Class of 2020 breaks Senior Signature record

The UGA Class of 2020 set a record for Senior Signature gifts, with 2,977 graduating students participating in the program. Senior Signature is the university’s class gift program in which students donate $50 to UGA prior to graduation. This is the fourth consecutive year the graduating class has broken the previous year’s record.

The Class of 2020 beat the Class of 2019’s record by more than 400 participants. Their accomplishment is particularly impressive given the interruptions this class experienced during their final year on campus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This achievement demonstrates the tenacity and generosity of UGA’s newest alumni.

“It’s amazing that we achieved 2,977 donors this year, especially having to do everything virtually,” said Autumn Pressley, president of the Student Alumni Council (SAC). “Kevin, the Senior Signature Chair on SAC, did an amazing job putting together a campaign and promoting it. His efforts were definitely the driving force that helped us exceed our goal.”

Senior Signature was established in 1991 with just several hundred donors in its first year. Since that time, more than 37,000 students have participated. Each year, graduating seniors are asked to “make their mark” on UGA by donating $50. Of that gift, $20 is directed to an endowed fun supporting student programming and the other portion can be designated to a specific school, college, department, program, or scholarship that the student wishes to support.

Join us in congratulating and thanking the Class of 2020 for this record-breaking effort. Ring the bell!

UGA Alumni Association welcomes new volunteers to board of directors and leadership councils

The University of Georgia Alumni Association Board of Directors recently welcomed Kevin Abernathy, Elliot Marsh, and Charlita Stephens-Walker as new board members. In addition, 16 new alumni volunteers have joined the Black Alumni Leadership Council, Women of UGA Leadership Council, and the Young Alumni Leadership Council. 

“These graduates reflect the characteristics of a true Bulldog: committed, caring and spirited,” said Meredith Gurley Johnson, executive director of alumni relations. “They are leaders in their communities, and they will bring an important voice to these leadership groups as we seek to foster a supportive and inclusive community for the more than 332,000 living alumni around the world. I’m looking forward to working with each of them.” 

Kevin Abernethy served as president of the Student Government Association before graduating from UGA in 1999. Today, he is an assistant U.S. attorney with the Middle District of Georgia, defending federal agencies and recovering assets for the U.S. Treasury. Abernethy participates in the UGA Mentor Program, was named to UGA’s 40 Under 40 Class of 2013, completed the Harvard Kennedy School’s Emerging Leaders program, is on the School of Public and International Affairs Alumni Board of Directors, and serves on the advisory board for UGA’s vice president of student affairs. 


A Statesboro, Georgia, native, Elliott Marsh earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics and a master’s degree in agricultural leadership from UGA. Today, Marsh is a financial advisor with Edward Jones. He has earned several honors, including the J.W. Fanning Distinguished Young Professional Award from the Agricultural Economics Association of Georgia, and was named to the 40 Under 40 lists for both UGA and Georgia Trend Magazine. Marsh is a past president of UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Alumni Association. 



Charlita Stephens-Walker earned an undergraduate degree in public relations from UGA and is now the national director of corporate and cause partnerships for Boys & Girls Clubs of America. She is an Alliance Theatre trustee and is on the board of Women in Film and Television Atlanta. She guides students through the UGA Mentor Program and is a charter member of The 1961 Club, a giving society established by the UGA Black Alumni Leadership Council. She resides in Decatur, Georgia. 


The following alumni will join the leadership councils for the UGA Alumni Association’s three affinity groups that seek to build relationships with specific alumni populations in the metro Atlanta area:   

Black Alumni Leadership Council  


Ashley Noel Carter (BSA ’10), Army National Guard military officer and contractor, U.S. Army, McDonough, Georgia.  


Stacey Chavis (MSL ’19), managing director, Campaign Academy, Brookhaven, Georgia.  


Corinna Ellis (AB ’92), senior mortgage loan officer in the financial services industry, Sandy Springs, Georgia.  


Extriara Gates (MSW ’11), behavioral health and family support manager, Bobby Dodd Institute; owner, Lavender Grove Psychotherapy, Atlanta, Georgia.  


Sara Hall (BSW ’09, MSW ’11), clinical social worker, hematology and bone marrow transplantation, Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia.  


Shayla Hill (BBA ’08), assistant director of digital strategy, Georgia Institute of Technology, Tucker, Georgia.

Women of UGA Leadership Council  


Kim Eilers (BSED ’95, MED ’97), real estate agent, Atlanta Fine Homes Sotheby’s International Realty, Smyrna, Georgia.  


Cecilia Epps (BS ’08), freelance sign language interpreter, Lithonia, Georgia.


Christy Hulsey (ABJ ’97), creative director, Colonial House of Flowers, Marietta, Georgia.  


Crystal Ivey (MBA ’14), brand manager for Diet Coke, The Coca-Cola Company, Conyers, Georgia.  


Stephanie Jackson (BBA ’13, MACC ’14), land finance analyst, Ashton Woods Homes, Brookhaven, Georgia.  

Young Alumni Leadership Council  


John Bowden (BBA ’13, BBA ’13), associate broker, Harry Norman Realtors, Atlanta, Georgia. 


Maranie Brown (BSFCS ’12), digital program manager, You Are Here, Smyrna, Georgia. 


Morgan Cook (BBA ’15, MBA ’19), senior risk analyst, Beecher Carlson, Atlanta, Georgia.   


Maxwell Mitchell (BBA ’12, MACC ’13), mergers and acquisitions manager, Deloitte, Atlanta, Georgia.  


Pierce Persons (ABJ ’14), director of operations, Room 422, Atlanta, Georgia.  


To view the full list of UGA Alumni Association board members visit alumni.uga.edu/board-of-directors and alumni.uga.edu/networks for the complete list of leadership council members.

Alumnus guides others on med school journey

I always knew that I wanted to be a doctor. I remember proudly proclaiming this on career days in elementary school. I didn’t know what kind of doctor that I wanted to be, but the decision to pursue medicine was clear from an early age.

What I didn’t know was that the path to medical school was like running through miles of thorn bushes while trying to avoid a stampede of buffalo in the dark of night, during a tornado. Maybe I’m being dramatic, but I remember what it was like every step of the way, and it was not easy.

Destination Med School Screen Capture 1

I was never the smartest person in class. As I share in the video above: I failed my driver’s test twice, I took the SAT three times to get the score I needed, and I had to take the MCAT twice. I got denied from 25 medical schools and it took me nearly two years to get accepted. Hard work, resilience, and patience got me to where I am today.

After 3 years of medical school in Philadelphia at Sidney Kimmel Medical College (Thomas Jefferson University), I decided to pursue an opportunity to earn a Master of Business Administration at my Alma Mater, the University of Georgia, in the MD/MBA Dual Degree program.

When I returned to UGA, I wanted to give back to the university that shaped me into the person I am today. I began volunteering for the UGA Pre-Health Advising Office, speaking at panels, hosting presentations, and meeting with students for one-on-one advising. When the new year rolled around, I decided that I wanted to make a larger impact.

We all know the value of a mentor. During undergrad, I had a small handful of these mentors that were accepted into medical school and they provided me with powerful advice. What about the people that didn’t have mentors? Imagine a space where an entire community of doctors, dentists, physician assistants, nurses, physical therapists, pharmacists, and more, many of whom are UGA grads, provide advice and motivational stories to pre-med students.

In January 2020, I launched Destination Med School, an online community of medical professionals sharing advice, insight, and lessons they’ve learned along their journeys. As I write this post, the account has exceeded 2,000 followers on Instagram since launching one month ago and has grown to a community of nearly 100 medical professionals. Future medical professionals, anywhere in the world, can now tune in to receive daily content from mentors in all fields.

I am proud to continue my work with UGA’s Pre-Health Advising Office and speaking to future medical professionals at this great university. I am proud to run an account that provides mentorship to students who need it. And I am proud to now, and always, be a Georgia Bulldog.

Check out Destination Med School on Instagram @destinationmedschool.

Jake Goodman

Best,
Jake Goodman
UGA Class of 2015

Athens, je t’aime: a UGA love story

Written By: Leigh Raynor Arndt
Photo Credit: Steven Wallace of Steven Wallace Photography

Athens might not be universally known as the “City of Love,” but the Bulldog Nation might have something to say about that. More than 25,000 couples have met and fallen in love at the University of Georgia. And in honor of Valentine’s Day, we’re sharing just one of many love stories that began in our beloved college town.

Coincidentally, Teman Worku (ABJ ’16) and Kevin Steele (AB ’17, AB ’17) both studied in Morocco while students at UGA. But Marrakech can’t lay claim to “Chapter One” of this recently engaged couple’s story. Instead, as Teman tells it, she and Kevin have one thing to thank for their near-at-hand nuptials: an overly air-conditioned UGA bus.

Teman Worku + Kevin Steele Rooftop Engagement

Photo: Steven Wallace of Steven Wallace Photography

Once Upon a Time …

Teman Worku + Kevin Steele with President Morehead

Teman (left) and Kevin (right) with UGA President Jere W. Morehead during a 2015 UGA Student Alumni Council event when they were students. Photo: Christopher Mark Sorrow

On a freezing bus from Athens to Atlanta, Teman and Kevin were headed to the UGA Alumni Association’s 40 Under 40 Awards Luncheon. Both were members of the UGA Student Alumni Council, a group of committed student leaders that organizes events and volunteer opportunities that current students with alumni.

For reasons she’ll “never understand,” the bus’s air conditioner was on full-blast despite the early morning chill. Teman and Kevin shared a blanket to keep warm. They had become friends through their involvement with SAC and the Student Government Association. On this bus ride, their conversation went beyond the passion they shared for these organizations. A deeper connection blossomed.

For Kevin, this opportunity was long in the making. As a first-year student, he was impressed with Teman when she attended an SGA Freshman Board meeting to talk about her semester studying in Morocco. Back then, he doubted that Teman, a third-year Grady College student, would take notice of a freshman like him. Nonetheless, he was soon headed to Morocco on a Maymester program, so he suggested they grab coffee. Unfortunately, before they could nail down a date, Kevin was boarding a plane to Marrakech and their meeting never happened.

Fast forward one year, Teman and Kevin had become an official couple. As college sweethearts do, they planned date nights on a student’s budget. On Wednesdays, it was Amici for 50-cent wings. In the summers, it was Fuzzy’s tacos or a slice at Automatic Pizza after a Saturday spent poolside.

In 2016, Kevin, an international affairs and Arabic double major, spent a semester in Jordan on a Boren Scholarship. Teman met him for a week-long vacation in Bulgaria where their money stretched further. There, they “ate like kings and queens,” said Teman. “We had appetizers, a full meal, and dessert, too!”

One of the most memorable meals during the couple’s first overseas trip together was at a Moroccan restaurant. The dinner brought them full circle to the shared experience and love for travel that initially brought the two together.

From Chapel Bell to Wedding Bells

Today, Teman and Kevin happily live in Arlington, Virginia. Kevin works in national security for the U.S. government. Teman is a video producer for 2U, a company expanding access to higher education through online learning. This past November, they got engaged.

Teman Worku and Kevin Steele at graduation

Kevin and Teman celebrate Kevin’s graduation from UGA in 2017.

It was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and Teman was traveling home to Atlanta, where Kevin would join her the next day. As she headed to the Glenn Hotel’s chic rooftop, she was under the impression that she was meeting some close friends and a close friend’s mother. Instead, as the elevator doors opened to a noticeably quiet terrace, Teman found Kevin, calm as can be.

The last time Teman and Kevin stood on this Atlanta rooftop, they joyfully talked about the future on a casual night out. Now, Kevin kneeled before Teman, asking her to put those plans into action. Knowing how much Teman loves a sunset, Kevin timed the proposal to the sky turning pink and orange.

“All of these places that we’ve traveled to—Bulgaria, California, Miami—I’ve always made sure to find a spot where we can enjoy the sunset together,” said Teman. “And Kevin kept that in mind when he planned this amazing proposal. He put a lot of thought into it.”

Afterward, the couple headed to a restaurant where Teman was in for another surprise: their families and friends gathered to celebrate their engagement. Now, Teman and Kevin are beginning to plan an even bigger celebration. With lots of relatives on both sides, they anticipate a well-attended wedding. And though they’ve formed a close network of friends in D.C.—many of whom are also Bulldogs—they’ll recite their vows at home, in the state of Georgia.

Teman Worku and Kevin Steele Rooftop Engagement Photo

Kevin and Teman celebrate their engagement on a rooftop in Atlanta in November 2019. Photo: Steven Wallace of Steven Wallace Photography

UGA alumnus awarded Schwarzman Scholarship

This story was written by Stephanie Schupska and originally ran on UGA Today on December 4, 2019.

University of Georgia alumnus Shaun Kleber (AB ’16, AB ’16, AB ’16) was one of 148 candidates selected internationally as a Schwarzman Scholar, a graduate fellowship designed to prepare the next generation of leaders with an understanding of China’s role in global trends.

Kleber is UGA’s fifth Schwarzman Scholar. The incoming Class of 2021 was narrowed down from a pool of more than 4,700 candidates from China, the U.S. and around the world. It includes students from 41 countries and 108 universities.

Five classes of Schwarzman Scholars have been named since the highly competitive program opened to applicants in 2015. The fully funded, yearlong master’s program in global affairs is offered at Tsinghua University in Beijing. Students live and learn on the Schwarzman College campus and focus their studies on public policy, economics and business, or international studies.

“I am delighted that Shaun has received this prestigious recognition,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. “The University of Georgia’s record of success in this international competition is evidence of the outstanding education we provide to our students and how well we prepare them for success beyond graduation.”

Kleber graduated from UGA in 2016 with bachelor’s degrees in international affairs, political science and economics. A Foundation Fellow and Honors Program alumnus, he spent two years with McKinsey & Company as a business analyst before transitioning to work with City Year, an AmeriCorps program, through which he served as a student success coach in Detroit. He is now a team leader with City Year in Boston and supervises student success coaches at UP Academy Boston, developing tailored strategies for student achievement.

After he completes his year as a Schwarzman Scholar, Kleber will attend Harvard Law School. He plans to pursue a career in education policy and public education administration.

“I met Shaun when he was in high school, and I enjoyed getting the chance to work closely with him while he was a student at UGA,” said David S. Williams, associate provost and director of the Honors Program. “It has been clear all along that he is destined to make a very positive impact on society.”

Kleber’s focus is on education, leadership and policy, with the goal of becoming a national leader in public education. In his time with City Year and in his internship while in college with the superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools, he confronted issues such as intergenerational poverty, segregated neighborhoods and insufficient access to basic resources.

Currently, he is working to unlock the potential of individuals through education, he said, before ultimately working to unlock the potential of the American South through both public education and public policy.

“The Schwarzman Scholars program prepares and connects future global leaders, and that makes it the perfect fit for Shaun,” said Jessica Hunt, UGA’s major scholarships coordinator. “He made a profound impact on our campus as an undergraduate, and he has already demonstrated a remarkable commitment to building community in Detroit, Atlanta and Boston. He will no doubt do the same during his year in Beijing as a Schwarzman Scholar.”

UGA’s previous Schwarzman Scholars are UGA alumni Torre Lavelle (BS ’16), Elizabeth Hardister (AB ’18, MPH ’18) and Gabrielle Pierre (BSENVE ’17, MEPD ’18) and Swapnil Agrawal (AB ’19, AB ’19).

For more information on Schwarzman Scholars, visit www.schwarzmanscholars.org.

Finding a home as a first-generation student

Written by Jasmin Severino Hernandez (AB ’13, AB ’13), UGA Young Alumni Leadership Council Outreach Chair

I transferred to the University of Georgia in 2010, with no idea how the transition would work. I came from a small liberal arts college, where I felt like I was a big fish in a little pond. At UGA, I felt quite the opposite. I felt like the world was my oyster, but I also felt lost in the sea of people. As a first-generation student, it felt lonely because I was immersed in a new experience with no idea how to navigate it all. I graduated from UGA in 2013, with a degree in political science from SPIA & another in Spanish from Franklin.

I have amazing memories from UGA.

The first was when my roommate convinced me that pageants could teach me how to be confident in myself. With her help, I competed in various pageants throughout undergrad. My greatest memories are from competing in Miss UGA in 2012 and 2013. I was a runner-up in the 2013 competition and it is a moment I will never forget. My mic went out during my talent routine and the audience only heard the last 30 seconds of my song … ironically where I had to sing the highest note. I received a standing ovation before the judges made me do it all over again!

“Some of our greatest memories involve our similar journeys as first-generation students trying to find a home, a voice, and ourselves in a new and unfamiliar place.”

In 2013, I also found my home away from home. I became a sister of Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Incorporated, which is an academic sorority. The Delta Alpha Chapter of LTA helped me grow into the professional I am today. The sisters embraced me at a time when I needed support. They taught me the value of hard work and inspired me to always believe in myself and to embrace life’s unexpected twists and turns. I am still very involved with my sorority and I enjoy seeing how our sorority changes the lives of other first-generation Latinas at universities across the country.

Lastly, UGA introduced me to the love of my life. While at UGA, I met a boy who I am lucky enough to now call my husband. For an entire semester, we would casually run into each other on North Campus. One day, we finally spoke, and the rest is history. We took our engagement photos on North Campus, as a sweet nod to the place that sealed our fate. We were married on homecoming day this year, October 19, 2019, and we still enjoy calling the Dawgs on Saturdays. Some of our greatest memories involve UGA and our similar journeys as first-generation students trying to find a home, a voice, and ourselves in a new and unfamiliar place.

Today, I serve as the Outreach Committee Chair for the UGA Young Alumni Leadership Council because I truly believe that although my time at UGA was challenging in many ways, it also helped me grow immensely. I am very thankful for it all.

Somewhere along the way, UGA gave me everything I needed. Somewhere along the way, I found a home.

Featured image above by Claire Diana Photography

From one boss to another

The value of a high-quality boss can’t be overstated. From advocate, counselor, teacher and friend–a great boss wears many hats!  

In honor of National Boss’s Day today, we asked some of our young alumni volunteers to share memories and lessons learned from their favorite bosses. Take a peek at their answers below … and remember to thank your boss(es) today!

Raj Shah (BSA ’06, MPA ’06, JD ’10)

UGA Alumni Board of Directors

Title: Senior Regulatory Attorney, MagMutual

Favorite Boss: Jon Rue, Parker Hudson Rainer & Dobbs

“Jon is the consummate professional and is extremely well-respected for both his professional achievements and community involvement. He taught me the importance of always finding time to listen, how to be actively present, and that humor is key to succeeding in the workplace.”

Jasmin N. Severino Hernandez (AB ’13, AB ’13)

Outreach Chair, UGA Young Alumni Leadership Council

Title: Associate Attorney, Davis, Matthews & Quigley, P.C.

Favorite Boss: Kevin Bowen, American Campus Communities

“Kevin took a chance on me when I was a new student at UGA who needed a job to make ends meet. Some of my favorite memories of Kevin include: tailgating for UGA games; when he made me work the leasing office during the ‘snowpocalypse’ of 2011 because I was the only employee snowed in on the property; and grabbing Firehouse Subs with him and his son Tyler. Kevin was a great friend and he taught me to be bold and stand for truth.”

[Jasmin and Kevin at one of their UGA tailgates, pictured top of page]

Hunter Knowles (JD ’12)

UGA Young Alumni Leadership Council

Title: Corporate Counsel and Assistant Secretary, Oxford Industries

Favorite Boss: Anonymous Law Firm Partner

“When asked if a more casual dress code could be implemented to match the attire of our clients, the partner responded ‘If our clients were the circus, would we dress like clowns?’”

Collier Hatchett Collier (BSED ’10, AB ’10)

UGA Young Alumni Leadership Council

Title: Director of State Board Operations, Technical College System of Georgia

Favorite Boss: Matt Arthur (BSED ’83, MED ’91), Technical College System of Georgia

“Matt and I are both graduates of the UGA College of Education and my favorite memory together is attending the 2018 awards ceremony where he received the COE Lifetime Achievement Award. Matt has taught me that it is never too late to show someone kindness and that becoming a good listener will allow you to understand others and help you become better at what you do. Plus, Matt also played on the 1980 National Championship football team (I have a pretty cool boss).”

Noel Hardin (BBA ’15, MACC ’16)

UGA Young Alumni Leadership Council

Title: Mergers and Acquisitions Senior Consultant, Deloitte

Favorite Boss: Travis Grody, Deloitte

“Travis and I started our careers in Audit at Deloitte. The most important thing he taught me was to take ownership of the quality of my work. Your brand is based on the quality of whatever you deliver. My favorite memory of Travis actually happened out of the office. A common trend for auditors during ‘busy season’ is to fall out of their exercise routines and gain 10-20 pounds (very similar to the ‘Freshman 15’). We spent a month traveling for a project in Toccoa, Georgia. Travis was getting married soon after our time in Toccoa, so he couldn’t afford to gain busy season weight right before his wedding. Toccoa is a very small town, but we found a gym online. We went the first morning before work, and the two of us worked out in the sketchiest old warehouse/gym you can imagine, with the sketchiest trainer you can imagine … and never went back. We found a different gym, had a great month in Toccoa, and Travis stayed in shape for his wedding!”

Even if you aren’t a boss, you can still help guide a fellow Bulldog’s professional journey – become a UGA Mentor today! You’ll be able to connect with a student who is seeking career advice on your time, on your schedule.

20 Questions with ENO’s Parker Browne on National Hammock Day

Parker Browne Fishing

July 22 is National Hammock Day–a day to celebrate the simple art of relaxation in the great outdoors. In honor of this holiday, we checked in with UGA grad Parker Browne (BBA ’08), the international sales manager for Eagles Nest Outfitters, Inc. (ENO) in Asheville, to learn more about him and his path since graduation. Parker is originally from Tifton, Georgia, and earned a bachelor’s degree in management from the Terry College of Business.


Why UGA?

Two reasons:
1) My paternal grandparents met while attending UGA (Billie Gaskins Baker and Louis Davis Browne). So, as many students could say, it runs in the family.
2) The caliber of the school. What better in-state school is there?

Favorite memory as a student?

Sitting on the front porch of the old Jittery Joe’s Roasting Plant, discussing music and books with my close friends.

Parker Browne in Hammock at Jittery Joes

After graduation, what was your first job?

Vail Resorts lift operator, then security.

What has been your career path since that point?

After the seasonal jobs, I got into sales. I started with Grassroots Coffee Company, then Agilum Healthcare Intelligence. After that, I combined my sales experience with my passion for the outdoors, and landed my first professional job in the outdoor industry with YETI.

What is ENO?

Twenty years ago, ENO became the catalyst that sparked the hammocking counter-culture. With the creation of the DoubleNest Hammock, and the first ever hammock suspension system, ENO revolutionized hammocking and cultivated a tribe of nomadic adventurers across the US (and now globally!).

What do you do for ENO?

As the international sales manager, I manage and cultivate the relationships with our international distributors.

What is great about working for ENO?

I have been a fan of their product since my days at UGA. Now I get to sell something I believe in, as well as travel globally and get exposed to different cultures and economies.

Why do you think people enjoy hammocks so much?

As lives have gotten more complicated and connected, we need a way to relax. What better way than in a hammock? ENO made the process of set up and take down easy (less than a minute).

Where is the craziest place you’ve seen someone take a hammock?

One of my recent favorites is a group that built their own hammock stand out of bamboo and slept on a sandbar in the middle of the ocean in Hawaii. I also love all of the epic shots we get from the National Parks, a cause close to the heart of ENO.

What is your favorite ENO product?

It’s still the DoubleNest Hammock and Atlas Straps.

ENO DoubleNest Hammock

OK, so transitioning to a little about UGA and Athens … who is a UGA grad that inspires you?

Alton Brown (AB ’04)

What makes you most proud to be a Georgia Bulldog?

The connections I’ve made with Bulldogs across the U.S.

Have you maintained a connection to UGA since graduation and if so, how?

I come back a few times a year, and try to get home for at least one football game each season.

Favorite place to eat in Athens:

Amici!

Favorite book:

Trout Bum by John Gierach

Favorite movie:

The Big Lebowski

Favorite musician/band:

Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit

Favorite podcast:

The Dollop or WTF with Marc Maron

If you had $1 million to donate to UGA, what would you help fund?

Sustainability research in food production/agriculture

If a student was interested in doing something like you in the future, what advice would you give them?

Start in retail. Working for a local business (like Half-Moon Outfitters) will get you exposure to the terminology and ‘feel’ of the outdoor industry. It is also a great way to network with people from the industry, which is the easiest way to get a foot in the door!

UGA students, alumni receive NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

This story was written by Sam Fahmy and was originally posted to UGA Today on June 17, 2019.

Doctoral student Jordan Chapman said he was attracted to the University of Georgia by the opportunity to conduct research at the intersection of geoscience and archeology, while Morgan Ashcraft chose to pursue her Ph.D. at UGA so that she could apply nanotechnology to drug delivery systems. Isabella Ragonese is studying the interactions between global climate change and animal behavior through the Interdisciplinary Disease Ecology Across Scales Program.

These doctoral students are among seven UGA graduate students to earn highly competitive National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships this year, and six UGA alumni also have earned the fellowship, which includes three years of financial support that includes an annual stipend of $34,000 plus a $12,000 cost of education allowance and networking and professional development opportunities.

“The NSF Graduate Research Fellowships recognize the best and the brightest,” said Graduate School Dean Suzanne Barbour. “That so many UGA graduate students have been and continue to be recipients of the NSF GRF is a testament to the outstanding training environment that our institution provides at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.”

Chapman is pursuing doctorates in geology as well as in anthropology under the mentorship of Jeff Speakman, director of the university’s Center for Applied Isotope Studies, and professor Victor Thompson in the department of anthropology, part of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. His research combines archaeology and cutting-edge technologies to explore historical power dynamics on plantations along the Georgia coast. “As I began to take courses, I realized that archaeology was a broad and interdisciplinary field,” he said. “This eventually led to my interest in geology—and, hoping to pursue both—my focus settled on the subfield of geoarchaeology.”

After graduation, he plans to continue to conduct research and to inspire members of underrepresented groups to pursue careers in science through the Black Science Coalition and Institute, a nonprofit he founded.

Ashcraft, who earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Cleveland State University, is pursuing a Ph.D. in pharmaceutical and biomedical sciences in the College of Pharmacy. “I chose UGA for graduate school because there were a number of research projects here that I was interested in, primarily Dr. May Xiong’s work in nanomedicine,” she said, adding that she is currently working to create new antibiotic therapies for the treatment of bacterial infections.

Ragonese is pursuing her doctorate in ecology through the IDEAS program, which trains scientists to view infectious diseases through scales that range from the cellular to the global.

“The Odum School of Ecology is a great place to study infectious disease ecology,” Ragonese said, “and there is a wonderful sense of community here.” After graduation, she plans to conduct applied research at a government agency or non-governmental organization.

Like Chapman, Ashcraft and Ragonese, the additional NSF Graduate Research Fellows pursuing degrees at UGA come from highly regarded universities that range from nearby Emory to Whittier College in California and the University of Michigan, among other institutions.

Outstanding alumni

UGA’s recipients of NSF Graduate Research Fellowships also include alumni who used their UGA educations as foundations for graduate studies at some of America’s most highly regarded universities.

Patrick Griffin, who earned his B.S. in genetics, was an Honors student during his time at UGA and is currently studying aging in the department of genetics at Harvard Medical School. “My mentor at UGA was (associate professor) Bob Schmitz,” he said, “and I was also greatly helped by (professor) Janet Westpheling. UGA was a wonderful environment to learn about basic science and gain experience presenting my research to others through events like the CURO Symposium.”

Like Griffin, Aleia Bellcross credits faculty mentors and opportunities such as CURO with preparing her for success in graduate school. Bellcross is pursuing a Ph.D. in chemistry at Northwestern University with a focus on atmospheric chemistry.

“UGA prepared me in a lot of ways for graduate school,” she said. “I was very fortunate to gain early research experience with professor Geoffrey Smith and his group, where I benefited from strong mentorship and a supportive environment. UGA provided all the resources of a large R1 institution, but still felt like a small and close-knit community.”

Hayley Schroeder, who earned bachelor’s degrees in ecology and entomology at UGA, is pursuing a doctorate in entomology at Cornell and ultimately plans to focus her career on the conservation of insects that are important to agriculture. She earned the CURO graduation distinction and coordinated Project Monarch Health, a citizen science project based at UGA through which volunteers across North America sample wild monarch butterflies to help track the spread of a parasite that can harm monarchs.

“At UGA, I was pushed not only to ask my own research questions and develop my own ideas, but also to communicate them as well through outreach events, conferences and citizen science,” she said. “Incorporating the general public can strengthen the data you collect and increase the impact of your results. This is a lesson I will carry with me throughout my career as a scientist.”

A complete list of UGA’s 2019 recipients of NSF Graduate Research Fellowships and their fields of study is below:

UGA graduate students

Morgan Ashcraft, bioengineering, Cleveland State University
Philip Michael Newberry, ecology, Emory University
Jordan Chapman, archaeology, Penn State University
Isabella Ragonese, ecology, Skidmore College
Cydney Seigerman, cultural anthropology, University of Michigan
Trevor Tuma, science education, Whittier College

UGA alumni

Gwendolyn Watson (BS ’17), industrial/organizational psychology, Clemson University
Patrick Griffin (BS ’15), genetics, Harvard University
Aleia Bellcross (BSES ’17, BSCHEM ’17), environmental chemical systems, Northwestern University
Hayley Schroeder (BS ’18, BSES ’18), ecology, Cornell
Emma Brannon (BSBCHE ’18), chemical engineering, University of Michigan
Sarah Robinson (BS ’17), biostatistics, Rice University
Dionnet Bhatti (BS ’15, BS ’15), neurosciences, The Rockefeller University

UGA Young Alumni Night at SweetWater: A timeline

There was excitement in the air. A sea of red and black. Loud voices Calling the Dawgs.

No, it wasn’t a fall Saturday in Athens. It was a hot summer evening in Atlanta. I was at my (ashamedly) very first UGA Young Alumni event. Three years post-graduation and I finally made it!

Here’s my night in review: 

5:05 p.m. Hit the road to Atlanta from Athens where I sing karaoke all the way down 316.

6:30 p.m. Take a power nap because I can’t hang like a college kid any more.

7:00 p.m. Put on my best red and black outfit.

7:30 p.m. Meet up with friends and fellow Dawgs — some of whom I hadn’t seen since English 1001.

8:30 p.m. Request my Uber to SweetWater.

8:31 p.m. Take an Uber selfie.

Uber Selfie
8:55 p.m. Arrive at SweetWater and stop by the registration table to check in. I pat myself on the back for registering early since tickets at the door were more expensive ;)

UGA Young Alumni Night at SweetWater

9:00 p.m. (okay, it was more like 8:56 p.m.) Grab my first beer. Cheers!

9:15 p.m. Catch up with a college friend who recently accepted a new job at Cox Enterprises.

9:30 p.m. Tour SweetWater’s newly renovated taproom and learn that there’s 24 (!) beers on tap. Time to try another!

9:45 p.m. The bartender pours my second local brew.

10:00 p.m. The band starts playing Backstreet Boys so I obviously hit the dance floor.

Atlanta Wedding Band

10:15 p.m. Indulge in some barbecue from SweetWater’s new in-house catering kitchen. It was delicious!

10:30 p.m. Lead a group in Calling the Dawgs! My bark still needs some work before football season begins.

10:45 p.m. Pose with friends and UGA props at the photobooth — no, I’m not sharing those photos.

11:00 p.m. I have another beer … or two.

12:00 p.m. Close down the joint and request another Uber because #responsible.

The Young Alumni Leadership Council meets regularly in Atlanta and hosts events and programs  like this throughout the year. Learn more about getting involved. 

And, be sure to mark your calendar for next year’s UGA Alumni Night at SweetWater. Not only is it an awesome night of reminiscing, drinks and dancing, but a portion of my ticket supported UGA scholarships so I also felt good about giving back to my favorite university.