Mentorship smooths the path for a first-generation UGA student

The UGA Mentor Program is celebrating first-generation students during November. Here, in their own words, is the story of a first-generation student, Tatiana Anthony (BS ’20, MED ’23), and her mentor, alumna Shanelle Smith (BS ’16, MED ’18).

FORGING A CONNECTION

Shanelle: I have always valued mentorship. As a dual-enrollment student in high school, I received a mentor to help me navigate both the academic and personal challenges of being in the accelerated program. When I learned about the UGA Mentor Program, I knew it was my time to help others just as I had been helped.

Tatiana: When the UGA Mentor Program launched, I was extremely excited! I connected with my mentor, Shanelle, through the program during the first semester of my senior year in Fall 2020. As a first-generation college student that wanted to pursue mental health counseling, I have always valued representation and mentorship by other Black women in the field. The UGA Mentor Program was the perfect platform to find additional support during the graduate school admission process.

I was drawn to Shanelle’s profile because she was an alumna of the graduate program I wanted to pursue, and she has proven to be a great resource for me!

Shanelle: I had the pleasure of connecting with Tatiana at the beginning of her senior year. I was both shocked and honored to know that she had chosen me to be her mentor. Witnessing her journey to graduate school has been the most remarkable part of this mentorship.

A BUMP IN THE ROAD

Tatiana: When I was not accepted into the graduate program the first time I applied, I was devastated. During this time, Shanelle was very intentional about providing me with emotional support and encouraging me to apply again.

When I decided to move to St. Louis during my gap year to do service work as an AmeriCorps member, she was genuinely happy for me. We had dinner the day before I moved, and she got me housewarming gifts for my first apartment.

My entire gap year away from home, she called me regularly and helped me apply to graduate school again. The time difference between Georgia and Missouri did not stop us from connecting.

When it came time to interview for graduate programs, she and I interview-prepped in the evenings to make sure I was prepared. Once I was accepted into my graduate program and offered an assistantship, she was one of the first few people I called.

Shanelle: Many believe the idea of mentorship is to help the mentee grow both professionally and personally, but I can say Tatiana has pushed me to grow in many ways as well. Tatiana taught me that perseverance is always the answer, and to pursue my true wants in life. From getting to know each other, to processing all the nuances of a counseling grad program, this has been an exceptional journey.

The mental health field is forever growing, and it is an honor to work alongside such an inspiring Black woman—one who I know is going to do incredible things in this field. This is only the beginning for Tatiana.

WHY MENTOR?

Shanelle: Since 2020, it has been a pleasure getting to not only provide insight and knowledge to Tatiana, but also grow from the experience myself. I am grateful to the UGA Mentor Program for the connection to not only such a great mentee, but also with a lifelong friend.

I truly believe that in order to impact future generations, no matter what your academic field may be, becoming a part of the UGA Mentor Program is a meaningful way to not only give back to UGA, but also to grow personally as well. 

Tatiana: Shanelle has been through this journey with me every single step of the way. Even now, she continues to support me in my graduate program. I can confidently say that I would not be who and where I am today without her support. Thank you, Shanelle! And thank you, UGA Mentor Program.

Discover the joys of providing mentorship.

See other ways UGA is celebrating first-generation students, staff and faculty.

The Natural: UGA showed Jackie Mattison new trails to blaze

This story was written by Charles McNair. 

Jackie Mattison (BS ’76) didn’t have a gymnastics team at her school in Covington, Georgia. She simply tumbled around in the gym and in her backyard, head over heels, like any kid.

She didn’t lead cheers on the sidelines in high school either. Instead, she wore a Newton County Rams costume, boosting school spirit as the team mascot.

With this background, what were the chances that Mattison would one day graduate as University of Georgia’s first-ever Black gymnast … and first-ever Black cheerleader?

“I never thought I’d be doing something like that,” she confesses. “There I was at UGA as a student, just enjoying what students do. I didn’t try to become a gymnast and cheerleader on purpose. It just all fell together.”

Tumbled, she might have said.

Her freshman year, 1973, Mattison took Tumbling 101 as a physical education elective. In one class, she practiced forward rolls on a battered wrestling mat. A sharp-eyed coach was passing through the gym.

“You look like you’re light on your feet,” the coach told her. “Why don’t you come try out for the gymnastics team?”

Jackie Mattison performing 1975

Jackie Mattison performing a gymnastics routine in 1975.

That day changed everything.

“If it had not been for the kind, inspiring voice of Melinda Airhart (1973-1976 UGA women’s gymnastics coach), my success as a student at UGA would not have manifested the way it did,” Mattison says. “She saw my little bit of talent and worked with me to make it bigger.”

Every Monday through Friday during summer semesters, Airhart waited for Mattison in the gym at Stegeman Hall. They practiced for two hours every day, one-on-one.

Mattison started team practice in fall 1973, the first year UGA fielded a gymnastics team. Her initial competition came in January 1974. She placed first in the vault in several meets that season.

From its humble beginnings, Georgia’s women gymnasts went on to win 10 NCAA national championships. The team has also claimed 16 Southeastern Conference Championships and 22 NCAA regional titles.

Today, Georgia women’s gymnastics–the Gym Dawgs–are generally recognized as one of the nation’s premier program.

Mattison and her teammates blazed the trail for them.

A vault into cheerleading

As Mattison worked out with the gymnastics team, she began to notice the UGA cheerleaders practicing nearby. Intrigued, she tried out for cheerleading in the spring of 1974.

“I got cut,” she remembers. “That hurt so bad. I remember thinking, ‘I’ll never try that again’.”

But she did. Convinced that her white cheer partner had let her fall on purpose during tryouts, she teamed up with a Black partner, Ricky Bivens. They scored highest of all the competitors in initial competitions, and among the highest in a nerve-wracking second tryout at Stegeman Coliseum.

That fall, Mattison found herself shaking pom-poms on the sidelines of Sanford Stadium. Home game Saturdays, she and her cheer teammates led tens of thousands of Bulldog fans in full-throated support of notable teams fielded by then-Coach Vince Dooley. Mattison even held Uga III’s leash as they ran onto the field for home games.

Jackie Mattison gymnastics team 1976

Jackie Mattison with her gymnastics team in 1976.

At the 1976 Cotton Bowl, UGA vs. Arkansas, she turned after a cheer to find herself face-to-face with Georgia native singer James Brown, the Godfather of Soul. Brown had a recent hit song, “Dooley’s Junkyard Dawgs,” which has the following lyrics:

Uh, ha, Dooley’s junkyard dogs 
Dooley’s junkyard dogs 
They’ll hit ya, they’ll knock ya, ha 
They’ll haul right off and sock ya 
Dooley’s junkyard dogs 
Dooley’s junkyard dogs

As rich as her gymnastics team and cheer team memories are, Mattison holds other moments equally dear. She became one of the very first UGA female student athletes to be awarded a scholarship, thanks to the enactment of a national education amendment, Title IX. And she pledged Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., joining “a sisterhood that still exists today,” she says.

“The camaraderie of Black sororities and fraternities at UGA closely bonded the few minority students,” she says. “Among my best memories are Black student gatherings in the dorms and dining halls, social activities, and greetings as we passed on our way to classes.”

UGA also readied Mattison for life after Athens.

“I feel that the professionalism, support and encouragement of my instructors in the health and physical education department had a major role in my success as a student at UGA,” she says.

“I was motivated by the commitment, energy and excitement in their voices as they taught and engaged students. There was a feeling of a great deal of mutual respect between students and professors. To me, that was a formula for success.”

She took that formula into the world.

Passing it forward

Earning a 1977 master’s degree in health and physical education, Mattison launched a 33-year career as an educator.

She began as a K-5 physical education teacher at Barnett Shoals Elementary School in Athens. She shaped young minds and bodies at subsequent posts in Georgia, North Carolina, Maryland and Tennessee.

Along the way, she and her husband Larry had two sons, Landy and Ryan, and one grandson, Sean.

She spent the last 12 years of her career back home, at Newton High School in Covington, teaching health and physical education. In three decades-plus of education, she coached co-ed cross-country and golf, as well as girls’ softball, tennis, and gymnastics. She retired in 2016, her career distinguished by awards and the achievements of her students.

UGA has been with her along all the trails she blazed.

“I left UGA with confidence that I could make a difference in the lives of students from every walk of life,” Mattison says.

“I followed my heart. To this day, I have no doubt that the major reason I was successful in a career as a health educator, physical educator, and coach for 33 years is because I was prepared for life – and made highly qualified in my field – by the University of Georgia.”

Mistress of Cultural Affairs: Nawanna Miller’s legacy of diversity and inclusion at UGA

This was written by Charles McNair.

In fall 1970, Nawanna Lewis Miller (ABJ ’73) took on a daunting mission: showcasing the traditions of African American culture at UGA. The student body at that time was overwhelmingly white, and Miller remembers—painfully—how some classmates did not welcome Black faces.

Miller and her Black classmates resolved to stand up and stand out.

Bannered under the theme of Pamoja, the Swahili word for togetherness, Miller founded a pantheon of Black cultural organizations unlike anything seen before at UGA.

The Pamoja Dancers daringly expressed the Black experience through artistic motion. (Miller danced completely alone at first.) The Pamoja Singers gave beautiful a cappella concerts on the plaza outside Monument Hall. The Pamoja Drama and Arts troupe recounted Black life in stories. (Again, Miller performed solo shows at first.) Finding still more ways to share the importance of Black culture, Miller launched the landmark Journalism Association for Minorities (JAM), and that group produced Pamoja Newspaper.

The ripples of Miller’s work would spread through the next five decades into currently active UGA groups (The African American Choral Ensemble, the Black Theatrical Ensemble, etc.). Thousands of UGA students have taken part in these performing arts ensembles. A 50th Anniversary of Pamoja event in 2020 commemorated their contributions to UGA.

Miller’s leadership came with a unique title: Mistress of Cultural Affairs.

Nawanna Lewis Miller 1970

Nawanna Lewis Miller in the 1970 Pandora yearbook.

“I didn’t know what it meant. Nobody knew what it meant,” Miller laughs. “I went and typed out a job description and took it from there.”

The Pamoja movement excited Black students and left them optimistic … to a degree.

“We only had a minuscule number of Black students on campus,” Miller says, “but they made for a supportive audience.

“A few white students,” she smiles, “were curiously polite.”

New success against long odds

After earning a broadcast journalism degree in just three years–Miller took 20 hours each semester–Nawanna and husband George C. Miller (her sweetheart since junior high school), moved in 1977 to Washington, D.C. George took a high political post in the United States Department of the Treasury in President Jimmy Carter’s administration.

The Millers started a family, eventually to grow to six children and seven grandsons. Though the home front kept her busy, Miller now set her sights on another lifelong dream–the ministry.

“My first encounter with Jesus Christ came while I was still in a high chair,” she says. “Through my whole life, I have vigorously served in the church.”

It would turn out that becoming a female minister at a time when men dominated the clergy would take more determination than she ever imagined.

“I can say that the physical, mental, and emotional impact of attending UGA as a minority student in those early years of integration was very, very costly,” Miller says. “But I believe it was even harder to be accepted among Black people—men especially—as Black preacher.”

Miller approached her pastor at Metropolitan Baptist Church in Washington about her yearning. As a first step, she served as director of metropolitan youth ministries, offering spiritual guidance to children in 30 organizations. Then, in 1989, more than a decade after moving to D.C. and over the objections of other pastors, Miller was licensed to preach by Reverend Dr. H.B. Hicks, Jr.

Finally, in 1992, Miller was welcomed fully to the gospel ministry following a substantial public catechism by clergy who “courageously ordained her,” she says.

“The beautiful part is that this revolutionary moment happened in front of about 1,500 people. That was a powerful affirmation.”

She became one of the first female pastors in the Baptist church.

Miller went on to earn a master’s degree in divinity from Howard University. When the Millers returned to the Atlanta area, she founded the Messiah’s Temple Christian Ministries, serving as pastor there until 2016.

The Gospel of Great Health

After a stroke in 2015, Miller reduced her time in the pulpit. She now serves as a personal pastor to people “from all walks of life,” she says, sharing spiritual guidance through The Institute for Christian Fellowship, yet another organization she founded, this one in 1996.

She spends time writing books. She has five titles in all, with a new one, B.O.L.O. – Be On the Look-Out for Satan’s Top Ten Tricks, due in 2021.

Nawanna Miller 2021

Nawanna Miller in 2021.

Doctors gave Miller only a 15% chance of surviving her stroke. Yet, once again, her unbreakable spirit prevailed. Turning the setback into something positive, Miller designed The Gospel of Great Health program, teaching what she calls “supernatural energy techniques for healing and wholeness” to students and churches.

She’s seen many changes since her days at UGA, but Miller insists that one thing in her life has always stayed the same.

“Excellence was our brand for all of the Pamoja groups,” she says. “And I’m grateful to say that’s still the standard I’ve been blessed to attempt in everything I’ve done all these years.”

Vaughn’s Victory: Terry College’s first Black female graduate shares remembrances 

This story was written by Charles McNair. 

Margaret Vaughn (BBA ’70) didn’t realize she was making history.

“I did not set a goal to become the first Black woman to graduate from the Terry College of Business,” she says. “I knew at the time that two Black males had preceded me. But even at graduation, I did not attach any great significance to that moment.”

Vaughn may have been distracted by job offers.

It was 1970, and businesses and the federal government were just waking up to the potential of a diversified professional workforce. Vaughn heard from NASA, the Big 8 accounting firms, the U.S. Department of Labor and others.

“I attribute that attention,” she says modestly, “to the fact that a University of Georgia business degree was highly respected by employers.”

But, hello Houston, there was a problem. The potential employers all wanted Vaughn to relocate–to Texas, New York or New Jersey.

“The U.S. Department of Treasury won out,” Vaughn says, “because the Internal Revenue Service did not require me to leave Georgia.”

In 1970, she started a distinguished career with the IRS, retiring in 2004 after serving in multiple roles with increasing responsibility.

In an unexpected way, Vaughn says, her UGA classroom experience prepared her perfectly for the 1970s business world.

Margaret Vaughn 1970

Margaret Vaughn in the 1970 Pandora yearbook.

“Initially, my work environment was a near mirror image of my environment at UGA,” Vaughn says. “Predominately male and white.”

“I was the only African American and one of only two females in my first tax training class. I was one of only two or three African Americans and the only African American female employed as an IRS field agent in Georgia. I remember being one of only two African Americans in the swearing-in ceremony when I became a certified public accountant.”

“So not only did my UGA experience provide me the technical knowledge to become an expert in my field,” she says, “it also fully prepared me for the environment where I would have to work.”

Roads not taken

Vaughn never plotted to enter the business world.

As a student at Pearl High School in Madison, Georgia, she loved to write. She created the school’s first yearbook and wrote the school’s alma mater. She had her heart set on making a living by the paragraph and page.

That changed in her senior year. The principal of her high school called Vaughn into the office with news.

“You’re going to be the senior class valedictorian,” the principal said. “And you’re going to the University of Georgia. I’ve already talked with your father about it, and he agrees.”

Goodbye Spelman. Goodbye historically Black universities and colleges.

Vaughn, in retrospect, sees two powerful reasons behind that decision made for her.

First, her principal wanted to show that a student from her school could excel at UGA. Second, Vaughn’s dad had come home from the military and had been denied an opportunity to attend UGA. His daughter’s admission would mark an achievement for the Vaughn family. (Margaret would be the first in her immediate family to go to college.)

Dad also had a very practical concern. He felt sure that a business degree could ensure that his brilliant daughter would find a job with steady paychecks and financial security instead of rejection slips and unsold manuscripts.

Taxing times

Vaughn speaks thoughtfully and philosophically about the challenges she faced as a young Black woman in the late ’60s at a newly-integrated Deep South university.

“I entered UGA feeling that a personal sacrifice had been made to enroll,” she says, “but the remaining unanswered question was whether the struggle for representation and inclusion would be worth the sacrifice.”

“Of course, I was also concerned about more immediate matters. What would I face in the classroom? Would I be marginalized? Would I face open hostility? Would I have help in my studies, if I needed it?”

Terry proved an education.

“It felt as though each class held a different UGA experience with different challenges,” she says.

“I specifically remember a speech class. I was the only Black student in a white, predominantly male class, and I was deeply concerned that it would be the worst experience of the quarter.”

“The icebreaker was that I could write. I shared a few of my discarded speech drafts. Contrary to my initial fears, it went exceedingly well. I had initially dreaded the class and my study group, but that was a time I experienced inclusion from fellow students.”

Helping others blaze trails

Solving challenges on her own, class by class, turned out to be an important part of Vaughn’s education.

“UGA showed me in many ways that I was strong and resilient,” she says. “The university taught me that if I want my life to matter, I must live it on my own terms, unselfishly, with responsibility for my own happiness.”

Vaughn often recalls how, in 1966, she felt alone and without support in classrooms. It’s why she is now passionate about giving special attention to small, often unsupported, businesses through her tax consulting practice, Margaret Davis Vaughn, CPA.

She also serves on the boards of organizations that provide guidance to promising young people.

“Being a trailblazer in 1970 meant there were no African American female role models, no mentors, for me at UGA,” Vaughn says. “There was no one to call to ask for directions.

“This is why I am determined to have an impact on the lives of as many students as I possibly can. Just as someone saw a possibility for me, I am certain there are CPAs waiting among the students within my reach.”

Meet Daniella Singleton, UGA Young Alumni Leadership Council secretary

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

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


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

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

What do you enjoy most about being on the council?

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

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

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

What advice would you give to a UGA student? 

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

What’s your favorite UGA memory? 

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

 

 

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

Written by: Charles McNair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Servant leadership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The biggest challenge

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

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

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

The biggest challenge?  

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

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

He looks back in gratitude at the UGA experience. 

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

Editor’s Note: 

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

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

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

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

Written by: Charles McNair

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marching into a bright career

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And her UGA honors still haven’t stopped.  

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

View from a bridge 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Editor’s Note: 

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

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

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

LeaseQuery again tops the Bulldog 100

On Feb. 11, the University of Georgia Alumni Association recognized the 100 fastest-growing businesses owned or operated by UGA alumni during the 12th annual Bulldog 100 Celebration, which was hosted online. LeaseQuery, an Atlanta-based accounting software firm, was named the fastest-growing alumni business for the second year in a row.

The company, led by two former college roommates, is the first business to repeat as No. 1 in consecutive years. CEO George Azih earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from UGA in 2003 and Chief Revenue Officer Chris Ramsey earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2005.

“For us to be the first company to [be No. 1] two years in a row is deeply humbling and exciting,” Azih said. “I hope it inspires other students out there that they can do it as well.”

LeaseQuery helps accountants and finance professionals eliminate errors through its lease accounting software—the first of its kind built by accountants for accountants. The company also provides specialized consulting services and facilitates compliance with regulatory reporting for companies across the public, private and nonprofit sectors.

“To do this two years in a row means so much,” Ramsey said. “We can’t wait to share this with the rest of our company because they helped us get here as well.”

The businesses rounding out the top 10 are:

  1. inBrain, Atlanta
  2. Golden Isles Pharmacy, Brunswick, Georgia
  3. Roadie, Atlanta
  4. Surcheros Fresh Mex, Douglas, Georgia
  5. PDI, Alpharetta, Georgia
  6. Marketwake, Atlanta
  7. Calendly, Atlanta
  8. Womack Custom Homes, Cartersville, Georgia
  9. PeopleSuite, Mooresville, North Carolina

“The Bulldog 100 is our chance to celebrate the innovation, entrepreneurship and excellence of our incredible alumni who are leading the way in business and nonprofits,” said Meredith Gurley Johnson, executive director of the UGA Alumni Association. “I am proud of each business on this year’s list and extend a special congratulations to LeaseQuery for making Bulldog 100 history.”

Bulldog 100 companies were ranked, regardless of size, by evaluating their three-year compounded annual growth rates. The Atlanta office of Warren Averett CPAs and Advisors—a Bulldog 100 partner since the program began in 2009—verifies the information submitted by each company and determines the ranked list. On average, companies in the 2021 Bulldog 100 grew by 49% each year from 2017-19.

Nominations were accepted from February to July 2020. UGA received 429 nominations for the 2021 Bulldog 100. Each organization must have been in business since 2016, experienced revenues over $100,000 for the calendar year 2017, and be owned or operated by a former UGA student who owns at least half of the company or is the CEO, president or managing partner.

During the Feb. 11 event (held virtually for safety reasons during the pandemic), the UGA Alumni Association presented the fourth annual Michael J. Bryan Award to 1999 UGA graduate Airee Edwards, CEO of Agora Vintage. Bryan, the co-founder and managing partner of Vino Venue and Atlanta Wine School in Dunwoody, Georgia, passed away in 2017 after a long battle with cancer. The award recognizes a returning Bulldog 100 honoree whose business has not only sustained growth but demonstrates the entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to UGA that was Bryan’s hallmark.

View the complete rankings of 2021 Bulldog 100 businesses.

Nominations for the 2022 Bulldog 100 are open until July 31.

Minority-owned Bulldog 100 businesses have much to offer

Whether 2021 kicked off the way you imagined or not, there’s no better way to bring in February than to highlight and support the minority-owned alumni businesses that made it on this year’s Bulldog 100, a list of the fastest-growing companies owned or operated by UGA alumni! 

Explore the 2021 Bulldog 100 minority-owned businesses below. In honor of Black History Month, we’ve specifically highlighted the businesses led by Black alumni.

Black-Owned Businesses

Calendly

Calendly is an Atlanta-based online scheduling tool founded by Tope Awotona, who credits his tenacity to his experiences growing up in Lagos, Nigeria. His business offers a tool that for those who are always on the go or constantly scheduling meetings. It simplifies meeting scheduling and cuts down on unnecessary emails. Calendly’s user-friendly interface sorts out time zones, and sends reminders and confirmations.

Location: 
Atlanta, GA
Bulldog: Tope Awotona (BBA ’02), Founder/CEO

LeaseQuery

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Georgia Azih, CEO of LeaseQuery, boldly founded the business in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and recession. If you’re an accountant or financial professional, LeaseQuery is the service for you. The software helps accountants and financial professionals eliminate errors through its CPA-approved, cloud-based solution. LeaseQuery is built by accountants for accountants.  

Location: Atlanta, GA
Bulldog: Georgia Azih (BBA ’03), Founder/CEO

The Barnes Law Office LLC

The Barnes Law Office LLC logo

Latasha Barnes is an attorney, and owner and managing attorney of a law office that will fight for you. The Barnes Law Office LLC is in metro Atlanta and specializes in DUI defense, criminal defense and personal injury.  

Location: Atlanta, GA
Bulldog: Latasha Barnes (AB ’05, AB ’05), Owner and Managing Attorney 

The Brogdon Firm LLC

The Brogdon Firm provides ethical, client-centered representation for injury victims in Atlanta and across Georgia. Gino Brogdon Jr., founder and litigator of The Brogdon Firm, was named the 2018 “Attorney to Watch” for Atlanta Attorney at Law Magazine, so you can be sure you’re getting the best service. 

Location: Atlanta, GA 
Bulldog: Gino Brogdon Jr. (JD ’11), Founder and Litigator  

Edwards & Hawkins LLC

Edwards and Hawkins Law represents five decades of competent, ethical and aggressive legal representation. They specialize in wrongful death, auto and trucking collisions, vaccine injury, personal injury, business/commercial litigation and slips and falls. Cameron Hawkins, a trial lawyer at EH LAW, was recognized in 2017 as the UGA School of Law Young Alumni of Excellence. 

Location: Atlanta, GA
Bulldog: Cameron Hawkins (JD ’08), Partner 

Other Minority-Owned Businesses

Svaha USA

Svaha USA logo

Svaha USA is an online retailer specializing in science, technology, engineering, arts and math-themed (STEAM) apparel and products. Jaya Iyer found inspiration from the company through her daughter, who could not find clothing that reflected her interests. Svaha’s mission is to shatter gender stereotypes in the apparel industry and encourage STEAM education for girls and boys, and women and men. 

Location: Chantilly, VA
Bulldog: Jaya Iyer (MS ’03), CEO 

Biren Patel Engineering

Biren Patel Engineering logo

Biren Patel Engineering believes in making life simple for clients and team members. Biren Patel serves as the president and is a licensed professional engineer in 12 states and the District of Columbia. His business’s modern, yet simple, collaborative work environment better serves the power utility industry through electrical substation and solar plant engineering. 

Location: Macon, GA
Bulldog: Biren Patel (MBA ’12), President 

Agora Vintage

Agora Vintage logo

Agora Vintage is a woman-owned business in Athens that sells all the authentic designer items and estate jewelry that your heart desires. You can shop for Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Hermès items with a guarantee of high-quality customer service and a style that can’t be beat.  

Location: Athens, GA
Bulldog: Airee Edwards (AB ’99), CEO

Expert Technical Solutions

A successful connection — that’s what you can expect from Expert Technical Solutions, a leading provider of technical and IT talent that strives to bring companies and the right people together. The Bulldog business offers services such as customized contract, contract-to-hire, or direct-hire.

Location: Atlanta, GA
Bulldog: Ram Bhojwani (BBA ’05), President 

Murray & Osorio

Murray Osorio PLLC is a national full-service immigration law firm, connecting the world through innovative and compassionate immigration solutions for individuals and businesses. 

Location: Fairfax, VA
Bulldog: Benjamin Osorio (AB ’03), Managing Partner 

Ten tips to ensure an at-home tailgate win

By Shontel Cargill (BS ’10), secretary of the UGA Black Alumni Leadership Council, and David White (ABJ ’10), member of the UGA Black Alumni Leadership Council.

Tailgating looks different this year. We’re not on campus, we’re social distancing from many friends and family members and honestly, we’re just grateful to have a football season. Still, Bulldogs have never been ones to give up—especially when it comes to spending time with fellow alumni and fans. With Homecoming approaching, it’s time to once again rally our enduring spirit of camaraderie and pride. And there’s one event that is sure to do this …

All Bulldogs are invited to UGA’s annual Black Alumni Homecoming Tailgate. This year, we’re taking the reunion virtual. If you haven’t registered yet, it’s not too late. Be sure to order an official Homecoming box (you can always use it for future games if it doesn’t arrive in time) and tune in to our pregame show at 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 21.

No matter who you’re with or how you’re celebrating Homecoming this year, you can still plan a winning tailgate with these top ten tips:

  1. Never Bark Alone, but get that mask on!

You want everyone to have a fun and safe time at your tailgate despite the pandemic. So, make sure to limit the number of guests you invite and have your favorite Bulldog masks handy (check these out from the UGA Bookstore—which also support UGA students!). If you’re not eating or drinking, keep that mask on! Alternatively, you can host a virtual tailgate to cheer on the Dawgs with friends all over the country.

  1. Make a grocery list and plan ahead.

You can’t wait until Saturday morning to start planning—and don’t forget the essentials: food, beverages, water, plates, and don’t forget the ‘Ice, Ice, Baby!’ Now, it’s a lot more complicated than just “food” so be sure you …

  1. Create a menu.

Expert tailgaters know that the food can make or break a tailgate. Put in the work on Pinterest ahead of time to create a menu that tastes good and can be enjoyed throughout the game. And remember your vegetarian/vegan friends and others with dietary restrictions. Share your menu on social media and tag us @ugaalumni ahead of the game.

  1. Prep food in advance.

Make sure your food is well-seasoned! Consider marinating your meats (or jackfruit, tofu, etc.) the night before. And hey—go ahead and set up as much as possible on Friday night.

  1. Remember the coolers.

Some Bulldogs focus on the food and drink, but completely forget one essential item: ice! That little cooler that holds three drinks is not going to cut it if you’re hosting 2+ people. Consider ordering a larger one from the UGA Bookstore or your local sporting goods store ahead of time.

  1. Hydrate and hydrate some more!

You can never have too much water. Fill one of your coolers with bottles of water and leave some out for the end of the game. If a guest hasn’t had a sip of water by the second quarter, you might need to throw a flag and call for a water break.

  1. A sensational setup!

Ensure that your TV and speakers are setup for a front-row experience. Provide comfortable seating options with a good view of the game for each guest. Don’t forget the decorations and your best Georgia gear. Bonus points for setting up games like cornhole to enjoy before kickoff and during halftime.

  1. The perfect pregame playlist! 

Make sure to swag when you surf, tote that Georgia-Florida Line and get ready to Hail to Georgia before kickoff. You are welcome to listen to the playlist we created just for this occasion. Maybe even assign someone the role of drum major—it’s their job to queue up Krypton Fanfare at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

  1. Don’t forget to show off your hard work! #UGAHomecoming 

If we didn’t see it on social, did it happen? Share your tailgating talents on social media with #UGAHomecoming and tag @ugaalumni!

  1. Bring your best Bulldog touchdown celebrations!

What is a Bulldog tailgate without celebrations? We expect Bulldog fans of all ages to come ready with a touchdown dance. Need an easy one? Just channel your inner Sony Michel. 🤗

 

We wish you a happy Homecoming and hope to see you for the virtual Black Alumni Homecoming Tailgate on Nov. 21. As always, Go Dawgs!