“It is so helpful to talk with someone who’s been in our shoes …”

In honor of Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Heritage Month, the UGA Mentor Program is highlighting the pairing of mentor Avalon Kandrac (BSBE ’19) with mentee Pravalika Irukulla (BSBE ’22). Both have paired with other people through the program, but they admit their connection with each other was special.

Finding a connection

Avalon: I vividly remember being a young engineering student and longing for guidance and camaraderie in such a male-dominated program. Connecting with Pravalika, we immediately shared that unique bond of both being females with a similar ethnic background in the biological engineering realm.

Pravalika: It is so helpful to talk to someone who has been in our shoes and can help us learn from their experience. Having a mentor to guide you through your college journey and beyond is helpful. Professionally, Avalon helped me figure out if I’m making the right decision about the path I am taking.

Sharing experiences

Avalon: I saw myself in Pravalika when she talked about her future and what she hoped to accomplish with her biological engineering degree. I remember all those same feelings while working toward my degree at UGA. Being a student engrossed in obtaining an engineering degree can be so overwhelming in the moment. I was able to share some perspective and help Pravalika look toward the future, while also appreciating her current time as a student.

Pravalika: We ALL come into college with a bunch of questions in our heads. I wish I had joined the Mentor Program my freshman year and had someone to help guide me right from the start. It would have enhanced my UGA experience. After having such positive experiences as a mentee, I became a Mentor Program Ambassador so that I could make an impact and help show students that we should see our mentors as friends—someone that has been in our shoes and will help us.

Choosing a path

Avalon: Since my career began at Walt Disney World as a Construction Project Manager (Avalon recently accepted a new position with Choate Construction in Nashville), I have connected with students from various colleges interested in both the hospitality and construction fields. While I have enjoyed all the students I have met, I feel I have a special connection with the female engineering students I have been able to mentor.

Pravalika: Even though Avalon wasn’t in the career field that I’m interested in, she helped me reach out and connect with people in fields that did interest me. From there, I learned how to network and find even more people that would be helpful for me.

Creating a network

Avalon: Building a network within the female engineering community is so important. I remember all the women in engineering who gave me guidance and support during my time as a student. One thing I always do as a mentor is connect students with resources and with other incredible mentors.

Pravalika: Being included was the most meaningful part of the mentorship experience. I enjoy talking to people, but I also am shy. It can scare me to take that first step. Avalon’s introductions helped me step out of my comfort zone in a good way and strengthen my communication skills. She gave me many resources and helped me make connections, improving my soft skills and growing my confidence.

Getting with the program

Summer is a perfect time to sign up to be a UGA mentor! You can get your profile together, have your questions answered and familiarize yourself with the resources available online all before the students return in the fall. Registering for the Mentor 101 webinar scheduled for August 3 at 3:30 p.m. ET will allow you to hear from successful pairings, learn best practices for forming a strong connection and discover tips and tricks to becoming the best mentor possible.

Pravalika noted that she appreciated the opportunity to connect with multiple mentors in a variety of ways—be it a 16-week mentorship or 15-30-minute informational interviews. She also loved that there is a diverse group of mentors in the program—and there is always room for more!

A student is coming in the fall who can benefit from your unique perspective and experience. And it may just surprise you how much you get from giving back this way. Sign up today!

 

 

Bulldog Bestseller: ‘A Flicker in the Dark’ lands on NYT bestseller list

January 2022 was quite the month for Stacy Willingham (ABJ ’13).

Her beloved Georgia Bulldogs defeated the University of Alabama to claim the national title on January 10. The next day, her first published novel, “A Flicker in the Dark,” was released. And on January 30, that novel landed on the New York Times bestseller list—the same day she turned 31.

For the 2013 UGA graduate who now lives in Charleston, the process of becoming a published author was a whirlwind affair … one that began on UGA’s campus more than a decade ago.

“My sister attended UGA in the Class of 2010,” says Willingham. “When I was deciding between schools, I spent one weekend with her in Athens and was sold.”

A Start in Athens

While on campus, Willingham—described by her college roommates as “creative, uplifting, easygoing and active”—kept busy. She joined Alpha Omicron Pi sorority, majored in magazines in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, and studied abroad.

“I was lucky enough to study abroad twice,” Willingham reflects. “The first time was in Cortona, Italy. The second time was in London, where I interned at a marketing and PR company called Bespoke Banter. I still think about both experiences often and never take them for granted.”

But it was her Grady classes that laid the foundation for the transformation of her writing hobby into a career.

“Learning how to interview is a skill I still use, even though I don’t interview people anymore. Understanding how to get past surface-level answers taught me how to find the real meat of a story, which now influences the way I create my characters,” explains Willingham. “Studying journalism helped me realize that everyone has a story to tell, and it’s usually not the one we expect. In addition, knowing how to craft a pitch—which I learned at UGA—was invaluable when querying agents.”

Finding the ’Write’ Path

After graduation, Willingham moved to Atlanta and worked for a local marketing agency, Havas Sports & Entertainment. Even with some occasional freelance work on the side, she yearned for more opportunities to write. She began dabbling in fiction, noting that while she had dreams of being published, she was primarily seeing it as a creative outlet. After a few months, though, she realized that she enjoyed writing fiction more than anything. She decided to pursue a Master of Fine Arts in writing from the Savannah College of Art and Design while continuing to work full-time.

By 2019, she had completed graduate school, was back home in Charleston and had two finished novels under her belt. She unsuccessfully shopped the first book around to publishers for five years, but her second novel catapulted her into the high-stakes world of book publishing.

“I secured a literary agent about two weeks after finishing ‘A Flicker in the Dark;’ we spent about six months editing it together,” says Willingham. “Then, we sent it out on submission in June 2020, which ultimately led to my book deal. The road from book deal to publication took another 18 months, during which I got to peek under the hood of the publishing process.”

A Flicker in the Dark book cover

A Dream Come True

By January 30 (her birthday), Willingham’s thriller hit the New York Times bestseller list and was being developed into an HBO Max series by actress Emma Stone’s Fruit Tree and A24.

“I did a lot of anxious thumb-twiddling until it finally hit the shelves,” she says. “It landed on the bestseller list instantly, which means our presales and first-week sales were enough for it to debut at No. 9. I’m still in shock! Hitting the New York Times bestseller list was a dream come true.”

A Cheering Section

After years of hard work, Willingham celebrated with an array of supporters—many of which are listed at the end of “A Flicker in the Dark.” This includes her husband, Britt (BSES ’13), who she met through a mutual friend during her junior year at UGA.

Stacy and Britt on their wedding day

Stacy met her husband, Britt, during their junior year at the University of Georgia.

“Being married to a fellow Dawg is amazing—he’s even crazier about football season than I am, so we spend a lot of time watching games at our local alumni bar (Home Team in Charleston), as well as going to Athens as often as we can and traveling for the big away games. The most fun was probably the UGA vs. Notre Dame game in 2017.”

Stacy and Britt travel frequently to attend UGA football games.

When Stacy and Britt aren’t traveling to watch the Bulldogs play in person, they attend the Charleston Alumni Chapter’s game-watching parties. You can find your local alumni chapter’s game-watching parties posted to alumni.uga.edu/gamewatching during football season.

As she answers questions for this profile and reflects on her dream coming true, she admits she had doubts and fears throughout the process. The words of Teddy Roosevelt, shared by her dad, ring true and spur her on.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Advice for Future Dawgs

Stacy Willingham

Roosevelt’s remarks resemble the advice she would share with graduating Bulldogs.

“Entering the working world is amazing in many ways, but don’t forget to make time for yourself and your passions. Your job is important, but so are your hobbies and your free time. A lot of figuring out what you want to do with your life is through trial and error and giving yourself the space to explore. It’s tough to do that when you’re glued to your desk.”

Just think if Willingham had not dabbled in writing fiction and given herself the freedom to write novels. It’s a risk that paid off—and a success that can never be taken away.

“It’s an accomplishment that I get to carry with me for the rest of my life.”

Willingham’s thriller, “A Flicker in the Dark,” is a page-turner from start to finish. Set in Louisiana, the novel’s lead character explores a tumultuous and sordid family history to discover new secrets that threaten her happiness. Secure your copy from any major bookseller—or Avid Bookshop, a Bulldog-owned business in Athens. (And mark your calendar: Willingham’s second book, All the Dangerous Things, will be released on January 10, 2023!

Alumni collaborate with Bulldog Basics for G-Day tailgate

The Athens Area Alumni Chapter began a new tradition during this year’s G-Day. Before the big game, the chapter organized a tailgate to reconnect with UGA fans and alumni from all over the state.

The chapter held the tailgate at The Intersection at Tate. The chapter provided free food to the attendees from The Flying Biscuit Café, gave away UGA swag and fostered a fun environment where people could enjoy themselves before the scrimmage began.

Bringing in Bulldog Basics

Beyond engaging with their fellow alumni, the Athens chapter wanted to make a positive impact on the Athens and UGA community. They partnered with Bulldog Basics—a nonprofit that provides donated, unused toiletry and personal-care items to UGA students—and hosted an item drive in tandem with their tailgate.

“I know our event was some people’s first exposure to the great work Bulldog Basics does,” said Carrie Campbell (AB ’99, ABJ ’00, MPA ’18), vice president of the Athens chapter and senior public relations specialists with University Housing. “Spreading the message about how they support students was a big part of why [we] wanted to partner with them.”

The chapter encouraged guests to bring supplies or to purchase them ahead of time from Bulldog Basics’ wish lists. With over 130 registrants for the event, the chapter collected around 10 standard-sized moving boxes worth of items—enough to fill a truck! This doesn’t even include the items that were pre-purchased.

 

Bradley Erbesfield (BSFCS ’07, MSW ’10), one of the co-presidents of the Athens chapter and senior coordinator at UGA’s Disability Resource Center, recalled a special moment that happened within the first hour of the event.

Three alumnae approached him and asked him about the chapter, the item drive and Bulldog Basics. Bradley sat with them and explained the event and the impact it had on students in need.

“I love to see people feel comfortable enough asking us questions and showing interest,” he said. “I could really tell that their hearts came out to help others.”

Looking back

While this marked the first G-Day tailgate the Athens chapter ran, this was not their first time holding an item drive. In December of 2020, the Athens chapter partnered with Bulldog Basics again and hosted a donation drive virtually.

Though this was during the pandemic, the Athens chapter still wanted to find ways to support the UGA community. By hosting an online drive, the chapter was able to work with Bulldog Basics without the need for person-to-person contact.

Those who participated could purchase items from Bulldog Basics’ online wish lists or donate money directly to the organization. No one had to leave their home to take part in the drive.

“We wanted to engage with the community and push forward despite the difficulties,” Bradley explained. “It was tough, but the drive ended up having this great impact.”

Looking ahead

While both saw amazing results, shifting from a virtual item drive to their in-person tailgate allowed for the Athens chapter to physically see the UGA community come together. The amount of people who showed up—lugging heavy items like detergent or shampoo for the drive—exceeded expectations.

“The event mixed fun with engagement and philanthropy. Those are sometimes hard to bring together,” Bradley said.

With two successful donation drives done, the chapter is already looking ahead and hoping to do more with Athens-based organizations moving forward to support UGA students and the Athens community.

 

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Honor your alma mater with a UGA Ring

As the spring semester comes to an end, many seniors are preparing to graduate and begin a new phase of life. As students transition to alumni, seniors can take part in a time-honored tradition: the UGA Ring.

UGA Rings serve as a reminder of one’s achievements and memories from their time at the university. They represent the bond between students and their alma mater, allowing them to bring a piece of UGA with them wherever they may go.

While being worn as a student, the Arch on the ring should face toward the wearer. Once a student graduates, the ring should be turned around so the Arch faces away. As students make that turn, it signifies they are graduates of the University of Georgia.

Nash Davis (BBA ’19), a Terry College of Business alumnus and former Student Alumni Council president, bought a ring during his junior year in 2018. Nash wanted to have a UGA Ring to wear to the various events held by the Alumni Association during his final year at UGA. Even after graduating, Nash wears his ring often, showing it off when he returns to Athens or attends university events. He recommends that everyone consider purchasing a UGA Ring.

 photo of two hands holding UGA rings

“It is an investment for sure, but it is something that you will always be glad you have and are able to wear,” Nash said.

Just by seeing his ring, Nash remembers the hard work he put into his college career and feels a sense of pride. His ring also serves as a great conversation starter with fellow alumni as well as friends within his professional career.

“The first time that an alum recognized my signet ring, it paid for itself. The ability to build those relationships and relate to all sorts of people over a symbol like this is awesome.”

Though Nash bought his UGA Ring as an undergraduate, it’s never too late to get one. Purchasing a ring is open to juniors and seniors with 60+ credit hours as well as alumni. Juniors and seniors who purchase a ring before the end of Ring Week each February can expect to receive their rings in April prior to Commencement. All other orders are filled after Commencement.

There is a wealth of options to customize your UGA Ring. You can choose the metal, engrave a message on the inside of the band, and select the side design to display your degree.

However you choose to customize your UGA Ring, this tradition is more than an accessory. The ring and the Arch are reminders that tradition never graduates.

Outstanding alumni, staff and friends recognized by UGA Alumni Association

UGA’s Alumni Association announced the seven recipients of the 2022 Alumni Awards at an event held on Friday, April 22. The annual Alumni Awards Luncheon, which dates back to 1936, recognizes individuals and organizations who demonstrate a commitment to UGA. The 2022 honorees were:

“The devotion of this year’s award recipients to the University of Georgia is making a positive difference in the lives of countless individuals on this campus, throughout the state, and around the world,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. “They have made the University of Georgia stronger and have made all of us very proud.”

2022 Alumni Merit Awards

The UGA Alumni Association’s oldest and highest honor, the Alumni Merit Award, is presented to individuals whose outstanding community leadership and service to the university reflect UGA’s highest values.

Bill Griffin is the executive chairman of ServiceMac, the nation’s fastest-growing subservicing company providing mortgage servicing support to lenders and investors across the country. He co-founded the company and recently facilitated its sale to First American Financial, a Fortune 500 financial services firm. Griffin has demonstrated a lifelong commitment to UGA. He served on the UGA Foundation board of trustees from 2007 to 2017 and now chairs a group that focuses on maintaining strong relationships between emeritus trustees and the university. Griffin led the fundraising effort that raised $11.5 million to name the William Porter Payne and Porter Otis Payne Indoor Athletic Facility for legendary alumni Billy Payne and his late father, Porter. He served on the Building Terry Campaign Cabinet, which raised more than $125 million in private funding for new facilities, and recently co-chaired the fundraising campaign to name the Jere W. Morehead Honors College.

Shirley Mathis McBay was UGA’s first Black doctoral graduate and the first woman to earn a doctoral degree in mathematics from the university. McBay graduated five years after the university was desegregated in 1961 and dedicated the rest of her life to improving education for underrepresented students. McBay made her immense impact on education, science and society through her work as a faculty member and administrator at Spelman College, dean for student affairs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), program manager and director in the Science Education Directorate of the National Science Foundation, and founder and president of the Quality Education for Minorities (QEM) Network. McBay died in November 2021 at the age of 86. Her award was accepted posthumously by her son Ron McBay.

2022 Faculty Service Awards

Dr. Garth Russo received a 2022 Faculty Service Award, which is presented to a faculty or staff member who has shown remarkable leadership in higher education. Russo, who retired as executive director of the University Health Center in July 2021, helped UGA navigate the COVID-19 pandemic — one of its most trying periods to date. He began his career as a staff physician in 1991. In January 2018, he became the senior medical director of UHC. Russo became the interim executive director in February 2018 upon Dr. Jean Chin’s retirement and assumed the role permanently in August of that year. Beyond his service as a physician, Russo also improved processes, systems and the organizational structure of the UHC.

Michelle Cook, the second recipient of the 2022 Faculty Service Award, is UGA’s senior vice provost for diversity and inclusion and strategic university initiatives. Her dedication to UGA’s mission is unmatched. She recently co-chaired the Diversity and Inclusive Excellence Planning Committee, which developed a five-year plan to provide an integrated and strategic approach to UGA’s diversity and inclusion efforts. A veteran administrator in the Provost’s Office and the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, Cook has a long record of success in leading campus-wide programs and garnering external funding to advance institutional priorities. She plays a vital role in elevating the recruitment, retention and success of underrepresented and underserved students, faculty and staff on campus. 

2022 Friend of UGA Award

Dan T. Cathy received the Friend of UGA Award, which is presented to a non-alumnus or organization that has devoted themselves to the greater good of UGA. Cathy is chairman of Chick-fil-A Inc., a fast-food restaurant chain headquartered in Atlanta, and is a highly engaged and generous member of the UGA community. Last fall, Chick-fil-A made a $10 million pledge to expand and enhance the Institute for Leadership Advancement, which works with students across campus to develop values-based, impact-driven leadership. The ILA program is housed in the S. Truett Cathy Leadership Suite within the Terry College’s Business Learning Community. Cathy also has partnered with UGA to support the Master of Fine Arts in Film, Television and Digital Media program. In the second year of the MFA program, students move to Trilith Studios in Fayetteville, Georgia, and study in residence with working professionals at the Georgia Film Academy. Trilith Studios, owned by Cathy, is famously where Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame, DC’s The Suicide Squad and a host of other blockbusters have been filmed.

2022 Family of the Year Award

 

The John Winston “Jack” Rooker family received the Family of the Year Award. The Rooker family history is deeply embedded in Athens and UGA. In 1907, A. P. Winston, the grandfather of Jack Rooker, came to UGA from the University of Virginia to manage the new agricultural college on campus. Over the next three generations, the Rooker family would boast a total of 10 family members graduating from UGA. Their impact on the university is boundless. Jack Rooker started serving on the UGA Foundation board of trustees in 1996, and he served as the founding chair of the UGA Real Estate Foundation. In 2005, John W. Rooker Hall and the Cindy Rooker Fireside Lounge were dedicated in the university’s East Campus Village in gratitude for Jack and Cindy’s years of alumni leadership and support. In 2014, the Rooker Family Need-Based Scholarship Fund was established. One of their most recent commitments was the opening of the Rooker Family Equine Receiving Barn at the UGA Veterinary Medical Learning Center in 2015. In 2017, Moore-Rooker Hall opened in the Terry College’s Business Learning Community thanks to significant financial support from the Rooker family and their longtime friend Dudley Moore.

2022 Young Alumni Award

Juan Mencias was this year’s recipient of the Young Alumni Award, which is presented to an individual who brings recognition and honor to UGA through outstanding leadership and service to the university, the community and his or her profession. He currently serves as chief financial officer for Georgia Diamond Corporation and its affiliate Ascot Diamonds in Atlanta. Mencias earned his Bachelor of Business Administration in finance in 2015 from the Terry College of Business and graduated cum laude from the Morehead Honors College. While at UGA, he served as president of the Goizueta Ambassador Program and promoted the importance of higher education and diversity. Mencias founded the UGA Latino Alumni Council in 2017 and currently serves as its president. The UGA Latino Alumni Council is the first and only alumni group for Latino graduates of UGA. It works to promote networking, collaboration and further development for all UGA undergraduate and graduate alumni who identify themselves as being of Latino descent (including Hispanic, Latin American/Latino and Spanish ancestry).

“This year’s recipients are campus, community and business leaders whose outstanding loyalty and support serve as an inspiration to us all,” said Meredith Gurley Johnson, executive director of the Alumni Association. “They embody the best of UGA, and it is our honor to recognize them today.”


Leveling the playing field

In honor of Autism Acceptance Month, the UGA Mentor Program is focusing on what it means to be neurodivergent and is emphasizing how asking for accommodations is not seeking an unfair advantage—it is simply gaining equal footing.

Meet Scott Frasard (BBA ’03, MED ’06, PHD ’11)

Scott’s higher education journey was atypical, even before he realized he was neurodivergent. He didn’t enroll in college until 12 years after graduating from high school–first working as an EMT and then paramedic. Even then, he went to school part time while continuing to work full time, eventually becoming a member of the first graduating class from UGA’s Gwinnett Campus. His college experience piqued an interest in adult education, so he continued to commute to the Gwinnett campus in pursuit of a Master of Education. He then moved to Athens to take courses on UGA’s main campus, eventually earning a Ph.D. in adult education.

It wasn’t until two years ago that he learned of his autism. The formal identification sent him on a journey of discovery.

“It was definitely a learning curve for me,” said Scott. “I had to become comfortable with my autism first, before sharing with others.” Scott turned to the internet. Reframing Autism, a website for an Australian nonprofit organization, has proven helpful. So has the Autism Self Advocacy Network website.

Even though he comes from a medical background, Scott found he was more comfortable with the identity-first descriptors for his autism versus the traditional medical point of view, preferring a statement like “We are autistic” to “We have autism.”

Scott says, “Autism is my identity. You can’t separate me from my autism. Saying ‘We have autism’ implies illness and disability, and that there is something wrong with us. We are not less; we are simply wired differently.”

Leveling the playing field

Learning he was autistic after nearly 30 years of teaching prompted Scott to reevaluate his teaching practices and make changes to be inclusive of neurodivergent learners. This includes creating a safe space in his classroom—an environment that is welcoming to all. He encourages students to talk about what they need up front before it becomes a problem. He shares things about himself to make students more comfortable to talk about themselves.

“I prepare others to expect ‘stimming’ or self-soothing behaviors they might see me do to help regulate my emotions,” explains Scott. He alerts people to his bluntness and explains that they should not perceive it as rudeness; he is simply getting straight to the point. Scott notes that because he interprets language extremely literally, he has learned to ask lots of clarifying questions. These advanced explanations help stem frustration on both sides of his interactions with others. Scott has learned to have these conversations not only with his students, but with his co-workers as well.

“In the hiring process for my last job, I was up front with HR and the hiring managers,” said Scott. “It helped them understand why I asked for what I needed and why these were reasonable accommodations.”

Scott is extremely sensitive to external stimuli. Sounds and movements easily distract him. They grab attention away from what he wants to focus on and create anxiety. For instance, fluorescent lights that flicker and buzz—something neurotypical people ignore or don’t even notice—are quite disruptive. So, Scott works remotely from his home. Like many autistic people, Scott is an introvert. His co-workers understand his need to block out time in his calendar to prepare for and/or decompress from meetings.

Bringing his experience to the Mentor Program

As a mentor in the UGA Mentor Program, Scott uses his experience to help students navigate their UGA journeys. He wants to empower students to ask for what they need from the start.

“Professors understand that to truly measure what someone has learned, they have to remove the barriers that disrupt the measurement,” Scott said. “If students need more time to process test questions and need a quiet environment in which to concentrate, these are not bonuses. They are not asking for extra; they’re seeking equal opportunity to perform at their best.”


Your uniqueness is valuable.

Your experiences may help a student on their UGA journey. Discover how fulfilling being a mentor can be.


Learn more.

Find out what it means to be neurodivergent and how you can be an ally to the autistic community. UGA Mentor Program Ambassador Cassie Turner, Class of 2022, sat down for a discussion with Scott in an episode of RealTalk, the UGA Mentor Program’s podcast.


Know a student struggling at UGA?

Scott is just one amazing professional available to serve as a mentor. In fact, the Mentor Program platform makes it easy for students to search through thousands of experienced faculty, staff and alumni mentors to find someone who matches their interests and background and can relate to their strengths and challenges.

Celebrate UGA’s national championship with a themed background

Since we won the national championship, we’ve been looking for any excuse to show off a little. If you’re like us, these customized backgrounds should help do the trick. 

We created six national championship-themed digital backgrounds for you to use during your Zoom/virtual meetings. Celebrate on the field with Kirby Smart and confetti or present beside the championship trophy. Whatever you choose, your meetings will burst with Georgia pride!  

Don’t know how to set a background? Don’t worry! 

If your computer is compatible with Zoom backgrounds (most are), follow the steps below to show your Bulldog pride.

  1. Select your favorite background images and save them to your desktop to make it easier to find during this process.
  2. Open Zoom and click the gray gear icon in the top right corner below your profile. *Make sure you are on your Home tab on the menu at the top of the application.
  3. Settings will open in a new window. On the right menu, click Background & Effects. *The icon is turquoise and looks like a person on a computer monitor.
  4. Click the gray plus icon in the right center of the window, and then click Add Image. Navigate to the background you’ve chose, select it and click open. *Make sure you are on your Virtual Backgrounds tab on the menu under your video display.
  5. The background will appear alongside all the other virtual background images on Zoom. Make sure it is selected before you close your Settings, and you’ll have a new championship background! *If your background looks like it’s backward, be sure to uncheck the box next to Mirror my video under the virtual background images in Zoom.

Rather have something more classic? 

We have other UGA-themed backgrounds to choose from, as well as several seasonal options. 

Want more ways to support athletics? 

Consider donating to the UGA Athletic Association to help UGA student-athletes achieve both on and off the field.  

40 Under 40 Spotlight: Mario Cambardella reinvents urban landscaping

For Mario Cambardella (BLA ’06, MEPD ’11, MLA ’13), connecting his professional purpose to a personal passion to make a difference ultimately set him on a pathway for success. It’s why he pursued a variety of service-oriented efforts to reinvigorate urban landscapes before turning his attention to starting an innovative business that relies on technology to better connect Georgia farmers with new markets in the Atlanta area.

For his personal, professional and philanthropic achievements, Mario ranked among UGA’s 40 Under 40 Class of 2021. The program celebrates young alumni leading the pack in their industries and communities.

Mario and his wife, Lindsey Cambardella (JD ’12).

How did Mario Cambardella find his purpose?

During his time at UGA, Mario connected with Jack Crowley, a professor emeritus in the College of Environment + Design. Mario found that “he understood how to find a solution that achieved true sustainability by balancing economic, social and environmental factors in equal harmony.”

After earning his master’s degree in landscape architecture in 2013, Mario landed an internship with a prestigious firm based in Colorado. However, many of his assigned projects didn’t align with his belief that designed landscapes should have a more holistic function that better supports the people who live near them. That’s what ultimately put him on a journey to become the first Urban Agriculture Director in the country.

“The premise is the landscape can be more than beautiful—it can perform, and it can have a function,” Mario said.

He would go on to lead the AgLanta initiative, focusing on bringing sustainable landscaping practices to underutilized properties in the Atlanta area. Relying on its Grows-A-Lot program, Mario acquired several vacant properties that had fallen into disrepair in USDA-defined food desert areas and converted them into community gardens. These spaces would help generate healthy food for the surrounding areas, and would be aesthetically pleasing and create a sense of place for the community.

Mario also helped cultivate the country’s largest municipal food forest, Urban Food Forest at Browns Mill.

What is ServeScape?

After focusing the first phase of his career on revitalizing urban communities, Mario embraced a new challenge when he founded ServeScape. Its goal is to bolster the green industry’s supply chain and enhance its use of technology to better serve customers and empower Georgia’s growers. It is Atlanta’s largest online-only garden center and wholesale plant nursery, sourcing a variety of Georgia Grown plants from farmers and horticulturists across the state.

ServeScape connects the bounty of growers with wider audiences, expanding their market and boosting revenues, while enabling property owners in urban areas to curate their own sustainable landscapes with native plants.

“We can enable beautiful and resilient landscapes all across the country because we’re relying on technology and a simple methodology,” Mario noted. “It’s bringing forward the idea that the products of every farmer can now get to market. And then when it gets to the market, we can actually make sure that it gets to the right hands.”

Mario (left) with his ServeScape team.

How is ServeScape sustainable?

Mario created ServeScape with sustainability in mind. ServeScape elevates locally grown products and locally stationed experts to foster a closer, greener community in the Metro Atlanta area. The company brings together landscape designers, plant experts and professional installers to create a landscape that challenges the norms of retail sellers.

By being a fully online marketplace, ServeScape does not waste resources on large, expensive plant nurseries and instead ships plants directly from the farm to clients’ doors. ServeScape’s designers also create a customized landscape that can last in each individual environment. Plants are meticulously curated to not only be beautiful, but also functional and resilient, reducing the need for replacements and leading to economic and environmental success.

“Through every job and project, I keep in mind that working in the natural and built environment makes you a student of each project site,” Mario said. “I hope I never lose the sense of adventure and excitement of seeing a site for the first time. Losing touch with the land distances yourself from many of the reasons this profession is so unique, engaging and rewarding.”

ServeScape is provides landscape design services throughout metro Atlanta and the Athens area, while AgLanta continues to advance its mission of advancing and supporting urban agriculture in the city.

Do you know an outstanding young grad leading the pack in their industry or community? Nominate them for the 2022 Class of 40 Under 40! Nominations close on April 8.


Written by Johnathan McGinty (ABJ ’00), Partner, The Trestle Collective

Donors make 9,339 gifts on Georgia Giving Day

UGA’s first 24-hour fundraising campaign smashes goals, nets $5.3 million to areas across campus

The University of Georgia’s first institution-wide, 24-hour fundraising effort, Georgia Giving Day, finished at midnight PST on April 1 after receiving 9,339 gifts.

UGA’s goal for its inaugural giving day was 1,785 gifts, but overwhelming support pushed the campaign past its first goal, a second goal of 3,318 and even a third goal of 6,000.

“I’m so grateful to everyone who contributed to this astonishing result, and I want them to know that they are part of more than just a successful fundraising effort,” said Kelly Kerner, UGA vice president for development and alumni relations. “They are now part of a student’s journey to Athens, a community solving local issues through UGA research, a team of students and faculty finishing a project that puts them on the national stage. All these things and many more are made possible with the help of our donors.”

Georgia Giving Day generated $5.3 million in new funding, with gifts going to each of UGA’s 18 schools and colleges. Donors came from 50 states and 16 countries.

Some donors did more than donate, however. UGA alumni chapters across the U.S. organized events for Georgia Giving Day that encouraged attendees to make gifts while participating in a variety of activities. Events from St. Louis to Dallas to Savannah to Boston saw Bulldogs giving back while bowling, brunching, wine tasting and more.

UGA enlisted a number of prominent alumni to promote the effort. UGA head football coach Kirby Smart, broadcasters Deborah Roberts and Maria Taylor, author and Super Bowl champion Malcolm Mitchell and J. Reid Parker Director of Athletics Josh Brooks—all Georgia Giving Day donors themselves—helped reach out to UGA supporters.

“When Bulldogs come together, our wins extend beyond the football field into the very heart of what UGA stands for: a better quality of life for everyone,” said Smart in a Georgia Giving Day promotional video. “With all of the Bulldog Nation working together, there’s no limit to who and where we can help.”

Students played a notable role in the day’s success through the annual Senior Signature campaign, which allows graduating students to have their names included on a plaque in Tate Plaza with a $30 gift supporting UGA and the school or college of their choice. The campaign’s final day was March 31, and thanks to Georgia Giving Day efforts, it acquired nearly 22 percent of its student donor goal in a single day.

Those who were unable to donate on Georgia Giving Day can still make a difference at UGA. Visit givingday.uga.edu to make a gift, learn more about Georgia Giving Day and watch a special video from Coach Smart.

UGA advertising alumni shine with Super Bowl commercials

Jason Kreher (ABJ ’00), a Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication alumnus, had a hand in creating two of the most popular commercials during this year’s Super Bowl.

He served as creative director for both the Irish Spring cult-horror parody and the minimalist Coinbase DVD logo reference. The Coinbase ad was ranked No.1 by Ad Age and AdWeek and received a Super Clio for best ad in the Super Bowl.

View Irish Spring Ad View the Coinbase Ad

Getting to know Jason

Jason enrolled at UGA in 1996 already interested in the journalism school. He gives a lot of credit to Karen Whitehill King’s media class in which he said he learned “literally everything I know today.” 

After graduating in 2000, Jason traveled to Florence, Italy, before returning to the United States and landing a job as an assistant account executive on the intel account. In 2008, Jason joined the international advertising agency Wieden + Kennedy where he worked his way up to the creative director of its entertainment and editorial division.  

During this time, he earned the 2017 Henry W. Grady Mid-Career Alumni Award. Though he finds the ‘Mid-Career’ part of the title “hilariously diminutive,” he still asserts that this was the most exciting award to receive—and he’s received a lot of awards, including two Grand Prix’s at the Ciclope International Festival of Craft and the AICP’s Campaign of the Year, to name a few.  

After 14 years with Wieden + Kennedy, Jason found a new position as chief creative officer North America at Accenture Interactive. It was with this agency that Jason created and directed the Coinbase and Irish Spring ads for the Super Bowl. 

Jason (right) with Karen Whitehall King and Grady alumnus Tatum Shaw (ABJ ’02).

About the ads

He says he is pleased with the ads’ receptions. He prides himself on creating provocative ads, so when Coinbase’s one-minute-long bouncing QR code received mixed reviews, he was thrilled it was getting lots of attention.

“The Coinbase response was incredibly fun to watch happen in real time,” he said. “I love that once the dust settled, the spot came in first in the AdWeek and Ad Age polls and dead last in the USA Today poll. We knew the commercial wasn’t for everyone, but that was never the point. The number of people who scanned and the number of people who stayed and signed up exceeded our clients’ wildest expectations.”  

Despite being the more traditional of the two commercials—if you can call a sweaty man stumbling into a cleaning-obsessed cult traditional—Jason is happy with how the Irish Spring ad turned out, too.  

“Irish Spring made a few top ten lists as well,” he said. “But the funniest part is that I snuck in my high school’s logo on the main character’s shirt. Apparently, Brookwood pride is very real, almost alarmingly so. My clients were like, ‘why is our social feed lighting up in Snellville Georgia all of a sudden?’ Nice work, Internet Broncos.”  

All of Jason’s work—advertisements, short films, songs and more—are on his website. 

Jason shooting a campaign in Prague.

If you want more Super Bowl ads by Georgia Bulldogs …

Grady alumnus Andy Pearson (ABJ ’06, AB ’06) also had a hand in a popular regional commercial for Liquid Death.

Andy served as the vice president of creative services for the ad which featured small children (and one pregnant woman) partying and drinking the non-alcoholic sparkling water to Judas Priest’s “Breaking the Law.” The brand purposefully markets itself to look alcoholic to give those who don’t want to drink a healthier alternative without feeling pressured.

Andy also has his own website with his many advertising campaigns. He and his wife, Liza Behles, also have a joint website where they freelance remotely as a creative duo.


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