2019 Alumni Weekend earned an A+

The 2019 Alumni Weekend earned an A+ in my book. I might be slightly biased since I helped plan the event, but I think this video will prove my point:

If you weren’t able to attend, I’m happy to provide you with a quick “report” on how things went … ultimately to create a little FOMO so you’ll be sure to mark your calendar for next year (hint-hint: March 26-28, 2020).

THURSDAY

100+ alumni and friends gathered in the Stelling Family Study in Moore-Rooker Hall, one of the newest buildings in the Terry College Business Learning Community. It’s a beautiful space, made even lovelier by the UGA Alumni Association events team (and yes, the tables were named for places on campus):

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Folks grabbed their swag backpacks and a T-shirt (shown here on a few of the staffers who made Alumni Weekend come to life):

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Look at all those goodies packed inside that backpack!

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During dinner, we heard from UGA President Jere W. Morehead (JD ’80):

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We had the opportunity to ask him a few questions, like “What are you most proud of since you became president?” and “What is your favorite movie?” I think he enjoyed that last one:

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People were enthralled and impressed by how much is happening at UGA these days …

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Including Matthew Auer, dean of the School of Public and International Affairs:

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Yes, even yours truly:

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Then, we closed out the evening and headed home to get a good night’s rest before class the next morning …… PSYCH.

What’s a trip back to Athens without seeing a little music in the best college music town in America?

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Yacht-Rock-on-Stage

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FRIDAY

On Friday, we greeted the day at Bolton Dining Commons. This isn’t the Bolton of yesteryear; this is a new space that is straight out of a Harry Potter movie. Seriously:

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Credit: Bruner/Cott Architects

And yes, students can have Super G waffles at the 24-hour breakfast station. #jealousy

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Lots of attendees met their Alumni Weekend “classmates” during these meals. Just imagine the memories they are exchanging from their time on campus:

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Then it was off to first period – we served up classes taught by three incredible faculty members.

Gary T. Green, assistant dean of academic affairs and professor in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, who taught “Challenges Facing Resource Management: Implications from a Changing Society.”

Gary-Green-Teaching

Maria Navarro, professor in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, who taught “Hunger Who? An Introduction to Global Food Insecurity.”

Maria-Navarro-Teaching

Jenna R. Jambeck, associate professor in the College of Engineering, who taught “Marine Debris from Land to Sea.”

Jenna-Jambeck-Teaching

During second period, classes included: “Fairy Tales: An Examination of Hidden and Gendered Messages” by Juanita Johnson-Bailey, director of the Institute for Women’s Studies.

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“Bombs, Bugs, Drugs and Thugs: The United States in a Hostile World” by Loch K. Johnson, Regents Professor of Public and International Affairs.

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… and an encore of “Challenges Facing Resources Management – Implications for a Changing Society” by Gary Green.

With all that learning, it was time for another meal break at Bolton:

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Gentleman-at-Bolton-Lunch

Pair-at-Bolton-for-LunchAnd then one more class period for the day that featured:

  • “From Babe Ruth to LeBron James: How Changes in Media Shape Perspectives on Sports Heroes” by Vicki Michaelis, the John Huland Carmical Chair in Sports Journalism & Society
  • “What About Small Town? Solving Rural Housing Problems When Everyone is Thinking About Cities” with Kim Skobba, the director of UGA’s Housing and Demographics Research Center.
  • and an encore of Maria Navarro’s “Hunger Who? An Introduction into Global Food Insecurity.”

Then, just like any Friday for a student – classes ended and we left the Miller Learning Center to begin our weekend. After a little free time, we reconvened at Wall & Broad in downtown Athens. This event space is run by UGA alumni and the food is catered by LRG Provisions, the sister restaurant of Last Resort Grill, another mainstay on the Athens food scene. It was a beautiful space:

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And the mixing and mingling was in full swing:

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Look – even Professor Skobba joined in the fun!

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At 6:30, the reception concluded and folks headed to the Classic Center just a few blocks away for the TEDxUGA, a celebration of “ideas worth spreading.” This event is spearheaded by UGA’s New Media Institute and features student, alumni and faculty speakers. Interested in who was in the lineup this year – check it out.

TEDxUGA-Decor

I was inspired by all of the speakers, but particularly enjoyed hearing from Ansley Booker (MS ’13), the interim director for Mercer University’s Educational Opportunity Center (and a member of the UGA Alumni Association’s Black Alumni Leadership Council). Her TED Talk made me want to go out and recruit every young girl in America to enter a STEM field.

Malcolm Mitchell (AB ’15), is a former UGA football standout who went on to be a Super Bowl Champion as a wide receiver for the New England Patriots. He also is the author of a children’s book, The Magician’s Hat, and is passionate about youth literacy. His TED Talk emphasized the power of overcoming obstacles and while he announced his official retirement from professional football during his talk, he cited that he’s ready for what’s next.

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And I also was inspired by A.C. Williams, a third-year student studying management information systems and international business. As an experienced event director in the Esports world, he opened my eyes to the community that is thriving around gaming.

And after a long day of class and TEDxUGA inspiration, Alumni Weekend participants headed back to their hotels and homes for the night.

SATURDAY

On Saturday, we enjoyed a brunch in the Sanford Stadium SkyClub. The weather was beautiful and everyone was in high spirits!

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Look! Even Professor Navarro joined us:

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Student Alumni Council President Nash Davis ’19 welcomed attendees to the “Commencement Brunch” and everyone laughed when he officially conferred their Alumni Weekend degrees on them.

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Then it was off to grab some grub and take pictures in the photo booth:

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A special guest even joined us for this special occasion:

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Brunch-PhotoBooth-Hairy-Dawg

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And then Meredith Gurley Johnson (BSFCS ’00, MED ’16), executive director of the UGA Alumni Association, closed out the brunch with a few remarks and a toast to a great weekend:

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Brunch-Group-Toast

While this was technically the “end” of Alumni Weekend, we lined up a few optional activities that everyone could attend on their own. Those events included a UGA baseball game vs. LSU, a “One Man Star Wars Trilogy” performance, an exhibit at the UGA Special Collections Libraries, and a private tour of the Georgia Museum of Art with GMOA Director Bill Eiland.

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Some attendees participated in a tour of the newly renovated West End Zone of Sanford Stadium led by Colby DeCesare, a graduate assistant with the UGA Athletic Association:

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IN SUMMARY

It was truly a great weekend that made me proud of my alma mater and reminded me why I love this place so much.

My key takeaways include:

  • Our president LOVES this place – he attended school here, has been on the faculty since 1986, is passionate about changing lives through education, and is dreaming big about the impact UGA can have on the state and beyond.
  • I miss the dining halls – adult life has its pros, but cooking all your own meals is not one of them.
  • Our faculty are ROCKSTARS – why did I not go to every single office hour that was offered by my professors? They are inspiring, committed and are changing the world!
  • Nothing beats a Saturday between the hedges – whether it’s during football season or during a special event like Alumni Weekend, there’s just a good feeling emanating from that field.
  • OUR ALUMNI ARE THE BEST IN THE WORLD – I enjoyed meeting new alumni throughout the weekend (and reconnecting with old friends, too). We’re so diverse, passionate and very much in love with this school. It makes me proud to call myself a Georgia Bulldog.

As we learned in college, every good “report” closes with a summary statement. I’d have to say that my summary is simple: The 2019 Alumni Weekend was one of the best alumni events I have been able to help plan and I can’t wait for our alumni to see what we have in store for March 26-28, 2020. See you then! GO DAWGS.

London reception celebrates UGA, Oxford anniversary, alumni

University of Georgia alumni, friends and students assembled in London on Thursday, April 4, to celebrate UGA, honor the UGA at Oxford program’s 30th anniversary and cap off a tour of London that welcomed the newest UGA at Oxford students to the United Kingdom.

Twenty-two UGA students embarked on a tour of London that Thursday morning. Their stops took them to businesses around the city where alumni employees talked to them about what they do, where they work, the impact of their UGA education and more. These talks covered a wide variety of fields, from Risk Management and Insurance to Neuroscience—participating alumni work for Google; McGriff, Seibels and Williams; BNP Paribas; New York Times; City, University of London; Braincures; and Citibank. 

 After a day traveling the city, the tour party met with other alumni and friends at The Marylebone, where Kelly Kerner, UGA vice president for development and alumni relations, and Jamie McClung, director of the UGA at Oxford program, spoke to the crowd about what London and the Oxford program mean to UGA.

With the number of Dawgs in attendance that evening, one might have thought The Marylebone had moved to downtown Athens. 

Special thanks to the alumni who hosted and spoke with our students during their tour of London: Brian Benedict (ABJ ’04), Kevin Blackburne (BBA ’15), Denis Cruiziat (MBA ’88), Emmanuel Dray (MBA ’95), Justin Foster (BSFCS ‘10) Carrie Gibson (ABJ ’98), Krzysztof Potempa (BS ’02), Jane Singer (ABJ ’76), Scott Sink (BBA ’84), Chris Stanford (ABJ ’94) and Wes Walraven (BBA ’83). 

Bulldogs can be found the world over – find your local alumni chapter to to socialize, network, and volunteer with Bulldogs in your area. 

Karin Lichey Usry reflects on her time as a GymDog

Karin Lichey Usry (BSED ’00) is a former GymDog who currently works at the Division of Development & Alumni Relations at the University of Georgia. In her days as a collegiate gymnast, Usry was a four-year letter winner, won five All-America honors, won the 1998 national title on floor and earned 11 All-America citations. In addition to this, she won the 1999 Honda Award as the nation’s top gymnast. Did we mention that Usry was also part of the undefeated and national champion 1998 and 1999 GymDogs teams? There’s no wonder she was inducted into the UGA Circle of Honor for athletic greatness!

The current GymDog team has gone 10-4 this season, and after placing 2nd in the final of NCAA regionals will compete in the NCAA national championship this weekend. We asked Usry for her thoughts on her time as a GymDog, as well as the current GymDog team.

What is your role for the UGA Alumni Association? 

I am the Secretary to the Board of Trustees at the University of Georgia Foundation. I also manage the Emeriti Trustees and the Board of Visitors.

What does it feel like to see the GymDogs competing for a championship when you’ve been in their place?

It’s exciting, very exciting! We’ve had some ups and downs over the last couple years, so it’s really exciting, fun and rewarding to see this team – and last year’s team – have so much success and really kind of rise to the occasion. It’s good to see that … I guess, UGA gymnastics has always been the pinnacle of college gymnastics, and we had a little bit of a dip there for a couple of years, and so it’s good to see those traditions and that legacy continue.

Do you go to most of the meets?

I do, I’m still pretty involved. This year, because my kids are getting a little older, it’s been a little more difficult. But in the past, I’ve always been very involved.

What’s it like to see a former GymDog, Courtney Kupets, coach the team?

It’s very exciting because she knows the legacy and the history and the expectations of the program. I think that’s what was missing the last couple years, is that we have such a tight bond of former gymnasts. All of our GymDog alumni are like sisters because we’ve been through the same experiences, even though it was at different times throughout the history of the Georgia gymnastics program. It’s exciting to see someone who went through that, be able to bring that back and instill some of those traditions and some of those expectations into the current team.

What’s your proudest achievement athletically and since you left gymnastics?

So, athletically it was definitely being part of the ‘98 and ‘99 national championship teams, being part of a team that went undefeated both years, and then won the national titles. I think that was pretty amazing. Each year, ‘98 and ‘99, the teams were very different. So it was neat to see how we adjusted to be able to win national titles. Since graduating, I would say my marriage and my two kids are my biggest accomplishments.

Suzanne YoculanWhat was it like to be coached by Suzanne Yoculan? What lessons did she teach you?

Suzanne was amazing, she is very loyal to her athletes. She loved us like daughters, but she taught us how to be adults. When you come into college, especially college gymnastics, you’ve been such an individual your whole life …We didn’t have team camps as much as they do now. When I came onto campus, it was a whole new world, I was teammates with 15 other girls, all at different levels in our life. She very much respected us as individuals but also gelled us together as a team. She taught us many other things like responsibility and how to speak in front of a crowd, and she would always encourage us and push us. She was just a great mentor, even to this day, she’s still a great person to reach out to and ask for advice. She was a great person to lead you when you’re in that period of life where you’re going through so much, like trying to figure out who you are as a person, and so to be a student-athlete it is even another level of trying to figure out who you are, how you want to accomplish things, and what you want to do with your life. It was great to have someone like Suzanne push us, because she did push us, and was also our biggest cheerleader.

 

“I think just having the pride of being a University of Georgia athlete, especially a gymnast, because it nationally was recognized as one of the top programs. I think just having that pride of wearing red and black and competing.”

-Karin Usry

 

What was it like to be a student-athlete in the ‘90s at UGA?

Gosh, I have to think about that, that was a long time ago. I was an elite gymnast, so I trained 35-40 hours, and then I’d go to school on top of that. When I came to college, we were only allowed to train 20 hours. For me, it was a really easy adjustment going from high school to college, because I felt like I had more time, which was crazy. I went from training 40 hours a week, going to school full time, trying to be a high school student, to coming to college and only having to train 20 hours. While that was an adjustment in itself to cut back, it was a good adjustment. Suzanne fought for us on a lot of different levels. For example, she took the resources at the university, even though they weren’t provided to all the athletes like they are now, and offered them to us if we wanted them.

What’s your favorite memory from your time at UGA?

I think just having the pride of being a University of Georgia athlete, especially a gymnast, because it nationally was recognized as one of the top programs. I think just having that pride of wearing red and black and competing. I think that’s probably the best memory.

Finish this statement, I am most proud to be a Bulldog when _____.

I am most proud to be a Bulldog any time I see the super G, I know we’re supposed to say The Arch, but the super G is so well-known, and that was such a big part of my career. I’m proud because I know what the G stands for, and I know that it stands for both academics and athletic success and excellence.

Georgia Women of Achievement Announces 2019 Hall of Fame Inductees

Leila Denmark

94-year-old pediatrician Dr. Leila Denmark on the front porch of her office in Forsyth County. Dr. Denmark is a graduate of the UGA medical school (now Medical College of Georgia). Denmark enrolled in the Medical College of the University of Georgia, now the Medical College of Georgia, receiving her M.D. degree there in 1928.

Two women who made significant contributions to Georgia’s history were inducted into the Georgia Women of Achievement Hall of Fame on March 7, 2019, at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia.

The Georgia Women of Achievement Induction Ceremony is an annual event held during Women’s History Month. This year’s event was held at 11:00am in Pierce Chapel on the Wesleyan Campus and will be followed by a reception and seated luncheon in the stately Anderson Dining Hall, Wesleyan.

Georgia Women of Achievement recognized the contributions of two women whose contributions were extremely noteworthy, courageous, and impactful.

Dr. Leila Alice Daughtry Denmark (1898 -2012) of Atlanta and Athens was a pioneer in pediatric medicine, research and an advocate for the pediatric community. She was a co-developer of the pertussis vaccine. Until her retirement in 2011, she was the world’s oldest practicing pediatrician.

Mary Dorothy Lyndon (1877-1924) of Newnan was the first woman to receive a degree from the University of Georgia in 1914, four years before women were admitted to the University as regular students. She helped organize the first sorority at UGA and made significant contributions to the Athens community.

Medical College of Georgia (MCG) Executives meeting with alumna Dr. Leila Denmark

Cathy Cox, Dean and Professor of Law at Mercer University, was the keynote speaker for this year’s Induction Ceremony. Cathy began making her impact on Georgia’s political landscape in 1993 as a member of the Georgia House of Representatives. She went on to have a successful tenure as the first woman to serve as Georgia’s Secretary of State. After her time in office, she became president of Young Harris College where she oversaw the College’s transition from a two-year college to a four-year institution. Since 2017, she has served as dean of Mercer University’s School of Law. Her contributions to the state are evident from her involvement in numerous philanthropic and civic organizations.

Georgia Women of Achievement was created in 1990 to honor women of Georgia’s history who contributed extensively to the community through their professional and personal lives. Honorees must have exceptional accomplishments, be a continuous inspiration, and deceased for a minimum of five years. The two 2019 inductees will be among the almost ninety other women previously honored by Georgia Women of Achievement.

Holmes and Hunter-Gault: They followed their dreams

Original article posted on Feb. 4, 2019 by Krista Richmond on UGA Today.

This story is part of a series, called Georgia Groundbreakers, that celebrates innovative and visionary faculty, students, alumni and leaders throughout the history of the University of Georgia—and their profound, enduring impact on our state, our nation and the world.

Hamilton Holmes simply wanted to become a doctor. Charlayne Hunter simply wanted to become a journalist. And in doing so, they also became inspirations.

Both agreed that the University of Georgia had the classes they needed to reach those goals. But when they graduated from Henry McNeal Turner High School in Atlanta in 1959—Holmes as valedictorian and Hunter (now Hunter-Gault) as third in their class—it wasn’t quite that simple.

“Pursue your dreams—whatever it takes. Don’t give up despite what might be in your way,” Hunter-Gault said in a recent interview. “It was our determination—mine and Hamilton’s—to follow our dreams at the place that was best suited to help us fulfill them.”

Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes walk up Broad Street in Athens on Jan. 9, 1961, to enter the UGA campus to become the first African Americans to attend the university.

Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes walk up Broad Street in Athens on Jan. 9, 1961, to enter the UGA campus to become the first African Americans to attend the university.

Eventually Hunter and Holmes became the first African American students to attend UGA, but that is just the beginning of their stories. Both went on to have a lasting impact in their chosen career fields and on generations of students.

Their latest legacy: a new endowment, launched by Hunter-Gault and her husband, that inspires UGA students to pursue a more just society.

Desegregating UGA

Both Hunter and Holmes applied to UGA for the fall 1959 quarter but were denied. Holmes was accepted to Morehouse College, and Hunter enrolled at Wayne State University in Detroit, but they continued to submit applications to UGA each quarter.

“You can’t ever take your eyes off the prizes of freedom, justice and equality,” she said.

In September 1960, their legal team filed for an injunction seeking to prohibit UGA from “refusing to consider [Holmes’ and Hunter’s] applications and those of other Negro residents of Georgia for admission to the University.” Their request was refused, but a full trial was later held in Athens in December 1960.

On Jan. 6, 1961, Judge William Bootle issued his ruling, stating that Holmes and Hunter “would have already been admitted had it not been for their race and color,” and they were immediately admitted to UGA. Three days later, they became the first African American students to enroll in classes.

Creating a legacy

Their first steps into the Academic Building left a lasting footprint on the UGA landscape.

That same building now bears their names. It was renamed the Holmes-Hunter Academic Building in their honor to mark the 40th anniversary of UGA’s desegregation. And as part of UGA’s bicentennial in 1985, the university created the annual Holmes-Hunter Lecture, which is sponsored by the Office of the President and focuses on race relations, civil rights and education.

Their influence was felt early on during their time in Athens. Mary Frances Early, a fellow Turner High alumna who knew both Holmes and Hunter, was so inspired by what she saw that she decided to transfer from the University of Michigan to UGA to help them integrate the university. In August 1962, Early became the first African American to graduate from UGA.

A year later, it was their turn to walk across the stage.

Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter after they received their diplomas from UGA.

Hamilton Holmes and Charlayne Hunter after they received their diplomas from UGA.

“He opened the doors not only for African Americans to attend UGA, but also for everyone who wanted to attend,” said Holmes’ son, Hamilton Holmes Jr., who graduated from UGA in 1990. “My father was an excellent student and graduated cum laude while dealing with all of the distractions related to being one of the first two black students to integrate the university. He wasn’t looking for fame. He simply wanted to get the best public education from the flagship university in Georgia.”

In the fall of 1963, Holmes became the first African American student admitted to the Emory University School of Medicine. After starting a residency at Detroit General Hospital and serving in the military, he returned to Emory to complete his residency. Later, he became an assistant professor of orthopedics and served as an associate dean at Emory.

In addition, Holmes also worked as chief of orthopedics at the Veterans Administration hospital in Atlanta, opened a private practice and became medical director and eventually head of orthopedic surgery at Grady Memorial Hospital.

Holmes passed away at his home in Atlanta on Oct. 26, 1995.

As Holmes Jr. pointed out, the path toward their degrees wasn’t always smooth.

On Jan. 11, 1961, two days after they registered for classes, a crowd gathered outside Hunter’s dorm after a basketball game, smashing windows with bottles and bricks. Holmes and Hunter were suspended, and the Georgia State Patrol escorted them back to their homes in Atlanta that night. A new court order was issued, and they returned to campus and resumed their classes.

Charlayne Hunter-Gault in her office at the PBS “MacNeil/Lehrer Report” in 1983.

Charlayne Hunter-Gault in her office at the PBS “MacNeil/Lehrer Report” in 1983.

After Hunter’s graduation in 1963, she took a job as an editorial assistant at The New Yorker, where she eventually became the first African American staff writer. She then worked as a television reporter and evening anchor for the local NBC station in Washington, D.C. She returned to print media in 1968, establishing The New York Times’ Harlem bureau. From 1978 until 1997, she worked for the MacNeil/Lehrer Report, which became PBS NewsHour. In 1997, she became chief correspondent in Africa for National Public Radio. She left NPR in 1999 to join CNN, where she served as bureau chief and correspondent, based in Johannesburg, South Africa, until 2005.

During her career, Hunter received numerous awards, including two National News and Documentary Emmy Awards and two Peabody Awards.

“The view of the world that I developed and refined as a student at UGA helped me become a successful journalist and person,” Hunter-Gault said.

But for both Holmes and Hunter, their legacies go far beyond their time at UGA and their distinguished careers.

“I’m calling for a coalition of generations so that the things that were important achievements in my generation are looked at so that they can be built upon in the next generation,” Hunter-Gault said.

Giving Voice to the Voiceless

At the 2018 Holmes-Hunter Lecture, Hunter-Gault passed the proverbial baton to the next generation.

“It’s truly time for every citizen, no matter your age, to get woke,” she told the crowd. “And that means helping keep our democracy safe, and it means doing the hard work of digging for good information with a variety of sources.”

She spoke about her time at UGA and what students today can learn from it.

Charlayne Hunter-Gault meets with students from Cedar Shoals and Clarke Central high schools outside of the Chapel before delivering the Holmes-Hunter Lecture in February 2018. (Photo by Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA)

Alumna Charlayne Hunter-Gault meaning with a group of local high school students from Cedar Shoals and Clarke Central High School outside of the Chapel before delivering the Holmes-Hunter Lecture.

“I want to share a little of my life with you today in the hope that you will be inspired, or further inspired, to make sure that your armor is fitted and polished so that you can help bind wounds and defeat the kind of divisions that are tearing at the fabric of our nation,” she said to those in attendance, including members of Holmes’ family.

To that end, she and her husband, Ronald Gault, started the Giving Voice to the Voiceless endowment, which provides grants to university students to promote social justice and global understanding.

“I wanted to do something that would help inspire young people,” she said.

The first grant recipients were announced recently, and their projects reflect Hunter-Gault’s legacy of courage, bravery and fearlessness.

Abha Rai, a doctoral candidate in the School of Social Work, received a grant to study domestic violence within South Asian immigrant communities.

“I want to be that voice for my community. I want to understand domestic violence and maybe even someday help end domestic violence,” she said. “This project is the perfect opportunity for my own voice to be heard in an area of research where people are understudied and not much is known about them.”

Steve Armour, an archivist with the University Libraries, received a grant to create an oral history with African American alumni who attended the university in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The interviewer for the project will be a student who will conduct background research on what that time was like at UGA in order to develop the right questions.

“These are students who attended UGA in the years following the desegregation of the university,” Armour said. “We often hear about the experience of Charlayne Hunter-Gault and Hamilton Holmes, but there are generations of students who followed them that this project is going to focus on.”

For Armour, it’s about continuing the conversation.

“They [Holmes and Hunter-Gault] reached these amazing heights that I think in turn have inspired subsequent generations,” he said.

Kyla Brinkley, who graduated with degrees in public relations and English in May 2018, continues to feel Hunter-Gault’s impact.

“Charlayne Hunter-Gault is a prime example of black excellence and what you can do to have an impact on people around you,” she said. “The fact that she still chooses to give back to students at UGA and continues to fuel minority students to pursue the things that she was able to pursue is really powerful.”

Brinkley was the first Charlayne Hunter-Gault Intern for Chess and Community, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering youth.

For their part, this generation of students and alumni have been an inspiration to Hunter-Gault.

“They are the giants, now, on whose shoulders the next generations will stand,” she said. “Even though they are quite young, they’ve demonstrated that they have a consciousness about the values in our democratic promise. Everywhere I look, I see them working to ensure that.”

Inspect-All Services: Most Years on Bulldog 100 List – 9th Straight Year

University of Georgia alumni and siblings Brian Lunsford (AB ’02) and Brandon Lunsford (AB ’02) both graduated with Political Science degrees and now own and run Inspect-All Services, the company with the most years on the Bulldog 100 list. Inspect-All Services provides high-quality termite, pest and wildlife control, as well as home inspection services for real estate transactions, and other home services. They offer their services in metro Atlanta and the surrounding region, as well as in the Jacksonville, FL area. Learn how the Lunsford brothers grew their company by a mind-boggling 4,000% in just over a decade and how Inspect-All Services continues to be one of the 100 fastest-growing businesses owned or operated by UGA alumni each year.

First, tell us a little bit about your UGA experience, what did you love about it?

Brian: I have so many wonderful memories at UGA.  From the fun college town of Athens itself, to the friendships, the football, Larry Munson, tailgating, downtown, Guthrie’s, my classes, The Red & Black—just to name a few!  The summer of 2001 when I studied at Oxford University in England with my fellow UGA students still stands as one of my favorite periods of time in college.  I gained perspective on life that only an experience like that affords.  I’ll always be grateful for my time at the University of Georgia!

Brandon:  My time at UGA and in Athens was unforgettable.  I’ll always cherish the memories including UGA football games, north campus, downtown nights, intramural sports, cramming for exams, concerts and hanging out with what would become lifelong friends.  My biggest regret is that I did it all in just four years instead of taking longer!

How did you get started with Inspect-All Services?

Brandon:  After graduating college, I decided to join our dad’s small pest control company part-time prior to jumping into a “real career”.  It started off as a way for me to take life easy for a bit, work a little, but mainly it gave me the flexibility to take time off to travel.  Once I was exposed to the business aspect of the industry, I began to take it more seriously and eventually realized I could possibly make a great career out of it.  Brian soon joined me full-time and we began the process of taking the reins and growing the business.

Brian: Before becoming an entrepreneur and while still attending UGA, I was a sports producer at FOX-5/WAGA-TV in Atlanta.  While television was fun, I decided to shift my career into the exciting world of business.  When Brandon and I acquired the company from our dad, we were the only two employees and wore a lot of hats.  We were our company’s techs, salesmen and office staff (answering forwarded phone calls from customers on a cell phone in the truck).  Good times!  We started to realize that showing up on time, treating people right and providing outstanding service, led to more business.  That part was simple for us because our mom and dad instilled those values in us as children.  Before we knew it, it was time to hire our first of many employees as business owners.  Doing things the “right way” made it easy for customers to trust us and want to continue to do business with our company.  Those early lessons learned in life and in business laid the foundation for our success and still has an important influence on our company to this day.  We now have around 100 dedicated team members who show up on time, treat folks with respect and provide excellent services to our loyal customers.

What steps did you take early on to begin the explosive growth?

Brian: When Brandon and I were able to leave the field and get in front of our computers, the growth really took off.  Our first major change was bringing technology to the company. We created a website and made sure we were on reputable consumer sites such as Angie’s List, Yelp and Groupon. We understood the importance of taking risks, especially early on as business owners.  For example, we aggressively implemented a “loss leader” approach by running discounted offers for our services on deal sites, then providing those customers with such a high level of service that they would decide to use our company long-term.  We were one of the first pest control companies to send emails to customers the day before service containing a photo of the technician scheduled to arrive. While our competitors were putting lots of energy into face-to-face meetings with other business owners, setting up company booths at local festivals and mailing out flyers, we opted for a more far-reaching strategy by making our online profile paramount.  We built that online presence by ensuring that our reputation was impeccable.

Brandon:  We saw an opportunity and pounced on it, mainly by focusing on things that other companies in our industry were not doing at the time.  Many pest control and home inspection companies are pretty cookie-cutter, and we were naïve to all of that—which ultimately benefitted us because we used a new common-sense approach rather than traditional thinking. We asked questions like, “Why are they doing it like this?” “Doesn’t this other way make more sense?” We were fresh right out of college with an analytical mindset, and we were determined to find better ways to run our business.  I would say most of the technological advancements and digital marketing we did in the early years were self-taught, and in turn gave us a huge advantage over our competitors. We were at UGA in the late 1990s to early 2000s so we got really familiar with computers through our work in college. That technological knowledge gave us an advantage since most of our competitors were run by folks who were a generation older than us and who wouldn’t have had the exposure to computers and technology we had at UGA. We also believe being graduates of UGA gave us credibility to others and validated that we were going to run a legitimate business and provide a great value to our customers.

Inspect-All Services team

Inspect-All Services team

Inspect-All Services has been on the Bulldog 100 list every year since 2011, what do you attribute to your continued success?

Brian: Creating and then sustaining a climate of honesty met with highly efficient communication–both with our customers and internally with our team–has been very important to our success.  Also, implementing innovative ways to do things has reaped huge benefits for our customers and our team.  Technology’s role within our company is to create convenience and peace of mind for our customers, while at the same time making our team members’ jobs easier.  For instance, using infrared cameras to expose hidden pest issues behind walls, deploying drones to survey roofs during home inspections and emailing digital proposals and reminders to our customers.  In the end, it’s a win for both our customers and our team.

Brandon: Hard work and dedication for sure, but most importantly, our unwavering desire to provide our customers with outstanding service and value.  We haven’t tried to conquer the world in one swoop and have always taken good care of each and every customer.  We’ve grown very quickly without any acquisitions or mergers by building our business one customer at a time.

What has been the most surprising thing about owning your own company?

Brian: We are constantly amazed by the high volume of positive customer feedback our team receives.  According to our Angie’s List rep, we have more positive customer reviews than any other pest control and home inspection company on Angie’s List in the United States.  Across all platforms, we currently have thousands of A+ verified online customer reviews, which speaks to our company’s core value of integrity.  This continuous cycle of outstanding customer care met by glowing customer reviews, creates a wonderfully dynamic feedback loop that ties directly to our growth rate.  Prospective customers read these reviews and often attribute the positive customer feedback from their peers as the primary reason they decided to hire our company.

Brandon: I think owning our own company has been more gratifying than we thought since we have the ability to provide so many jobs and a good quality of life for our employees. We have close to 100 employees now, and are largely responsible for them owning cars and buying homes. Being a part of that is surprising, and we are grateful to help them achieve their dreams. We have grown 4,000% in about a 10-year span and averaged around 40% growth per year.

What has been the most challenging thing about owning your own company?

Brian: One of our biggest challenges in the early years was the hiring process.  Learning better ways to acquire and then properly vet candidates has been key to our company landing talented professionals.  Our management team has created an outstanding environment for new hires to flourish.  Therefore, we are fortunate to not have too much turnover.  Once folks are here, they typically do not want to leave.  We take pride in the fact that along with the growth, comes the opportunity to enrich the lives of our team and give back to our communities through volunteer work and charity.  Over the years, we have been fortunate to run a fast-growing company, and our people are the key to that success.

Brandon: I think keeping up with the growth has been the most challenging. We have the difficult job of maintaining a balance between a healthy company and a fast-paced company. Sometimes you can outgrow yourself, and if you don’t have the systems in place to handle the growth, it can be difficult.

Do you have any advice for future Bulldog entrepreneurs?

Brian: Adhere to your core values in everything that you do and make sure your team maintains that standard as well.

Brandon: Think different to grow quickly.  Status quo is not the road to take if you want to stand apart from your competition.

UGA Founders Week: It started here.

The Abraham Baldwin statue dressed with an Alumni Association scarf and a wreath of magnolia branches around the base of the statue for Founder's Week with Old College in the background.

The Abraham Baldwin statue dressed for Founders Week with an Alumni Association scarf and a wreath of magnolia branches around his feet. Old College in the background.

Each January, we proudly celebrate UGA’s birthday – on the 27th of this month, we’ll be 234! More importantly, it marks our place in history as the birthplace of public higher education in America. To commemorate the occasion, the UGA Alumni Association and the Student Alumni Association will host a weeklong series of events:

Monday, Jan. 28

  • Founders Week T-shirt Giveaway
  • 17th annual Founders Day Lecture featuring Dr. Freda Scott Giles

Tuesday, Jan. 29

  • Tradition Tuesday

Wednesday, Jan. 30

  • State of the University Address in the UGA Chapel

Thursday, Jan. 31

  • 100 Days ‘Til Graduation Celebration in Memorial Hall

Friday, Feb. 1

  • Founders Day Celebration
Dr. Freda Scott Giles

Dr. Freda Scott Giles

The highlight of the week will be the annual Founders Day Lecture, hosted in partnership with the Office of the President, Provost’s Office and UGA Emeriti Scholars. The lecture is held in the UGA Chapel at 1:30 p.m. and is open to the public. We hope you’ll join us! The 2019 lecture, “W.E.B. Du Bois: Dramatist,” will be presented by Freda Scott Giles, Ph.D., associate professor emerita of theatre and film studies and African-American studies at UGA’s Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

In 1785, we sparked a movement that continues to shape our nation – join us as we recognize our historic commitment to public higher education in America.

Be a part of the birthday celebrations! Learn more at alumni.uga.edu/foundersweek.

Q&A with UGA Alumna Ebonie Medious

Alumni Spotlight: Ebonie Medious (AB ’17, AB ’17)

My name is Ebonie Medious and I graduated from UGA in 2017 with a Bachelor of Arts in communications studies from Franklin College and a Bachelor of Arts in international affairs from SPIA. I also minored in global health. I’m originally from Hampton, Georgia, and almost attended LSU. However, I ultimately chose the University of Georgia after spending a weekend with Georgia Daze, an overnight campus visitation program. I loved every moment of being on campus so I had to come to UGA! I started getting involved with the Alumni Association while I was still a student by donating to the Student Alumni Association.

I currently live in San Francisco and work for LinkedIn as an associate program manager in inclusion recruiting. I’m thankful for UGA and the Alumni Association as it’s given me opportunities to stay connected and feel at home in a brand-new city. When I moved to California, I sought out the Bay Area Alumni Association as a way to meet new people who had something common with me.

 

Q&A with Ebonie

  1. What was your favorite class at Georgia?

Foreign Policy Decision Making

  1. What advice would you give to graduating seniors and recent graduates?

Be open to all opportunities that come your way and connect with your classmates on LinkedIn!

  1. Describe Athens in three words.

Southern, Hospitality, Charming

  1. Describe UGA in three words.

The Arch, Tailgates, Tate

  1. What is your favorite thing to do in your current city?

Visit the wineries in Napa Valley.  

  1. What did you think you would be when you grew up? Do you still have plans to become that?

I thought I was going to be a corporate attorney. But, I don’t think I have it in me to go through another round of school again.

  1. What is the most important lesson you learned in college?

Getting a C in a class is not the end of the world!

  1. What do you know for sure? What will you never understand?

The University of Georgia is by far the best institution to attend! I will never understand what makes other institutions’ alumni think that their school is better than UGA!

Sock Fancy: The Most Subscribable Bulldog 100 Company

The UGA Alumni Association interviewed Stefan Lewinger (AB ’11), CEO of Sock Fancy, the “Most Subscribable Bulldog 100 Company.” The Bulldog 100 celebrates Dawgs on top by recognizing the 100 fastest-growing businesses owned or operated by UGA alumni each year.

  1. Tell our readers a little bit about your story. How did you end up starting Sock Fancy?

Our story starts almost six years ago, 2013, in a house that my co-founder and I shared. We were each other’s springboards for ideas, and we were just a few years out of Georgia. We were navigating a challenging job market at the time, and we found it annoying that we couldn’t find durable and good-looking socks. Everything could be delivered to your door, but we were still traveling to department stores and waiting in lines to buy socks. We wanted to change the way people talked about socks. I built our first version of the website, and I cobbled a site together. We wanted to get to market as fast as possible and we knew it would take a while to develop our own line. We started as a curation service and that allowed us some time to learn what customers liked or didn’t like about different styles, etc. We did seven different factories and 20 fabrics before we found what worked. Everyday crew socks that didn’t have the compromises found in the market at the time. We knew we needed to have a really great product.

  1. We know you offer an innovative monthly subscription service; can you elaborate about what other services you provide?

Subscription is our main focus – we wanted to change people’s minds about socks. We get that there are people that won’t subscribe but want to buy in packs or customizable. We do also offer custom corporate boxes – we have created some for companies like Chick-fil-A and Coca-Cola. We really like dealing with different companies, their stories, and why they might be interested in this product to show off their brand. They can show off their personality which is really important to brands right now. We had people who were subscribers and asked if we could make a custom version for them. You could say we kind of got pushed into this world and started our own program.

  1. What has been the most surprising part of running your own company?

I think the most surprising part has been the fulfillment or satisfaction from employing really good people. For the first 2-3 years it was just me and my partner. We were nervous to start bringing on employees but it has been nothing but the greatest experience to be able to provide salaries, a great work place, and fun for others. We have seven full-time employees and eight part-time employees – helping them pay for their house and car is one of my proudest achievements.

  1. What’s the number one thing you learned at UGA that has prepared you for what you are doing now?

I really learned the idea of sharpening my networking skills; a lot of it has to do with my experience at Georgia and that it is such a large community. Georgia was a microcosm of the entrepreneurial world where people are all looking for their place and role in the world – it’s allowed me to connect and build community with other entrepreneurs.

  1. What’s your favorite pair of socks right now?

My favorite pair is planetariums; it has a bunch of stars and planets on it – so I am nerd at heart.

  1. What do you enjoy about being an entrepreneur?

I love being able to employ hard-working and talented people, and I love the idea of being able to create something that people love, use, and enjoy. That you can really shape your own future and brighten other peoples’ lives along the way is humbling and exciting.

  1. What do you think are some of the values that have made you successful or what do you value as a company?

Our motto and our words to live by are “elevate the everyday, every month.” We want both our members and our employees to have a great experience – we strive to make the everyday extraordinary. We aren’t saving the world, but we are making really great socks. And if we can make everything a little bit better, that’s our goal. We really strive to make the mundane a little more magical.

  1. Do you have any advice for future Bulldog entrepreneurs? 

Luckily, you have a leg up if you are going to the University of Georgia. I want to borrow from Nike and say “Just Do It.” There are risks and you’re going to have convince yourself, but you just have to start. Starting is the hardest part. Odds are you will fail, but you can’t let it stop your dreams. Focus on the bigger pictures and get going – if you’re smart and a savvy, hungry person, you will make it work.

Maria Taylor shares her experiences with future leaders

Maria Taylor (ABJ ’09, MBA ’13) is an alumna who models what it means to be committed to the University of Georgia. Most recently, Maria participated in the Terry Leadership Speaker Series where she shared her wisdom and experiences with UGA students 

A breakthrough reporter on the national stage, Maria became the first black female to co-host ESPN’s College Gameday, and she is currently in her second season. Maria has a passion for developing leaders–whether it is through her charity, The Winning Edge Leadership Academy, or by serving on the Grady Society Alumni Board 

As a double Dawg, Maria earned her bachelor’s degree in broadcast news in 2009, and her MBA in 2013. She was a student athlete in two sports: basketball and volleyball. During the Terry event in the UGA Chapel, Maria was interviewed by Kendall Kazor (BBA ’19), a fellow UGA volleyball alumna.

Opportunities are nearly endless for graduates to return to campus–like Maria–and share their advice and experiences with fellow students. Interested? The UGA Alumni Association can help connect you with the right person on campus.