See.Spark.Go gives 100+ UGA students hands-on experience

Brittany (ABJ ’04) and Andy Thoms (BSFCS ’02) married their passions for storytelling and entrepreneurship to establish See.Spark.Go, an Athens-based public relations agency with offices in Atlanta and Newport Beach, Calif., and 24 full-time employees. While building their successful business, they also provided an important training ground for UGA students by offering unique experiential learning opportunities.

Brittany, a Grady College of Journalism alumna, has a background in national-brand public relations, and Andy, a Family and Consumer Sciences alumnus, was born with a natural entrepreneurial mentality. Playing off their strengths, the couple opened a PR firm with the purpose of building relationships to drive results.

Relive your glory (glory) days

 

“We started See.Spark.Go because we really wanted to be choosy about the types of stories that we told as a PR agency,” Brittany said. “We had the short-term goals of living in Athens, starting our own business, and telling the best stories.”

From the beginning, interns have been an integral part of See.Spark.Go. The company started as a staff of three – Brittany, Andy, and an intern. As the first year went on, the couple realized how vital to the business their intern had become, so they continued to recruit students that were also passionate about the company’s mission.

Since its founding in 2007, the company has hired over 100 University of Georgia students as interns, and following the university’s 2016 implementation of an experiential learning requirement for undergraduate students, this internship opportunity has become even more valuable.

See.Spark.Go, an alumni-owned PR agency in Athens, has given hundreds of UGA students experiential learning opportunities as interns.

“I think it creates a win-win environment. Students get to see agency operations at a high level, and the business benefits from that youthful knowledge of what’s trending currently,” Andy said.

Kaci Pollack, now an employee of See.Spark.Go, started with the company as an intern.

“I really feel like my experience in Grady College was completely enhanced by my time as an intern at See.Spark.Go. They worked really well together to give me a well-rounded education. I think that’s what the company is able to do for our students who come from Grady,” Pollack said.

Through the internship program, students gain more than just the experience of working at a PR and communications agency. Brittany and Andy invite guest speakers to talk to the interns about other life skills, such as budgeting and resume development.

“At the end of the day, Brittany and I have a passion to see people discover their dreams. What better time to start dreaming than during your time as a university student?” Andy said.

The glue of experiential learning is UGA’s community partners, like Andy and Brittany Thoms of See.Spark.Go, who provide life-altering opportunities for students to cultivate their professional and personal development and in turn, gain immeasurable skills that will be poured back into our state and nation in the years to come.

See.Spark.Go’s trust in UGA students has paid off. After starting out in their Athens home and growing to a small office off Atlanta Highway, the agency moved to its current location, a charming house on Milledge Avenue. The company has since expanded to include offices in Atlanta and California, due to its growing team and burgeoning business, specializing in integrated communications and brand management for organizations such as fab’rik, Your Pie, Farm Burger, Kanakuk Kamps, Airstream, and All Pro Dad.

If your company is interested in partnering with UGA to provide experiential learning opportunities, please visit itstartswith.uga.edu/corporate.

Meet new alumni board member Truitt Eavenson (BSAE ’83)

When Truitt Eavenson transferred to the University of Georgia from Emmanuel College, he was not sure about which career path to take. Eavenson, who grew up on a farm in Carnesville, Georgia, began looking through the course catalog and was fascinated with agricultural engineering. Once he met with the department head, Robert Brown, he committed to studying agricultural engineering.

Now, more than 20 years later, Eavenson is the vice president of Georgia Power in the Southeast region thanks to the education he received at UGA. To that end, he is dedicating his time to giving back to the place that helped shape him by serving on the board of the UGA Alumni Association.

“No matter what your career is or where you go in life you really don’t get there alone. There are always people helping you,” says Eavenson. “I think that we have a responsibility to go back and help people who are behind us be successful.”

Prior to joining the alumni board, he served on the College of Engineering and College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences advisory boards. He often returns to campus to speak to undergraduates, and hopes to prepare students for life after graduation.

“I really just want to make a difference. When my service is finished with whatever I am doing, I want people to say ‘I’m really glad he was here; he really did make a difference.’”

Eavenson offered advice to students preparing for life at UGA and beyond: “You can go to college for four years, and you can graduate with a degree, and go get a great job,” he said. “Or you can come to Athens and really get involved in the university. Look for the opportunities that are available to you and have an experience that you’ll always cherish and always be glad you did.”

 

Catching up with Mohamed Massaquoi, 40 Under 40 honoree and UGA Alumni Board member

Mohamed MassaquoiContributed by former digital marketing intern Alvieann Chandler (ABJ ’13, AB ’18) during her time in the Division of Development and Alumni Relations Office of Communications

Mohamed Massaquoi (BS ’08) is mastering the art of reinvention. The former UGA football standout began his career in the NFL as a wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns, and after retiring, he worked in finance for Morgan Stanley. In 2017, an ATV accident caused him to lose four fingers on his left hand, and he now wears a prosthetic. The accident gave Massaquoi a new perspective on life, and he started a new chapter as a motivational speaker and fitness advocate. He also helps former athletes transition into the business world.  

“I think it’s very important that people take full advantage of all the opportunities that they have right now, because you never know what could happen between now and whenever you plan to take that leap of faith,” Massaquoi said. 

Now, as a 2018 40 Under 40 honoree and UGA Alumni Association Board member, he hopes to foster relationships between alumni and their alma mater.  

“It was an honor to be named to UGA’s 40 Under 40 list. To think about how many people come through UGA, to be nominated is a great honor– something I don’t take lightly,” he said. 

In addition to giving back to UGA, he is on the board of Sunshine on a Ranney Day, a nonprofit organization that provides home modifications for children with disabilities, and Read with Malcolm, a literacy program founded by fellow UGA football star Malcolm Mitchell (AB ’15). Massaquoi is also learning how to play tennis – to exercise his competitive side, but to also support young amputees. 

“I enjoy competing, and I think tennis gives me an ability to continue to do that,” Massaquoi said. “One of the reasons why I want to get good at tennis is to start a tennis tournament to raise money for kids with amputations so they can afford prosthetic devices.” 

Nothing seems to slow Massaquoi down – a reason why he’s worthy of being named to UGA’s 40 Under 40. 

“Whenever you have the opportunity to do something,” he continued, “I feel like it is your human responsibility to follow through at the highest level that you can.” 

40 Under 40 reflections: Sam Watson

The 40 Under 40 program began in 2011, and celebrates the personal, professional and philanthropic achievements of young UGA graduates. To continue our 40 Under 40 coverage, we caught up with three agriculture professionals–Sam Watson, Travis Moore and Amelia Dortch–from the 2017 honoree class to learn about their career journeys and the wisdom they’ve gained along the way. 

Meet Sam Watson

  • 40 Under 40 Class of 2017
  • BSA ’02
  • Farmer at Chill C Farms and Georgia state representative

Sam Watson, 2017 40 Under 40 honoree

Sam Watson balances being a Georgia farmer and state representative by taking things one day at a time. As a farmer, he grows, ships and packs bell peppers, squash, eggplant, cucumbers, cabbage and tomatoes. He also raises cattle. As a state representative, he represents District 172 and serves on the rural caucus. We caught up with Watson to discuss how the 40 Under 40 program has impacted him a year later and about the value of a UGA education.

Nailing his dream job

“A career in agriculture is what I’ve always wanted to do. My first job out of college was with a large vegetable operation which led to my interest in produce. I grew up as a livestock kid so vegetable production was a big change for me.”

Being named 40 Under 40

“I am very appreciative. One of the driving forces behind my decision to run for the State House was to try to be a voice for rural Georgia and agriculture. It’s an essential part of our state’s economy, but there are only a few people in state government who have a solid understanding of the challenges facing communities like mine. Being recognized with 40 Under 40 gives me another opportunity to share the importance of my industry–and to advocate for, not just agriculture, but for rural communities across our state.”

Sam Watson, 2017 40 Under 40 honoree

Greatest risk–an even better reward

“In December of 2012, I quit my ‘real’ job to run for State Representative for House District 172 and farm full time. There were no guarantees that I would be successful at either, but I prayed about it and took a giant leap of faith, and here I am. Some months are certainly more stressful than others, but I remind myself to do the duty that lies nearest.”

Lessons from UGA

“UGA provided me with a quality education, but also forced me outside my comfort zone. If that didn’t happen I wouldn’t have ever left the farm and been able to help make an impact today.”

Words of wisdom

“Work hard – no amount of education can make up for a poor work ethic.”

Career destination

“My career goals are to grow my farming operation, help feed the world and continue to make our state a great place to live and to work and raise a family on the farm.”

40 Under 40 reflections: Amelia Dortch

The 40 Under 40 program began in 2011, and celebrates the personal, professional and philanthropic achievements of young UGA graduates. To continue our 40 Under 40 coverage, we caught up with three agriculture professionals–Amelia Dortch, Travis Moore and Sam Watson–from the 2017 honorees to learn about their career journeys and the wisdom they’ve gained along the way. 

Meet Amelia Dortch

  • 40 Under 40 Class of 2017
  • ABJ ’06, MPA ’12
  • Alabama State Public Affairs Specialist for the United States Department of Agriculture

Professional journey

Amelia Dortch oversees the marketing and communication efforts for Alabama’s farmers and land owners. Her priority is to help people help the land. Dortch supports farmers and landowners in conserving natural resources–the very thing they rely on the most.

She graduated from UGA with a bachelor’s degree in broadcasting in 2006. Right out of school, she worked as a news and weather anchor for WNEG News Daybreak, a daily newscast.  In 2009, Dortch returned to UGA to pursue her graduate’s degree in public affairs. While in grad school, she scored an internship with the United States Department of Agriculture and has worked for the USDA ever since.

Being named 40 Under 40

“I was amazed and honored. You see alumni who are doctors and saving lives or doing great research – yes I work in agriculture, but I guess everyone can make an impact in a small way.”

Amelia and Corey Dortch

Amelia and Corey Dortch

Greatest risk–an even better reward

“I got laid off when I was working in television. The biggest risk I took was going back to school while working full-time. Grad school was a stable environment, but yet a tough choice. Thank God I made that choice – it gave me a plan B. Now, I get to craft a different kind of story from behind the scenes. My journalism background helps me think outside the box. Human interest helps me connect with my customers.”

Lessons from UGA

“The best thing I did at UGA was getting involved. Volunteering for the community helps you. Doing things for free is the best way to learn. It doesn’t cost anything other than time and energy.”

Words of wisdom

“Sometimes, circumstances force you to rearrange things. I was forced to rethink the typical career process. It was a learning experience. But it’s about figuring it out and making it work. You can always change your path! It’s okay. Go discover a new passion. It just means you’re a person that’s ever evolving. But always remember, people are the root of it all.”

Career destination

“I’d like to continue growing in public affairs. I want to stay within corporate, nonprofit or government work. The sky is the limit.”

40 Under 40 reflections: Travis Moore

The 40 Under 40 program began in 2011, and celebrates the personal, professional and philanthropic achievements of young UGA graduates. To continue our 40 Under 40 coverage, we caught up with three agriculture professionals–Travis Moore, Amelia Dortch and Sam Watson–from the 2017 honorees to learn about their career journeys and the wisdom they’ve gained along the way. 

Meet Travis Moore

  • 40 Under 40 Class of 2017
  • BSA ’03
  • Senior Brewmaster at Anheuser-Busch InBev

Professional Journey

Travis Moore is the head brewmaster at the St. Louis Anheuser-Busch InBev site, the largest and oldest brewery. Moore oversees the brewing process, which includes making sure that each product meets the correct quality standard. He manages 100 brewers.

After Moore graduated with a bachelor’s degree in food science and technology, he worked for Bravo Foods & Bakery, a production facility in northeast Georgia. There, he learned the basics of manufacturing. In 2008, Moore started an entry level job at the Cartersville Anheuser-Busch InBev site. Eight years later, he managed to work his way up to the senior manager before moving to the St. Louis site in 2016.

Being named 40 Under 40

“It’s pretty amazing to me because, the University of Georgia has so many great students come through. It’s a huge organization to be singled out of – 40 seems like a lot, but when you think about the thousands and thousands who to come through there, it’s a small percent. And to me, that’s an honor. I learned so much when I was at the university that I was able to excel in my career, and this is a way to be rewarded for that.”

Nailing his dream job

“People are always going to have to eat or consume something in our culture, and I wanted to be a part of that. Some industries may come and go, but this is very stable…I always had a love for brewing. When you think about beer, most people probably don’t think about it being a product of agriculture, but it is certainly. Anheuser-Busch is one of the largest purchasers of rice in the United States. There’s an art behind the brewing process, and that’s what’s fun to me.”

Lessons from UGA

“I only applied to one college and Georgia was the only school I ever wanted to go to. I was in the food science program and the different labs and projects forced me into the understanding of what it’s like in the real world. I got the feeling that UGA was preparing me for something different, something better.”

Words of wisdom

“Study something that you’re going to enjoy. If you don’t think you’re gonna like it, then you’re wasting your time. Pick something and stick with it and see through it. Understand what you’re going to get out of your degree.”

Career destination

“My goal is to always question the way things are, and try to move up to become a future senior leader of the largest brewing company in the world. The culture at Anheuser-Busch is to not be complacent. I’m always setting higher goals.”

10 questions with filmmaker Malena Cunningham Anderson (ABJ ’80)

This post was contributed by Bridgette Burton (AB ’11, ABJ ’11, MPA ’17), marketing & communications chair, Black Alumni Leadership Council.

Where are you from? Born in Laurens, S.C., but grew up in Gray Court, S.C.

What made you decide to come to school at the University of Georgia? I followed my father, Odell Cunningham (BBA ’72), who was an older student when he graduated from UGA in 1972.

Anderson on her high school graduation day with her father who is also a Georgia alumnus

What was your major? Journalism with an emphasis on public relations

What was your most memorable college experience? There are many but pledging Zeta Psi chapter of Delta Sigma Theta sorority was the best!

Where do you live now? Atlanta

Where do you work and what do you do? I founded my own production company Newslady Productions last year. I’ve reinvented myself utilizing my journalism skills, and I’m a documentary filmmaker. My first film, “Little Music Manchild: The Malik Kofi Story” won Best Documentary at the BronzeLens Film Festival in 2017.

However, I spent 23 years working in television news as a reporter and anchor. I started my career working behind the scenes at CNN; I worked as a reporter in Lexington, Kentucky, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and Savannah. I also worked in Birmingham, where I won two Emmy Awards for reporting and was part of the six o’clock news team that won an Emmy for Best Newscast. In 2004, I left TV News and founded Strategic Media Relations, a media consulting firm that I ran until 2014.

What advice would you give to graduating seniors and recent graduates? Don’t just search for a job. Instead, look for opportunities to learn and grow in your career so that you can be an owner or employer. We need more African American students to recognize the power in being the person who writes the checks, not just someone who waits to get a check.

Anderson with fellow award-winning journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault

What is the most important lesson you learned in college? I learned that it’s important to network and get involved in campus organizations. This helps prepare you to work and collaborate with others. The more you get to know people on campus, and the more they know you, the more they can serve as connections when you begin your career.

Malena (second from left) with friends on graduation day.

What do you know for sure? What I know for sure is that no one will ever ask ‘What was your GPA?’ Grades matter, but being a reliable, hardworking professional, who also makes a difference and goes the extra mile on the job and in the community is more impactful.

Is there anything else that you would like for people to know? I’m extremely proud to be a second generation African American graduate of UGA. Go DAWGS!

Brandon Stewart (BBA ’06) dishes on becoming a Jimmy John’s franchisee

Written by Liz Powell (BS ’06, ABJ ’06), a member of the Young Alumni Leadership Council.

Brandon Stewart had big plans of becoming a pilot before starting school at UGA, but after arriving in Athens he decided to become a lawyer instead. However, a critical piece of advice from Earl Leonard, the namesake of the Terry College of Business Leonard Leadership Fellows program, changed everything.

He asked Leonard about his tips for success after law school even though Stewart wasn’t sure he wanted to be a lawyer. Leonard replied, “Brandon, if you don’t want to be a lawyer, for goodness sakes, don’t go to law school.”

From that moment on, Stewart stopped following the path he felt he should take and instead, created his own. That path originally led him to pursue a career in finance, but after several years of working in investment banking and private equity, Stewart determined that he wanted to work more closely with people.

This led him to Jimmy John’s, where he became a franchisee, and opened his first store in Birmingham, Alabama in 2011. Today, he owns 52 Jimmy John’s locations across the Southeast. He credits his success to this mantra: “My employees are the most important part of my business and I will always treat them with respect and fairness.”

Brandon with his wife, Elizabeth, and son, George.

Stewart resides in Birmingham, and when he’s not traveling for work, he enjoys spending time with his wife, Elizabeth, and his 2-year old son, George. He also makes time to give back to the local community by volunteering with the Phoenix Club of Birmingham, Boys and Girls Club of Central Alabama and Birmingham Zoo.

We caught up with him and asked a few questions about his time at UGA and how he’s making an impact in his community, today.

Favorite class at UGA
“Lessons in Leadership,” taught by Pat Pittard, executive-in-residence at Terry College. He taught me to read the Wall Street Journal every day. He also showed me that I want to, and should, teach to inspire others after retirement.

Most memorable college experience
The first time I walked out of my dorm on football Saturday. I had no idea.

Athens in three words
Southern, nostalgic and easygoing.

The importance of UGA
UGA means so much for me and completely changed my life. I’ve reinvested about every single dollar I have made in my business and employees, but giving back to UGA is on my mind all of the time. I cannot wait for my business to reach a mature point to enable additional giving.

Advice to graduating seniors and recent graduates
Build a network, read often and never stop learning.

Designing Women

Every year, the UGA Alumni Association recognizes top businesses owned by UGA graduates through the Bulldog 100 program. These outstanding businesses range from financial firms to barbecue restaurants and even interior design companies.

This year, Women of UGA Council Member Amber Gizzi (BSFCS ’14) from Pineapple House Interiors in Atlanta and Charlotte Lucas (BSFCS ’05), owner of Charlotte Lucas Interior Design in Charlotte, NC made the list.

We had the opportunity to talk with Charlotte and Amber about their time at UGA and their experiences with Bulldog 100.

Charlotte and Amber both graduated from the furnishings and interiors program in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences (FACS). They described the program as influential to their development as interior designers and as business owners.

“They required summer internships so I was really able to kind of get my feet wet for two summers in between school,” said Charlotte. “That really helped me to understand and get some experience.”

Charlotte’s company, which specializes in “providing perfectly proportioned rooms and one-of-a-kind, customized designs,” made the Bulldog 100 list for the second time this year, coming in at spot number 15. Her company placed fourth on the list last year and was the first time a graduate from Family and Consumer Science made it in the top 10.

Charlote Lucas design

A nook designed by Charlotte Lucas Interiors

“I was so thrilled and so excited to be included and so excited to have a connection back to Georgia again,” Charlotte said. “It makes me proud that I have grown my business the way I have and that I am being recognized by my school. I think that just being on it is a thrill and an honor.”

Amber, whose business Pineapple House Interiors made the 2018 list at number 56, shares that sentiment.

“I was so excited and proud when I found out we made the Bulldog 100 list,” said Amber. “We work really hard, so it felt good to get some recognition and validation amongst impressive peers. Being honored by UGA feels like something I love loving me back. I want to make my school proud and represent it the best I can.”

Amber Gizzi design

A living space designed by Amber and her team at Pineapple House Interiors

Pineapple House Interiors works globally on projects ranging from decorating, to renovations, to new construction. Amber credits her UGA education with preparing her to take on a partner role at such a young age. Still, she says nothing beats real world experience.

“School gave me a great foundation in design, but I couldn’t have told you where to buy a sofa when I graduated, let alone pulled together a cohesive design plan,” said Amber. “Even if your goal is to eventually start your own company, you need to go work for an experienced designer or business owner first.”

Nominations for the 2019 Bulldog 100 are open through May 31, 2018.

 

Saucehouse owner Christopher Belk talks Bulldog 100 and BBQ

This post was contributed by Emily Clary, graduate student and talent management intern for the Division of Development and Alumni Relations.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re wearing overalls or a suit; everyone loves barbecue.” This is a guiding philosophy for Christopher Belk (AB ’05, MBA ’13), the owner of Saucehouse BBQ–the No. 1 2018 Bulldog 100 business.

“Bulldog 100 is giving us the publicity and recognition in a market where it’s hard to be recognized,” says Belk. “I am so thankful and so grateful.”

A North Carolina native, Belk grew up loving barbecue. He attended UGA for both his undergraduate and graduate degrees, earning a bachelor’s degree in political science and later an MBA. Belk created the business plan for Saucehouse BBQ in one of his MBA classes, and because of his love for the University of Georgia, opened the first Saucehouse BBQ restaurant in Athens. Christopher’s original vision was to be a “fast casual” restaurant, but Saucehouse BBQ has expanded into catering and become a destination for watching UGA football games.

Belk is extremely proud of the recognition Saucehouse BBQ has been given through Bulldog 100 and looks forward to the growth of the company into Atlanta and other areas. We caught up with him on a busy afternoon between catering gigs.

Christopher Belk Saucehouse

 

On the benefits of a UGA education

“[My education] rounded me out and gave me the confidence to know that I had a good shot at starting a business. It really is so amazing to know that UGA really does support its alumni. When I started my business in Athens, the school was really great about supporting me.”

On going with the flow

“What I ended up doing was a lot different than what I set out to do. I originally was just going to open a restaurant, but now we’re one of the largest caterers in Athens and growing our catering business in Atlanta. Being flexible and willing to change the business plan and model has been the most important thing.”

On being recognized by Bulldog 100

“I couldn’t believe it! I had never been to Bulldog 100 and I didn’t know they were going to count down people in order. I kept saying to myself, “No way!” Everyone around me started getting excited. It was probably the most surprised and honored moment I’ve ever had… The best thing so far has been the free publicity. We are a small business and we’re investing every bit of profit into our growth. We are in Atlanta now growing our catering business and no one knows about us. We’re out there every day on the streets with sales people to let people know that we exist. [Bulldog 100] could not have happened at a better moment in time.”

On staying positive

“I’m a big believer that a big part of success is being positive. [Bulldog 100] puts you in a room of other positive, successful people. It doesn’t matter if you’re number one or number 100, everyone is proud to be part of it. I don’t know who wouldn’t want to be a part of this.”

Nominations for the 2019 Bulldog 100 are open through May 31, 2018.