Aardra Ambili’s (MS ’14) path to success

Aardra Ambili graduated from UGA less than 5 years ago and is already making waves in the technology field. The UGA Alumni Association recently emailed Aardra about her recent entrepreneurial success with Raybaby, a non-contact sleep and wellness tracker for infants.

What advice would you give to a current UGA student who wants to start their own business?

The journey is definitely long and hard, but not impossible. I would certainly advise aspiring entrepreneurs to expect a certain level of hardship and expect to build resilience over time. I have found it helpful to surround myself with friends and family who are encouraging and supportive. Entrepreneurs live an isolated life especially in the early stages of the company and for people who aren’t  accustomed to not having a social life- they might find it uncomfortable. Entrepreneurs really are a different breed because you end up living in a distant future that might never materialize. As a culture, we also need to celebrate failure- that we as individuals can experiment with different outcomes of our decisions and some of them might be wrong, we need to begin to accept that culture fully. As UGA students, I would strongly urge them to connect with their community – you are in the midst of like-minded people who believe in innovation and collaboration. You might even be eligible to receive funding and grants as a UGA student and they usually go a long way in helping one pave one’s entrepreneurial ambitions.

What are some of your fondest memories from your time at UGA?

My fondest memories at UGA were spent studying at the UGA library, working on different projects. Not kidding. I was studying for my master’s in artificial intelligence and it was a tough program. I remember spending hours either alone or with my friends solving problems – they were never easy and you could never expect to breeze through them. But I loved challenging problems. I remember walking through campus in the fall; it was so beautiful, a perfect time for meditation on the million thoughts that were running through our heads. I remember being inspired by a fellow doctoral student who had been an entrepreneur, and being genuinely inspired by the enthusiasm, initiative and energy. I think that we often underestimate our potential, and we keep forgetting about human resilience and capability, we need to keep reminding ourselves of our human civilization’s inclination towards greatness.

What was the inspiration for Raybaby? 

We met a lot of mothers and fathers who are extremely worried about their children’s wellness, whether they were sleeping well or breathing well. It so happened that one of the founder’s parents was having a conversation on electronics and how they are all powered by lithium ion batteries, and how they all  inherently carry a safety risk. And he asked a thought-provoking question: “How can you place a lithium ion powered electronics device on someone who is sleeping?” The conversation has evolved to where it is now – and we are extremely proud of what we are creating- a non-contact alternative to the current vital monitoring solutions, which is a much safer option. Parents shouldn’t have to choose between vital monitors and video cameras- they should have both in one product.

Currently, doctors track respiration rate by placing their hand on the babies chest and counting breaths manually, which is inefficient. Our solution doesn’t require any kind of electronic device on the baby’s body, a huge relief since parents can now sleep safe and not worry about exploding lithium ion batteries. 

Our product, Raybaby, notifies parents/caregivers/daycare centers:

  • when your baby rolls over
  • when your baby is awake
  • when your baby is sleepy or sleeping
  • or even when your baby is running a fever

We are supported by Johnson & Johnson and HAX as part of their joint consumer device health accelerator program. J&J is helping us create a more market ready and baby friendly product. We use clinically-tested and FDA approved components.

How did your time at UGA prepare you for your career?

While at UGA, I published some papers in applied machine learning – applications where we use artificial intelligence to solve real world problems. But I realized I wanted to make a difference and it took some time for me to realize the way to do it might be to take a break from academia (I had initially planned to apply for a doctorate degree) and work in the field. I went on to work in a few startups and I believe that the time I spent at UGA really helped me to think critically about problems and how to solve them. It made me realize the importance of a community and how communities tackle tough problems. As individuals we are often short-sighted and are trapped in biases and in small mindsets, however when you have a team with varied experiences they bring in their own set of rich expertise and perspective and that makes all the crucial difference when solving problems. Serendipitously, I soon met Ranjana and Sanchi, my fellow founders, who are as excited and as passionate as me, we are strung together by the desire to make a deep lasting impact on people’s lives.

You can learn more about Raybaby and Aadra’s work at Rayiot.org

UGA alumna changes lives in Uganda

Kupendwa Ministries, founded by Amy Washington (BBA ’09) in 2011, is a maternity home for Ugandan teenagers facing crisis pregnancies. Amy, a Watkinsville native, first visited Uganda after graduation and during a return visit in 2010, a severely malnourished little girl living in an unstable home was placed in her arms. Amy relocated permanently to Uganda in 2011 to adopt this child, and five more orphans were placed in her care soon after. Upon discovering childbirth is the number one cause of death in Uganda, Amy knew she had to do something to help alleviate this devastating statistic.

Abby Bryant and Amy Washington (BBA ’09) teaching Amy’s seven children to Call the Dawgs all the way from Jinja, Uganda.

She opened Kupendwa driven by a mission to “save lives, two at a time.” Since then, more than 50 mothers and babies have lived at Kupendwa, and Amy has served as foster mom and grandma to them all. Today, she has legally adopted five of her seven children and is in the process of adopting the remaining two. This past spring, Amy and Dr. Juliet Sekandi, assistant professor in UGA’s College of Public Health, met while Juliet was conducting research on the university’s behalf and formed an instant friendship.

Dr. Juliet Sekandi and Amy Washington (BBA ’09) visiting in Jinja, Uganda

Amy asked Juliet, a native Ugandan, to speak at Kupendwa’s second annual fundraising banquet and on November 17 they were reunited stateside. Juliet’s heartfelt message helped the banquet successfully raise $40,000. Amy and Juliet serve as a shining example of how professors and students can impact one another’s lives beyond the classroom. As they reside in each other’s native homelands, their commonalities have bonded them in a truly one-of-a-kind friendship. For more information about Kupendwa Ministries visit www.kupendwaministries.org.

2017 Bulldog 100 Celebration

On February 4, the University of Georgia Alumni Association and friends of UGA gathered in Atlanta to celebrate the 100 fastest-growing companies owned or operated by UGA alumni during the eighth annual Bulldog 100 Celebration.

The 2017 fastest-growing business was Chicken Salad Chick, helmed by president and CEO Scott Deviney, who received his degree in economics from UGA’s Terry College of Business in 1995. The company is based in Auburn, Alabama, and was started by a stay-at-home mom and her software salesman husband after selling chicken salad at PTA meetings.

To date, the company operates 62 restaurants and has sold 146 franchises in eight states, selling chicken salad in 15 flavor profiles. In 2016, Chicken Salad Chick landed at No. 37 on Inc. Magazine’s annual list of the 500 fastest-growing companies in the U.S., raking in $9.8 million in 2015, with a growth rate of more than 6,000 percent in the past three years. The company has also been named one of FastCasual.com’s top Movers and Shakers and one of Nation’s Restaurant News’ 2015 Breakout Brands.

View the complete ranked list of all 100 companies at alumni.uga.edu/b100.

This year’s keynote speech was given by Double Dawg Debbie Storey (AB ’80, MBA ’06), retired executive vice president of mobility customer service at AT&T, author of Don’t Downsize Your Dreams. As Storey wrapped up her remarks, she encouraged all of the evening’s guests to stay connected to the University of Georgia. 

Nominations are now open for the Bulldog 100 Class of 2018. Learn more about the criteria and nominate a business today.


The Illustrator Behind the Commit to Georgia Campaign

Portions of this interview will appear in the March issue of Georgia Magazine.

As the University of Georgia community prepared for the kickoff of the Commit to Georgia Comprehensive Capital Campaign, it became very clear that the best conduits to the tell the story of the state’s flagship university are its graduates. Enlisting the help of spoken word artist Mike Young (ABJ ’14) and illustrator Seth McWhorter (CED ’11), these active young alumni helped bring Georgia’s goals of breaking barriers and opening doors, enhancing the learning environment and solving grand challenges to life. Today, we will share portions of an interview with McWhorter, but be sure to keep an eye out for your copy of Georgia Magazine to learn more about Young.

McWhorter calls Athens home, and has designed logos and illustrations for a variety of companies, including Coca-Cola and its subsidiaries. He started his career at a landscape architecture firm in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and is currently an art director at Fitzgerald & Co. advertising agency in Atlanta. McWhorter’s black & white illustration of the Arch can be seen on the cover of the campaign CASE Statement, and additional drawings of the chapel bell, Abraham Baldwin, Uga and Herty Fountain will be used in other campaign materials.

When asked what he wanted his UGA legacy to be, McWhorter said, “it’s an honor to have something I created used to benefit UGA, a place that’s meant so much to me throughout my life.”

Celebrating UGA’s 232nd Anniversary

In January, the University of Georgia celebrated Founders Week, which was held in honor of the university’s 232nd anniversary. The University of Georgia Charter was signed on January 27, 1785, making UGA the first state-chartered institute of public higher education and the birthplace of public higher education in America.

The week kicked off with the presentation of the President’s Medal to Paul M. Kurtz, retired associate dean and professor in the UGA School of Law. The President’s Medal recognizes extraordinary contributions of individuals who are not current employees of UGA and who have supported students and academic programs, advanced research and inspired community leaders to enhance the quality of life of citizens in Georgia.

The medal presentation was followed by the annual Founders Day Lecture, presented by the UGA Alumni Association and the UGA Emeriti Scholars and the Office of the President. This year’s lecture speaker was Charles Bullock, Richard B. Russell Chair in Political Science, Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professor and University Professor, and his lecture was titled “The Highs and Lows of the 2016 Presidential Election.”

The Student Alumni Association kept the celebratory feelings going throughout the week with a series of events for students, including a T-Shirt giveaway, Tradition Tuesday and a birthday party in Tate Plaza.

Honoring UGA’s first African American four-year students

Last week, the highly anticipated film Hidden Figures starring Taraji Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae was released in theaters nationwide. The film tells the story of African American women engineers and mathematicians who helped John Glenn to become the first American to orbit Earth.

For black alumni at UGA, we have some hidden figures in the form of the first three African American first year students to enroll at the University of Georgia and graduate four years later– Harold Alonza Black, Ph.D. (BBA ’66), Mary B. Diallo, Ph.D. (AB ’66, MA ’73) and Kerry Rushin Miller (BS ’66). UGA will officially recognize the 50th anniversary of their graduation at an event titled “Conversations with the Class of 1966: UGA’s First Black Freshman Graduates” on Thursday, January 12 at 5 p.m. in the UGA Chapel.

Black and Diallo recently spoke with the Black Alumni Leadership Council about their experiences breaking barriers.

Diallo is an Athens native who is currently an associate professor at Florida A&M University. The French major said her high school band teacher encouraged her and three other students to apply to UGA. When asked about the people who influenced her the most at Georgia, she said, “I don’t want to name one person because many people made a significant impact on me—some professors, a few college friends, my family, people in my community, as well as people in other cities, states, and countries.”

Mary Diallo, Harold Black and Kerry Miller

Black is an Atlanta native who originally planned on following his older brother to study at Purdue, but after UGA’s desegregation he applied because the school offered more scholarship opportunities. The economics major said his most memorable college experience was befriending six fellow freshman at orientation. As the only black male student to live in a residence hall in 1962, he recalled his room windows broken into at night and the segregated bathroom he used was repeatedly vandalized.

“Given that I knew my great grandmother, who was a slave, I can marvel at the changes that have occurred in this country and especially in this part of the country,” Black said. “I actually thoroughly enjoyed my UGA experience and would not change it for any other.”

Now, as a retired finance professor emeritus at the University of Tennessee, he encourages students to “follow your dreams and never let mere mortals dissuade you from your goals.”

(L-R): Yvette Daniels (AB ’86, JD ’89), Malena Cunningham Anderson (ABJ ’80), Mary Frances Early (MMED ’62, EDS ’71) and Myrna White (ABJ ’81) at the Women of UGA Holiday Luncheon in December.

In celebration of the desegregation of the university, UGA Black Alumni thank the first freshman graduates Harold Black (BBA ’66), Mary Diallo (AB ’66, MA ’73) and Kerry Miller (BS ’66), as well as the first black graduate Mary Frances Early (MMED, 62, EDS ’71), and the first black undergraduates Charlayne Hunter-Gault (ABJ ’63) and Hamilton E. Holmes (BS ’63) for their courage. Thank you all for being our “hidden figures.”

Written by Bridgette Burton (AB ’11, ABJ ’11)

Winter Warm-Up: Black Alumni Scholarship Fundraiser

The UGA Black Alumni Affinity Group hosted “Winter Warm-Up: An Evening of Soul, Spirits & Scholarship” on Thursday, December 1 at American Spirit Whiskey in Atlanta. Attendees enjoyed touring the distillery and learning about the whiskey making process from owners (and Georgia graduates) Charlie Thompson (AB ’99, MBA ’03, JD ’03) and Jim Chasteen (BBA ’98). A portion of the ticket price supported the Black Alumni Endowed Scholarship.

The scholarship is 35 years old, and UGA Black Alumni plans to increase the endowment significantly over the next five years to support more outstanding Black Alumni Scholars. There are currently five scholars who receive the renewable scholarship every year to help to underwrite the cost of their educational pursuits. They are: Charles Orgbon III, April Davis, Khadar Haroun, Orobosa Idehen and JaKari Goss.

Since July 2016, nearly $2,000 has been given to support outstanding students of color at UGA, with $900 raised at the December 1 event. If you would like to make a gift to the Black Alumni scholarship, please click here. All gift amounts are appreciated and help students like Charles, April, Khadar, Orobosa and JaKari reach their goals!

Check out photos from the event.

Feature photo by Carole Kaboya (AB ’10)

Alumna Julie Moran talks work-life balance at Women of UGA Holiday Luncheon

Women of UGA hosted its annual holiday luncheon on Thursday, December 8, featuring one of UGA’s most recognizable alumnae, Julie Moran (ABJ ’84).

Moran, a graduate of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, boasts a television broadcast career that has put her smiling face on sidelines, red carpets and TV screens for over 30 years. Upon graduation from UGA, Julie moved to Los Angeles—stepping into sports broadcasting with ESPN, NBC Sports and eventually working her way to becoming the first female anchor to join ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Julie transitioned her focus to the world of entertainment, and among her many accomplishments, became anchor and host for Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood and most recently Lifetime Network’s The Balancing Act. Her successes are a true testament to years of hard work—and stellar UGA education.

With over 100 alumnae and friends in attendance at Piedmont Park’s Magnolia Hall, guests enjoyed networking and a seated lunch prior to the program. Julie gave an inspirational keynote with the overarching theme that women can have it all, just not all at the same time. She walked the audience through her life and career highlights—from her first day on the job with ESPN to an Oprah interview that altered her perspective on balancing career and family. Moran also spoke about the importance of mentorship and how anchors such as Diane Sawyer have helped her to navigate her career over the years. During this festive time of year, her insight proved to be a valuable message to all in attendance.

A portion of the proceeds from this event went to support the Women of UGA Scholarship Fund, a needs-based scholarship that, once endowed, will be granted to current students by UGA’s Office of Student Financial Aid. Through this event, Women of UGA is even closer to endowing this impactful scholarship.

Check out photos from the event.

Feature photo by Carole Kaboya (AB ’10).

Meet alumna Shannon Hanby (BS ’10, MPH ’12)

As a young alumna new to Texas, Shannon Hanby connected with the local Austin alumni chapter and was pleased to find a little bit of Athens in Austin. Today, Shannon is president of the Austin Chapter.

When did you graduate from UGA and what are you up to now?
I graduated from undergrad in 2010 and grad school in 2012. I now work at the University of Texas at Austin in University Health Services as a health promotion coordinator. It seems I refuse to ever leave college!

Shannon Hanby (BS ’10, MPH ’12)

How did you become involved in your local chapter?
I became involved the day after I moved to Austin! I moved from a small village in central New York, and I terribly missed having UGA friends. The day after I arrived in Austin, the chapter was meeting for brunch, and I showed up! I went to every game viewing party (except one when I was out of town), and loved every second. I became friends with the president at the time, Katie Postich (BSED ’10, BBA ’10), and when she moved back to Georgia, I volunteered to take over for her.

What chapter event are you most proud of?
This is a hard one! I’m most proud of any event that encourages people who are new to Austin to attend. Each event and viewing party that we have had includes people who have just moved to Austin. It provides a little community and a taste of home as people are getting settled in Austin.

How has being part of your local chapter benefited you?
I have made some of my closest friends from being involved in the chapter. I never knew any of the people in college, and yet, we share so much history and love for the university! It also helps me to not feel so homesick. There is nothing better than sharing a Georgia win with your friends, and it makes the losses a little easier.

What is the most important lesson you learned during your time at UGA?
I learned to not give up on myself. I had no idea what I wanted to be when I “grew up”, so I went through many phases while I was in school (including a very short, very difficult biology major phase… yikes!). I had a really great and inspiring academic advisor in Dr. Katie Darby Hein, and she encouraged me to continue in the field of public health. If it wasn’t for her, I would have never known about public health or what I could do in the field.

If there is any advice you could give to a current student, what would it be?
Take advantage of every opportunity you are given in college. From joining lots of organizations to studying abroad to internships and volunteering… do it. The people you will meet will be friends and mentors for forever. (The higher education/public health side of me also encourages taking care of yourself! Get sleep! Don’t forget to eat!)

The University of Georgia is committed to inspiring future leaders and solving the world’s grand challenges. What is YOUR commitment?
My commitment is to continue trying to solve public health problems. I promise to continue to look at the world and try to find ways to make people healthier and happier.

Want to connect with your local chapter? Check out the complete list now at alumni.uga.edu/chapters!

Catching up with Oxford scholar Mitra Kumareswaran

UGA student Mitra Kumareswaran spent her junior year at Oxford University in England taking scenic bike routes between classes, enjoying the views of the parks and studying everything from genetics to Shakespeare at the university’s historic libraries. The biology and English double major is passionate about both science and the humanities, and hopes to combine them some day in order to better the lives of children with autism. As a recipient of the Alumni Association’s Oxford scholarship, by the time Mitra returned to UGA she had walked the same halls as Oscar Wilde and saw the blackboard that once displayed Einstein’s equations.


“I majored in biology and English because I’m interested in neuroscience and learning development,” Kumareswaran said. “Since I am also passionate about arts, the idea of taking only science classes just wasn’t enough. I hope to use my knowledge in these different areas of study to open a school that works with autistic kids’ language development, regardless of their socioeconomic status.”

Kumareswaran knew early on that she wanted to study in Oxford, and the UGA at Oxford program immediately captured her attention during her college search. As an Oxford Scholar, she experienced an intimate classroom setting in courses with no more than three other students. The organizations she joined there let her brush shoulders with renowned scholars and hear researchers from around the world talk about new developments such as sheep cloning and DNA manipulation.


In addition to the classroom experience, Kumareswaran says that studying at Oxford helped her to step outside her comfort zone and become a more analytical thinker.

“Through my experiences at UGA and Oxford, I understand the world much more than I ever thought I would,” she said. “I learned the importance of being passionate and going forward when something is scary because the worst someone can tell you is no.”

She thanks the Alumni Association scholarship she received for making her dreams of studying at Oxford a reality. She says that the scholarship made it possible for her to have the financial ability to study for two semesters at Oxford University, experience the centuries-old traditions there and make life-long friendships overseas.

“It feels great to know that donors and alumni at UGA support my education, not only in Athens, but also abroad,” Kumareswaran said.

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

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


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3475 Lenox Road NE, Suite 870
Atlanta, GA 30326
(404) 814-8820


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