though she didn’t match the typical profile of a Redcoat Drum Major. “Most notably,” she recalls, “I was not a music major.” 

Three years later her dream came true. She raised both arms at midfield at the head of that same Redcoat Band – the first Black female drum major in UGA’s history. 

In 2009, she once again stood at midfield in Sanford Stadium. This time, she raised a rose bouquet as one of the first Black homecoming queens in UGA historyChristina’s 100-watt smile shone through tears. The Redcoat Band – her Redcoat Band – erupted in celebration.

That was the moment I realized how much of my life has been changed because of this university,” Christina says. “Some of the most special moments in my life took place on that field. 

Marching into a bright career

Christina’s 50-yard line has now moved north, to Washington, D.C.  

At graduation, she was named a Barbara Jordan Health Policy Scholar, working in the office of then U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe. The Jordan program brings talented young scholars to Washington, D.C., to work in congressional offices and learn health policyChristina showed an aptitude for health policy analysis, with a focus on issues affecting underserved populations. She went on to earn a Master of Science in public health at Johns Hopkins University, then became policy analyst at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. 

Today she works in the White House Office of Management and Budget, focused on Medicare and the 60 million Americans it serves. She’s tasked with informing views on complex and sensitive policy areas like Medicare eligibility and prescription drugs.  

It’s meaningful work. Christina led the development of a Medicare prescription drug reform package that produced nearly $90 billion in savings to the Medicare trust funds, reduced drug prices and modernized drug benefits. She also earned recognition for her pivotal role in developing a balanced government policy to reduce the supply and demand of addictive opioids. 

Christina brings the same boundless energy to government work that she brought to UGA. 

“Some people burn the candle at both ends,” she says. “I’m the kind who just throws the whole candle in the fire.” 

This kind of zeal marked her years at UGA. She was Student Alumni Council vice president and Events Committee chairOmicron Delta Kappa secretary, a 2009 Presidential Scholar, UGA Outstanding Senior Leader, INROADS Rising Star (and Intern of the Year), UGA EXCEL Award recipient, and UGA Choice Award recipient.  

And her UGA honors still haven’t stopped.  

In 2020, Christina received UGA’s Young Alumni Award, given to those who attended the university in the past 10 years, and who have embodied the Pillars of the Arch—wisdom, justice and moderation–and provided notable service to UGA. 

View from a bridge 

Christina loves a quote from former United States First Lady Michelle Obama: 

“When you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. You reach back and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.”

“I like to expand on that,” Christina laughs. “Not only do you not slam the door, but you also open all the emergency exits and windows and get a bigger table and pull up chairs.”   

As a trailblazer, it’s my responsibility to make sure I am not the last. A path is only useful if others know it exists, and I’m committed to reaching back to help others find it. 

She’s as good as her word. She stays close to UGA as the immediate past president of the Redcoat Band Alumni Association Board of Directors, the founder and chair of the Redcoat Young Alumni Council, and a 40 Under 40 Class of 2016 honoreeShe returns regularly to speak to UGA students and alumni, building new bridges to her alma mater.  

And on the subject of bridgesSome of my favorite UGA memories are of walking across campus with friends and standing on the bridge looking into Sanford Stadium, Christina says. 

From there, Christina can see the 50-yard line. 

“It’s a really special place,” she says. “So much happened there that made me who I am.” 

Editor’s Note: 

Our Georgia trailblazer series profiles Black students at UGA who took the first brave steps to create the diverse and inclusive university we are today. Want to know more about other pioneers?   

Charlayne Hunter (ABJ ’63) and Hamilton Holmes (BS ’63) were the first Black students to enroll at UGA.  

Mary Frances Early (MMED ’62, EDS ’67) was the first Black student to graduate from UGA. The College of Education is named for her. Learn more at: 

Mark Anthony Thomas blazes trails from The Red & Black to the wide world

Written by: Charles McNair

Our steps are all taken in fears― 
our doors open with hands that shiver;  
our microphones echo voices that crack … 

 we tumble into the crowds, 
lessened by life’s fall-downs, 

-From “Self Portrait” by Mark Anthony Thomas,

Copyright © 2011. Thomas has published two books of verse,

As I Look and The Poetic Repercussion: A Poetic & Musical Narrative, along with many articles.

 

Mark Anthony Thomas took a deep breath one morning in 1997 and stepped onto the campus of the University of Georgia.

A change began.

“My time at Georgia altered the whole trajectory of my life,” Thomas says. “It gave me a preview of what was possible for myself.”

At Redan High School in south DeKalb County, Georgia, Thomas had enjoyed the security of sameness – a familiar environment “with safety to it,” he recalls, “where everybody looks like you.” He’d been a NMOC (Nice Man on Campus), lauded as Most Congenial in the Redan Raiders yearbook.

Now?

“I found that UGA,” Thomas says, “created an equal space for everybody; a space for African-Americans and Latinos, and also a space for those who flew Confederate flags. It was a microcosm of society at large. I can’t say it wasn’t a challenge sometimes, but UGA was always a welcoming environment invested in my success.”

Mark Anthony Thomas

Creating his space

Thomas hit the ground writing.

He joined The Red & Black, putting in the long hours of a reporter as he studied for a business degree. After three years mastering his craft, Thomas’s talent, leadership and vision paid off. In 1999, he became the first Black editor in the 122-year history of the student newspaper – a true Georgia trailblazer.

“Growing up in Georgia, I had always taken an interest in people who created their own spaces,” Thomas says. “I admired those who were great at their craft, people like playwriter August Wilson

Mark Anthony Thomas

and basketball player Michael Jordan. I also took pride in the accomplishments of the first Black students to enroll at UGA, Charlayne Hunter-Gault (ABJ ’63) and Hamilton Holmes (BS ’63), people who took non-traditional paths to reach their goals.”

Thomas is a writer at heart. He’s published two books of poetry and won awards for journalism, editing and publishing. UGA introduced him to a non-traditional path for writers.

The Red & Black was an inflection point,” he says. “We were just evolving into digital media. We had our first website while I was there. My initial engagement with technology actually encouraged me to branch out into corporate communication for my career.”

After graduation Thomas first took work with Georgia-Pacific, the Atlanta-based pulp and paper giant, where he managed economic, philanthropic and environmental initiatives. He went on to compile a growingly diverse  and impressive  resume.

He held a deputy directorship at a New York-based think tank, Center for an Urban Future, relaunching the organization’s magazine, City Limits, and turning it into an influential news source.

He swapped coasts in 2014, serving the city of Los Angeles in an executive role focused on improving the city’s economic development operations. Two of then-Mayor Eric Garcetti’s executive orders and several legislative bills enacted his recommendations.

He returned to the East Coast in 2016 as the first-ever senior vice president of partnerships at the New York City Economic Development Corporation. He helped lead New York’s efforts to woo and win the prized Amazon second headquarters project, although civic protests ultimately drove the multi-billion-dollar project to Arlington, Virginia.

Today, Thomas oversees the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance, where he works with the metropolitan region’s leaders to dream into being the Pittsburgh of tomorrow.

He’s created his own space.

Mark Anthony Thomas

Renaissance man

Even with a dazzling professional resume, Thomas has somehow found time, at only age 41, to write his books, pick up master’s degrees from Columbia University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and throw his energies into dozens of civic, academic, and philanthropic initiatives.

He hasn’t forgotten what he means to UGA. In 2013, the university called him home as a 40 Under 40 honoree, and he keynoted UGA’s inaugural TEDxUGA conference.

He opened his TEDx talk with a story.

At Redan High, he wrote for the school newspaper about local lack of access to technology. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution picked up the story. County planners contacted Thomas and met him. Action followed.

“When I ride back through DeKalb County now, it brings joy to my heart to know I was officially part of a process that changed things for the better,” Thomas says.

He’s still part of the process. In fact, he’s driving the process now;  the space of achievement he’s carved out, then and as a UGA Trailblazer, just gets bigger.

Editor’s Note: 

Our Georgia trailblazer series profiles UGA Black alumni who took the first brave steps to create the diverse and inclusive university we are today.

Want to know more about other pioneers?   

Charlayne Hunter (ABJ ’63) and Hamilton Holmes (BS ’63) were the first Black students to enroll at UGA.  

Mary Frances Early (MMED ’62, EDS ’67) was the first Black student to graduate from UGA. The College of Education is named for her. Learn more at: 

Isakson gift caps $4.5 million fundraising effort for Parkinson’s research chair

The University of Georgia’s campaign to create the John H. “Johnny” Isakson Chair for Parkinson’s Research and Georgia Research Alliance (GRA) Eminent Scholar position reached its goal of $4.5 million in private commitments, and the final contributor was the former U.S. Senator for whom the chair is named.

“We are deeply honored that Senator Isakson (BBA ’66) has made this commitment to the university. His decades of service to our state and nation and his support of UGA and higher education inspired this entire effort,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. “We also are very grateful for the generous gifts from additional individuals and organizations that are supporting this endowed position.”

The Isakson Chair and GRA Eminent Scholar position will help UGA attract a leading authority on brain disorders—with an emphasis on Parkinson’s, with which Isakson was diagnosed in 2015—to engage in teaching, research and public service. Fundraising for the chair attracted a variety of donors including individuals, businesses, foundations and more.

“I’m very proud to play a part in this effort,” said Isakson. “Of course, I’m honored that this position would carry my name, but more than anything, I am glad to see so many willing to give so much for this important cause. My deepest gratitude goes out to everyone who gave.”

A major supporter of the Isakson Chair and GRA Eminent Scholar position is the Georgia Research Alliance. GRA grows Georgia’s economy by expanding university research capacity and seeding and shaping startup companies around inventions and discoveries. UGA currently has 18 GRA Eminent Scholars on faculty, and a 19th is set to join the university in fall 2021.

The Isakson Chair and GRA Eminent Scholar will also be the director of UGA’s forthcoming Center for Brain Science and Neurological Disorders. Fundraising efforts are underway for the center, which will leverage UGA’s broad, comprehensive strengths to create an interdisciplinary program that will expand opportunities for collaborative and innovative solutions.

“I think the supporters of both the Isakson Chair and GRA Eminent Scholar and this new center understand the unique position UGA occupies and the potential for great work that comes with that,” said Kelly Kerner, vice president for development and alumni relations. “It’s very exciting, seeing these things come together and knowing that all the great work to come will honor a great man.”

Johnny Isakson

Isakson graduated from UGA in 1966 with a Bachelor of Business Administration in real estate. He met his future wife, Dianne, while both were UGA students, and they married in 1968. The year prior, he began working for Atlanta real estate firm Northside Realty, eventually serving as its president from 1979 to 1999.

His political career began in 1976, when he was elected to the first of seven terms in the Georgia House of Representatives. He was Republican minority leader in the Georgia House from 1983 to 1990. In 1993, he was elected to the Georgia State Senate, serving there until he was appointed chair of the state Board of Education by Gov. Zell Miller in 1996.

Isakson was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1999 and served as a U.S. representative until he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004. He was reelected to the U.S. Senate in 2010 and 2016. Among his duties in the U.S. Senate, he served as chair of the Committee on Veterans Affairs and chair of the Select Committee on Ethics.

After his 2015 diagnosis with Parkinson’s, Isakson continued to work in public service until his health compelled him to resign from the Senate on Dec. 31, 2019. In 2017, Isakson received the Fox Foundation’s Parkinson’s Advocacy Award for his work to improve the lives of people living with the disease and for his advocacy in funding new treatments.