Meet Tonya Freeman, Fundraising Committee Co-Chair for the Black Alumni Leadership Council

In October 2015, the UGA Alumni Association launched the UGA Black Alumni Affinity Group, which is led by the Black Alumni Leadership Council. The council seeks to connect with black alumni and students through shared experiences and to continue building a welcoming and supporting campus community. Tonya Freeman is the fundraising committee co-chair of the Black Alumni Leadership Council, and we recently interviewed her to learn more about her UGA experience and what drives her to stay connected to the University of Georgia.

Tonya Henderson Freeman<br />(AB ’86)</br>

Tonya Freeman

When did you graduate from UGA and what did you do after college?

I graduated in December 1986, and my degree is in statistics. I was already working at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, so I went back to work at CDC. That is where I’m still working 31 years later!

 

Which Black Alumni Affinity Group event are you most proud of?

I’m really proud of the UGA Black Alumni Brunch and Learn: A Discussion of Finance and Wealth we hosted in April. We invited former UGA football player Mohamed Massaquoi (BS ’08) and UGA professor Kenneth White, Ph.D. to speak about finances and wealth in the black community.

How has serving on the Black Alumni Leadership Council benefited you?

[The Black Alumni Leadership Council] has helped me express to fellow alumni how important it is to still be a part of UGA. Getting black alumni to understand that it’s important to stay connected to UGA, to give back to UGA, and showing them some of the programs and scholarships for the students is important. I’m actually enjoying the generations that I’ve come in contact with. It’s not just about my generation, it’s about the generations behind us and ahead of us.

Tonya with members of the Black Alumni Leadership Council at the 2016 Black Alumni Scholarship Fundraiser.

What is the most important thing you learned as a student?

How important college is, but also how fun college can be! You’re building relationships that last for a lifetime, and I really feel like anybody that hasn’t had the opportunity to experience college is really missing a great opportunity in life.

What is one piece of advice you would give to UGA students?

If you need studying habits, always go to the library first! Go to the library before you go back to your dorm. For me, that’s how I made it. I’d always do my homework before going back to the dorm. Another thing I’d say is to never underestimate your networking opportunities; not just with students, but with your professors and staff at UGA.

UGA is committed to its students and mission as a land and sea grant university. What is your commitment?

My commitment is to give back financially to UGA, to support UGA and to be a good steward for a school that I’m really proud of.

Meet Raymond Phillips, President of the Black Alumni Leadership Council

In October 2015, the UGA Alumni Association launched the UGA Black Alumni Affinity Group, which is led by the Black Alumni Leadership Council. Raymond Phillips (BS ’12) is president of the Black Alumni Leadership Council. In this role, Phillips leads strategy and determines how best to engage graduates and connect them back to the university and its mission. We recently interviewed Phillips to learn more about his UGA experience and what drives him to stay connected to the University of Georgia.

Raymond Phillips<br />(BS ’12) </br>

Raymond Phillips

When did you graduate from UGA and what did you do after college?

I graduated from UGA with a bachelor of science in computer science in 2012, and immediately began working for an IT consulting firm, CTS, in Atlanta. In fall 2016, I returned to UGA to pursue my MBA through Terry College of Business’ Professional MBA program in Buckhead.

How did you get involved with the Alumni Association?

After graduation, I met Realenn Watters, associate director of alumni outreach, for a birthday dinner. While there, I expressed that I wanted to be more involved with the university, particularly, since I was so heavily involved as an undergraduate.  She explained that the UGA Alumni Association had a multicultural steering committee, which was the catalyst for the Black Alumni Leadership Council, and asked if I would like to join. I jumped at the chance, and I am so happy that I did. The work I have done with the UGA Alumni Association has been one of the best things to happen to me.

Which Black Alumni Affinity Group event are you most proud of?

This is the hardest question you could ever ask. I would have to say it was our fundraising event at American Spirit Whiskey. It was a great way to learn how whiskey is made, interact with fellow alumni and university staff, as well as raise funds for the Black Alumni Scholarship Fund. Additionally, it was great to support a business owned by a UGA alumnus.

How has serving on the Black Alumni Leadership Council benefited you?

Although I am in my career, I believe that everyone needs a mentor at every stage of life. Serving on the Black Alumni Leadership Council has provided me with mentors that have provided guidance in my personal and professional life. The council has reconnected me to the university and reinforced my love of the University of Georgia, which prompted me to enroll in the Terry Professional MBA program.

Raymond with members of the Black Alumni Leadership Council at the 2017 Atlanta Minority Admitted Student Reception.

What is the most important thing you learned as a student?

The importance of time management! It may be a cliché, but it is true. I had many interests and had a habit of committing to things without thinking twice. I have always gotten through it by managing my time. During undergrad, I used my Google calendar to keep track of where I needed to be, events that I wanted to attend, and tests for which I needed study. It really helped me to stay organized.

What is one piece of advice you would give to UGA students?

Do not be afraid to expose yourself to opportunities that place you outside of your comfort zone. Those opportunities will provide growth and help you identify a passion, or apathy, that you didn’t know you had for something.

UGA is committed to its students and mission as a land and sea grant university. What is your commitment?

My commitment is to support and mentor UGA students in whatever way that I can— I have made monetary donations, sat on panels and served as a mentor. I am involved because I want students to be able to connect with alumni that can provide guidance– something I wish I had as I completed my undergraduate studies.

Alumna Profile: Ivey McCloud (BBA ’04)

Written by Bridgette Burton

Ivey McCloud (BBA ’04) was set on becoming an educator and attending Auburn University, just like her father who played football there. But, when she came to the University of Georgia in eighth grade for a band competition, she fell in love with Athens, and there was no going back. Today, the marketing major works full-time in Atlanta for the Kimberly-Clark Corporation, but still makes time to give back to her alma mater. Recently, she turned her passion for UGA into action by joining the Terry College of Business Young Alumni Board, which is comprised of 60 Terry graduates from across the country who are charged with outreach and engagement to Terry’s young alumni community. Through the Young Alumni Board, she serves on the Undergraduate Support Committee, where she mentors current undergraduate students. Learn more about Ivey below.

Where are you from?
Powder Springs, GA

What made you decide to come to school at the University of Georgia?
My very first visit to UGA was when I was in the eighth grade. I came for a band competition. I remember my band director at the time, Erin (Brodie) Cole, a UGA alumna, gave us a mini tour of the campus and took us to The Grill for dinner. I immediately fell in love with Athens and the campus. I knew UGA was the school for me.

Describe UGA in three words.
Challenging, dynamic, exciting.

What was your most memorable college experience?
My most memorable college experience was becoming a member of the Eta Xi chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. in the spring of 2002.

Where do you work and what do you do?
I’m a customer marketing manager at Kimberly-Clark Corporation. I develop the annual marketing strategy for our Scott Shop Towel brand at Walmart and Sam’s Club. In this role, I have been successful at launching several brand extensions and national marketing promotions.

What did you think you would be when you grew up? Do you still have plans to become that?
Growing up, I always knew I would be an educator like my parents. I never waivered from that career decision until I got to UGA and was exposed to other majors and career paths. Through my active participation in campus organizations, such as the Minority Business Student Association, I decided to change my major from primary education to marketing my second semester at UGA.

What advice would you give to graduating seniors and recent graduates?
Be open to taking risks. I had to learn early on to give up on some of the things I thought were in my 10-year life and career plan. You never know where your next adventure may be, so be flexible and willing to go with the flow.

Is there anything else that you would like for me to know?
In November, I participated in Terry’s “Careers in Marketing” alumni panel with two other graduates who work in the field of marketing. It was great to engage with current students and provide them with insights on how to pursue a career in marketing. As part of my continued giving to UGA and the Terry College of Business, I will be featured in the “Terry Excellence Fund” campaign where I explain why I give back to the Terry College of Business. I have been fortunate to work for Fortune 200 companies that have company matching programs, which allow me to essentially double my donation to the university!

UGA Legacies: Bill (AB ’88) and Melonie Thomas (BBA ’86)

Written by Bridgette Burton

With commencement season approaching, UGA Black Alumni is reaching back to tell the stories of graduates who have a legacy at the university. Additional stories will be shared on social media using #UGABlackLegacies.

The Thomas Legacy

A legacy of service to UGA is a hallmark of the Thomas family. Bill Thomas (AB ’88) and his wife Melonie Davis Thomas (BBA ’86) are engaged with the UGA Alumni Association through the Board of Directors and Black Alumni Affinity Group.

Bill, is a native of East Point, Georgia and Melonie is from Daytona Beach, Florida.

Melonie visited campus as a National Merit Scholar, and on a tour with her mother ran into Dean Rusk. Their conversation with him solidified her decision to choose UGA over the University of Florida. Melonie lived in Brumby Hall her freshman year and Bill lived in Russell Hall. The two met as freshman through their mutual friend Lonnie Walls (AB ’03).

“I was supposed to walk to a ‘Jessie Jackson for President’ rally downtown with my friend Lonnie. When I arrived at his room in Russell Hall, he said two others were going too,” Melonie said. “Those two turned out to be Bill and his roommate, Todd Wooten (BS ’87, JD ’91). I wasn’t too happy initially about walking across campus with three guys, and Lonnie was more than willing to send them on their way, but I decided it was fine. Long story short, Jessie didn’t show up and we, along with half of campus, ended up at The Grill talking and laughing. They all walked me back to Brumby. That was the start, and years later Todd was our best man, we still love The Grill and Lonnie is our pastor.”

After graduation, Bill pursued a career in law enforcement. He is a veteran, and has worked as a federal prosecutor and Assistant United States Attorney. Today, he has a boutique law firm, The W.H. Thomas Firm, LLC in Atlanta. He is also a member of the UGA Alumni Association Board of Directors.

Melonie uses her degree from the Terry College of Business as a communications team lead with the Centers for Disease Control. She extends her expertise to not only combat health disparities, but to combat educational inequality as a UGA Black Alumni Leadership Council board member. Through their work with the university, the Thomases strive to create college access opportunities for students of color.

The couple has remained committed to the university since graduation. Bill was instrumental in the creation of what was a DeKalb County Chapter of the UGA Alumni Association, which ultimately inspired him to get involved with the Board of Directors.

“I wanted to see a stronger African American presence in the Alumni Association, and I wanted to make sure that my African American classmates knew of the lifelong benefits that came with being a part of the university,” Bill said.  “I also wanted to make sure that future students and their parents knew that UGA was an option for them when it came time to consider college options.”

As president of the former DeKalb County Chapter, he spearheaded events to raise awareness about UGA among middle and high school students and their parents. They also hosted former U.S. Poet Laureate and alumna Natasha Trethewey (AB ’89)

Bill and Melonie’s history of giving back to UGA goes beyond time and money– their love and affinity for the school extends to their daughter, Erin, who graduated in 2016 with a degree in history and a minor in Arabic.

Erin, Bill and Melonie Thomas

The Thomas family (L-R: Melonie, Erin and Bill) at Ring Ceremony in 2016.

“She was in the first class to live in Delta Hall (UGA’s residency in Washington, D.C.),” Melonie said. “Her last year in Reed, she lived in the same room that Bill lived in for a short while, 33 years earlier.”

They are both passionate about staying connected and giving back to the university, as well as to their communities. Melonie said that she initially only contributed financially to the Terry College of Business, but that when Bill got involved with the DeKalb County Chapter she became inspired to connect parents and students to UGA.

“Go back to your high schools and middle schools and tell other students about the amazing opportunities that UGA has to offer,” Melonie said.  “Talk to them about what it takes to get into and be successful at Georgia.”

L-R: Kevin Aycock, Bill and Melonie Thomas at the 2015 Bulldog 100 Celebration

“Continue to be a part of the university throughout your life and career,” Bill echoed.  “It will provide you great opportunities beyond the few years that you have, or will, spend on campus earning your degree. Give back to the university financially to ensure that it remains a world class institution, and that it can attract and retain deserving students.”