UGA seeking nominations for annual Footsteps Award

Award recognizes alumni who embody spirit of university pioneers 

The University of Georgia is accepting nominations for its Footsteps Award. This annual award recognizes a UGA graduate each year who is following in the pioneering footsteps of Charlayne Hunter-Gault (ABJ ’63), Hamilton Holmes (BS ’63) and Mary Frances Early (MMED ’63, EDS ’67).

Members of the UGA community are invited to submit nominations for the Footsteps Award by completing a short form available online at The nomination period ends April 15, and the recipient will be announced mid-May.

The honoree must be a UGA graduate who has made a significant positive impact in a variety of areas in their community. Selected by a committee of UGA faculty, staff and students, the recipient will be presented with the award during the 1961 Club Celebration in June.

“We are immensely proud of our alumni for their commitment to improving their communities, both in their personal and professional lives,” said Jill Walton, vice president for development and alumni relations. “These alumni are exceptional representations of a University of Georgia education, and the Footsteps Award is just one way for us to honor their dedication.”

Questions about the award can be emailed to

UGA Alumni affinity group leadership councils welcome new members

The University of Georgia Alumni Association has added 32 new members to the leadership councils for the Black Alumni, Latino Alumni, Women of UGA and Young Alumni affinity groups. 

“We are so pleased to welcome these passionate alumni who are committed to helping their fellow Bulldogs maintain lifelong relationships with UGA,” said Meredith Gurley Johnson, executive director of alumni relations. “I look forward to working with them and seeing how they use their unique perspectives to represent our vast alumni network.” 

The following alumni have joined the affinity group leadership councils to help build a community among specific alumni populations including young alumni, women, Black alumni and Latino alumni. 

Black Alumni 

  • Kiondre M. Dunnam, director of public relations and community engagement, The Brookman Group; Douglasville, Georgia; BSED ’16 
  • Alicea Gaston, manager of foundation communications and stewardship, Wellstar Health System; Marietta, Georgia; BS ’10, AB ’10, MBA ’18 
  • Camille Telicia Gordon, leadership and life design strategist, The Intentional Goddess; Atlanta, Georgia; BS ’08 
  • Shirleyse Haley, senior skilling marketing manager for security, Microsoft; Smyrna, Georgia; ABJ ’11 
  • Godswill Nwankwo, program manager, Google; Atlanta, Georgia; BBA ’20 
  • Aspen Robinson, Ph.D., manager of leadership development and culture strategy, Accenture; Atlanta, Georgia; BS ’14, PHD ’19 

Current council member Shayla Hill (BBA ’08) began her one-year term as president of the Black Alumni Leadership Council on July 1. 

Latino Alumni 

  • Justin Acosta, business consultant, NCR Corporation; Atlanta, Georgia; BBA ’23 
  • Char-Lynn Griffiths, staff customer researcher, Intuit Mailchimp; Atlanta, Georgia; ABJ ’07 
  • Kimberly M. Lopez, equity coordinator, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine; Cumming, Georgia; AB ’20, MPA ’22 
  • Michael E. Pérez, attorney and owner, The Pérez Law Firm; Atlanta, Georgia; AB ’97, JD ’00 
  • Orlando Burgos Pimentel, market research project manager; Decatur, Georgia; ABJ ’17 
  • Anthony Rodriguez, executive director, HUB404 Conservancy; Atlanta, Georgia; BFA ’91 
  • Marline Thomas, lead office of CIO and technology, Orbia; Duluth, Georgia; MIT ’09 
  • Claudia Trejo Valenzuela, secondary English teacher, East Forsyth High School; Flowery Branch, Georgia; BS ’22, ME ’24 

Current council member Jazmine Medrano (BSFCS ’15) began her one-year term as president of the Latino Alumni Leadership Council on July 1. 

Women of UGA 

  • Payton Anderson, director, IndustryPro; Roswell, Georgia; BBA ’18 
  • Debbie Durrence, Ed.D., executive director of data governance, Gwinnett County Public Schools; Suwanee, Georgia; BSED ’98, EDD ’04  
  • Ekta Gaur, management consultant for strategy and transformation; Atlanta, Georgia; BS ’06 
  • Audrey Lewis, attorney, Gregory, Doyle, Calhoun and Rogers; Atlanta, Georgia; AB ’07, ABJ ’09, JD ’10 
  • Sarah Sprayberry, senior manager of warehouse sales operations, The Coca-Cola Company; Atlanta, Georgia; BSA ’95 
  • Caroline Stelling; senior vice president and business unit leader, RPS Group; Marietta, Georgia; BSES ’11 
  • Tiffany Nicole Wooten, director of annual giving, The Westminster Schools; Atlanta, Georgia; AB ’11, MPA ’15 

Current council member Laura Jalbert (BSW ’99, MSW ’00) began her one-year term as president of the Women of UGA Leadership Council on July 1. 

Young Alumni 

  • Sam Canales, financial planning analyst, brand manager, Creative Financial Group, a division of Synovus; Atlanta, Georgia; BBA ’21 
  • Nickolas Collins, consumer insights manager, Ford Motor Company; Decatur, Georgia; MBA ’22 
  • Caroline Cordell, student, Emory University School of Nursing; Atlanta, Georgia; BSFCS ’22 
  • Kanler Cumbass, associate, Education Strategy Group; Atlanta, Georgia; MED ’21 
  • Isabella Joseph, junior interior designer, Lord Aeck Sargent; Athens, Georgia; BFA ’20 
  • Hanna Jon Lewis, Minute Maid brand assistant, The Coca-Cola Company; Atlanta, Georgia; BBA ’20, MS ’21 
  • Avery Monthero, in-flight service peer support program lead, Delta Air Lines; Atlanta, Georgia, BSFCS ’17 
  • Jackson O’Brien, attorney, Butler Snow LLP; Atlanta, Georgia; AB ’18, JD ’21 
  • Tyra Roberts, product manager, Bank of America; Atlanta, Georgia; BBA ’19 
  • Ariel Watt, associate consultant; Charlottesville, Virginia; AB ’19 

Current council member John Bowden (BBA ’13) began his one-year term as president of the Young Alumni Leadership Council on July 1. 


Richard Dunn and Xernona Thomas named Footsteps Award recipients

The University of Georgia has named Richard Dunn (ABJ ’93) and Xernona Thomas (ABJ ’91, MSW ’92, EDD ’17) as the recipients of the 2023 Footsteps Award. This annual award, given this year on the 62nd anniversary of desegregation at UGA, recognizes UGA graduates who are following in the pioneering footsteps of Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Hamilton Holmes and Mary Frances Early, UGA’s first African American students.

“Richard and Xernona’s commitment to education in our state is impressive,” said Meredith Gurley Johnson (BSFCS ’00, MED ’16), executive director of the UGA Alumni Association. “The work they have done in building better communities through education follows closely in the footsteps of Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Hamilton Holmes and Mary Frances Early. We are beyond excited to have the opportunity to honor them with this award.”

Dunn, now retired, served as the executive director of the Athens-Clarke County High School Completion Initiative, a program that he founded to increase the graduation rates in high schools across the county. The program focuses on helping students reach graduation and explore career and education opportunities. In 2010, he launched a weekly radio show hosted by local high school students titled “Education Matters” as part of his efforts to improve graduation rates in Athens-Clarke County, particularly for students of color.

A graduate of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, Dunn’s passion for journalism drove him to establish The Athens Courier in the 1980s and address the needs of the minority community in Athens. In addition, he hosted the weekly radio show “Community Forum,” which addresses politics, community issues and more. The show is now the longest-running radio talk show in Northeast Georgia.

Thomas spent 31 years working in education as a social worker, assistant principal, principal, chief of staff, and most recently, superintendent of the Clarke County School District where she became the first woman to serve in the role. Thomas sought to reduce exclusionary discipline practices among students of color by identifying inequitable instructional and disciplinary practices and implementing leadership professional learning. She worked to increase language services, encourage parent involvement, develop a district budget to better support district instructional priorities, and opened Clarke County School District’s first charter, Schoolwide Enrichment Model, Foreign Language Acquisition Program and Professional Development School.

Thomas, who received her bachelor’s degree from the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, master’s degree from the School of Social Work, and doctor of education from the Mary Frances Early College of Education, collaborated with the University of Georgia to establish the Experience UGA partnership for K-12 students that launched in 2013. During the COVID-19 pandemic, as superintendent, she provided students with technology devices and internet access while they were not meeting in person and ensured that all students 18 and younger had access to breakfast and lunch five days a week. Thomas retired as superintendent in fall 2022.

“Richard and Xernona are excellent examples of what it means to be UGA alumni,” said Yvette Daniels (AB ’86, JD ’89), president of the UGA Alumni Association. “Their combined dedication to students in the Athens community is improving lives every day. We celebrate them as members of the Bulldog family and the recipients of the 2023 Footsteps Award.”

Dunn and Thomas will be recognized during the annual Holmes-Hunter Lecture on February 28 in the UGA Chapel. The Honorable Verda M. Colvin (JD ’90), a Georgia Supreme Court justice and UGA School of Law alumna, will present this year’s lecture.

Checking in with Alumni Board Member Chuck Kinnebrew

There’s a group of committed UGA alumni who dedicate their time, energy, and financial resources to bringing Bulldogs together year-round, worldwide, and lifelong. The UGA Alumni Board of Directors represents UGA’s diverse and passionate alumni family and strives to provide feedback, guidance and leadership as the university seeks to ensure that its graduates Never Bark Alone. Throughout the year, we’ll get to know these spirited graduates who hail from various backgrounds and are involved in all corners of campus.

Where do you live?Chuck Kennebrew headshot
Smyrna, Georgia

Where do you work?
I am retired now, but I was the vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion at Floor and Décor.

When did you graduate from UGA?
I graduated with my Bachelor of Science in Education in 1975.

When did you join the alumni board?
This year – 2022!

How do you support UGA?
I am a member of the Georgia Bulldog Club, the Letterman’s Club, McGill Society, the Five, and the President’s Club. I also serve on the Lamar Dodd School of Art board of advisors.

If you had $1 million, what fund would you support on campus?
I would establish a scholarship endowment for the Black Alumni affinity group to support African American students.

What was your first job after graduation?
I served as the graduate assistant for the freshman football team and a first line supervisor.

What makes you most proud to be a Georgia Bulldog?Chuck Kennebrew as a student at UGA
I am most proud of carrying on the legacy of being part of The Five, the first Black football players at UGA, and I am proud of graduating with my BSED.

What’s one story that stands out from your time as a UGA student?
My time as a member of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity stands out because it helped me to develop my philosophy of being an inclusive servant leader.

What were you involved in outside of the classroom as a student?
As a student, I was on the football team, in Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, and was a member of the Black Student Union

What was your favorite place to study as a student?
My room in McWhorter Hall, which unfortunately no longer exists.

Share a graduation memory.
My first grade teacher came to see me graduate from UGA.

What has been the most significant change to the physical campus since you were a student?
The athletic facilities have expanded exponentially since I graduated in the 1970s.

What is your favorite UGA tradition?
Hanging out with my fraternity brothers at the diamond.

Who is your most disliked athletic rival?
Alabama and Georgia Tech for sure.

What is your No. 1 tip to a fellow Georgia grad who has lost touch with their alma mater?
Come home and find a way to give back.

For more information about Chuck’s involvement within UGA—both on and off the football field—go check out this extensive profile we ran about him in 2021.

UGA Alumni Association welcomes new board and council members for 2022-2023

The University of Georgia Alumni Association has added nine alumni to its board of directors and 27 alumni to the leadership councils for the Black Alumni, Latino Alumni, Women of UGA, and Young Alumni affinity groups.

“These alumni volunteers are passionate about helping their fellow graduates sustain lifelong relationships with UGA,” said Meredith Gurley Johnson (BSFCS ’00, MED ’16), executive director of alumni relations. “I am so excited to work with each of them and to see them represent the perspectives of our diverse alumni population across the country.”

Alumni joining the board of directors July 1 include:


Rodney L. Brooks (MS ’03)
Beginning Farmer Regional Coordinator, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Leesburg, Georgia

Danelle Faust (BBA ’95)
Consulting Managing Director, Accenture
Deerfield, Illinois

Eddie Garrett (BSA ’06, MBA ’08)

Executive Vice President of Strategy, Current Global
Chicago, Illinois

Selby Hill (ABJ ’14)

Founding Partner / Director of Operations, Yonder Yoga
Atlanta, Georgia

Chuck Kinnebrew (BSED ’75)

Retired / Former VP of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Floor and Decor
Smyrna, Georgia

Christy Plott (BBA ’02)

Partner, American Tanning and Leather LLC
Griffin, Georgia

Ameet Shetty (BBA ’96)

Chief Data Officer, Pilot Flying J
Knoxville, Tennessee

Brian A. StoneBrian Stone (BSFR ’99, MFR ’01)

Director of Business Development, Forest Resource Consultants, Inc.
Macon, Georgia

Scott Williams (AB ’86)

Director of Multimedia Sales, SEC Network
Ellenwood, Georgia


The following alumni have joined the affinity group leadership councils to help build a community among specific alumni populations, including young alumni, women, Black alumni, and Latino alumni.

Black Alumni Leadership Council  


Richard Bedgood (AB ’91)
Senior Instructor, CarMax
Mableton, Georgia



Cherise Brown (MBA ’18)

Senior Manager of Services Sourcing, Salesforce
Lithonia, Georgia

Rodd Cargill (BBA ’10)

Neuroscience Senior Sales Specialist, Johnson and Johnson
Johns Creek, Georgia



Willie R. Mazyck Jr. (BEEd ’04, MEd ’06, MBA ’14)

Global Head of Talent Development, Danaher Corporation
Powder Springs, Georgia

Tinisha Parker (BEEd ’00, EdS ’07)

Executive Director of Student Services, Gwinnett Public Schools
Lawrenceville, Georgia


Candace M. Stanciel (AB ’02, MPA ’11)

Principal and Founder, The Common Good Agency
Atlanta, Georgia

Donjanea Fletcher Williams (ABJ ’00)
Evaluation Coordinator, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Newnan, Georgia

Tangela M. Williams (BBA ’89)

First Vice President of Capital Adequacy Management, Truist Bank
Atlanta, Georgia




Current council member Jacinta Smith began her one-year term as president of the Black Alumni Leadership Council on July 1.

Latino Alumni Leadership Council  


Wilheem Perez (BBA ’21)
Vice President, Compliance Business Control Manager, Citibank
Kennesaw, Georgia

Christopher Perlera (AB ’07)

Founder and Principal, Critical Point Consulting LLC
Chamblee, Georgia

Jasmin Severino (AB ’13, AB’13)

Associate, Chamberlain Hrdlicka
Atlanta, Georgia

Leopoldo Vargas (AB ’19)

Regional Outreach Coordinator for Northeast Georgia, Office of U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff
Fayetteville, Georgia




The Latino Alumni Council will continue to operate under the leadership of President Juan Mencias, who was recognized with the UGA Young Alumni Award in April.

Women of UGA Leadership Council  


Odufa Aburime (BBA ’02)
IT Clinical Business Analyst, Georgia Dept. of Behavioral Health and Development Disabilities
Decatur, Georgia

Shontel Cargill (BS ’10)

Regional Clinical Director, Thriveworks
Johns Creek, Georgia

Tunisia Finch Cornelius (BA ’04)

Owner and M.D., Divine Dermatology and Aesthetics
Atlanta, Georgia


Nicole R. Ingram (AB ’02)

Director of Programs and Special Initiatives, Emory University
Ellenwood, Georgia

Victoria Inman (ABJ ’08)

Director of Client Success, Jabian Consulting
Marietta, Georgia

Anna Wrigley Miller (AB ’14)

Public Service Faculty, Carl Vinson Institute of Government—University of Georgia
Watkinsville, Georgia

Karson A. Pennington (AB ’20, AB ’20, MA ’20)

Doctoral Candidate, University of Georgia
Athens, Georgia

Mandy Rodgers (AB ’08, ABJ ’08)

Founder and CEO, Mandy Kay Marketing
Atlanta, Georgia




Current council member Brandie Park began her one-year term as president of the Women of UGA Leadership Council on July 1.

Young Alumni Leadership Council  


Jay Butler (AB ’10)
Flight Attendant, Frontier Airlines
Johns Creek, Georgia

Melissa Crane (BBA ’18, MA ’19)

Associate Brand Manager, Newell Brands
Atlanta, Georgia

Jessica Davis (AB ’21, AB ’21)

Juris Doctor Candidate and Clinical Legal Fellow, University of Georgia School of Law
Athens, Georgia


Nash Davis (BBA ’19)

Sales Executive, AssuredPartners
Statesboro, Georgia

Bailey Dryden (AB ’20)

Juris Doctor Candidate, Georgia State University College of Law
Smyrna, Georgia

Ammishaddai Grand-Jean (AB ’19, AB ’19, MPA ’20)

General Manager, RAS Medical Solution
Jonesboro, Georgia

Cameron Keen (AB ’18, AB ’18, JD ’21)

Law Clerk to Justice Charles J. Bethel, Supreme Court of Georgia
Atlanta, Georgia

Christie Moore (AB ’10, AB ’10)

President and CEO, Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce
Valdosta, Georgia




Current council member Maranie Brown began her one-year term as president of the Young Alumni Leadership Council on July 1.

To view the full list of UGA Alumni Association board members, visit To view the member roster for each affinity group leadership council, visit

Representation matters

In honor of Black History Month, the UGA Mentor Program highlights the warm relationship between two outstanding student mentees, current UGA law student, Sydney Cederboom (AB ’21, AB ’21), and Belen Gad, Class of 2022, and their phenomenal mentor, Stacey Chavis (MSL ’19).

The UGA Mentor Program understands that representation matters. Students want to feel seen and validated by a mentor who shares aspects of their identity. Advice from a mentor who previously dealt with a common circumstance is more credible than recommendations from someone who has never had to handle the same situation.

“I would encourage all our Black alumni to mentor,” says Stacey. “Open yourself to the process. There are so many resources available to help guide you in building a relationship. Mentoring opened my eyes to different things and I learn a lot in return.”

“I’m not alone in my experiences”

In honor of Black History Month, the University of Georgia Mentor Program is highlighting the support available to Black male students through a partnership with the Georgia African American Male Experience (GAAME) Scholars Program.

Jakhari Gordon (Class of 2025) is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Computer Systems Engineering in UGA’s College of Engineering, far from his Virginia home. He considers himself a family-oriented person, but has learned to stand on his own two feet at UGA thanks to support from others who traveled the same path before him.

“UGA has a community around it and a very big alumni network; UGA is full of opportunity” said Gordon. He took advantage of those opportunities, becoming involved in the Georgia African American Male Experience (GAAME) Scholars Program and the UGA Mentor Program.

The GAAME Scholars Program provides holistic support to undergraduate African American male students who are seeking to enhance their UGA experience through activities that honor and affirm their identities. It was through GAAME that Gordon met Marques Dexter (MS ’09, PHD ’24), interim director of the program, who encouraged him to join the UGA Mentor Program.

“It’s been amazing to support students like Jakhari, particularly through the UGA Mentor Program,” said Dexter. “I know what it’s like being an out of state and far from home student, just like Jakhari. It was through connecting with others who looked like me–faculty, staff and alumni–that I was able to thrive at my institution. Having the privilege to instill the mindset that mentoring works, while emphasizing that I am where I am today because of mentorship, brings me full circle.”

Gordon found common ground with his mentor, Raymond Phillips (BS ’12, MBA ’18), and the two connected on many levels. In addition to being a senior technology and process improvement consultant in metro Atlanta, Raymond is a past president of the UGA Black Alumni Leadership Council.

“It was important that my mentor was a male African American like me. Growing up, I did not have much of a male influence,” Gordon said. “You think you’re the only person who has been through your situation, but I enjoyed talking with Raymond and seeing the differences and similarities between our times at UGA. The people ahead of us want to help us avoid  pitfalls. Everyone should look to connect with a mentor. That one person can change the course of what you’re doing or confirm the path you’re on.”

Dexter agrees, “My mentors saw more in me than I knew existed. The example my mentors set guides me now as I empower young men such as Jakhari to aim higher and dream bigger.”

Black alumni-owned Bulldog businesses bring pride to UGA

“Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.”

As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous voice rang out these words, he might have been speaking directly to the stellar UGA Black alumni who appear on this year’s Bulldog 100 list. Their businesses are among the top 100 fastest-growing enterprises owned or operated by UGA graduates.

Entrepreneurs. Risk-takers. Leaders. Movers and shakers. Culture-shapers. These business owners each earned a place of pride—first as students of intelligence, character and commitment to UGA and its values… and now they’ve extended that commitment as professionals to their communities and the people they serve there. Together, these UGA alumni bear witness to the value of a degree from the birthplace of public higher education in America.

We’re tremendously proud of these business leaders and their successful leadership within their communities, industries and organizations.

The Barnes Law Office

Latasha Barnes (AB ’05, AB ’05)

Latasha Barnes hung out the shingle for her law firm in 2015 to serve metro Atlanta in criminal, family and personal injury law. She’s earned a reputation as an effective litigator and skilled negotiator in dozens of trials and thousands of criminal cases. In 2016, Barnes was named Top 40 under 40 in Criminal Defense by the National Trial Lawyers. For the past four years, she has been named a Rising Star on the Georgia Super Lawyers listing, a distinction only received by 2.5 percent of attorneys in the state. As a student, Barnes served as president of the UGA Chapter of the NAACP from 2003-2004.


The Brogdon Firm LLC

Gino Brogdon Jr. (JD ’11)

Gino Brogdon launched The Brogdon Firm in 2014, and it didn’t take long for his reputation to spread. Brogdon has earned selection as a Super Lawyer Rising Star each year since 2017, and he was recently featured as an Attorney to Watch in Atlanta Attorney and Law Magazine. His firm specializes in cases of catastrophic injury, personal injury and wrongful death. Brogdon is also making his mark as a legal innovator, co-founding FourthParty with his wife, Melissa. The web-based application gives lawyers remote access to legal information. In 2021, Google For Startups awarded FourthParty $100,000 as a high-potential legal-tech startup.


Edwards & Hawkins LLC

Cameron Hawkins (JD ’08)  

Cameron Hawkins became a partner with Donald Edwards at Edwards & Hawkins in 2019, bringing an outstanding track record in personal injury, commercial litigation and immigration law to a venerable five-decade-old firm. Recognized in 2017 as a University of Georgia School of Law Young Alumni of Excellence, Hawkins’s other accolades include a Thompson Reuters selection as a 2021 Super Lawyer, a 2021 Super Lawyers designation and selection to the national Top 40 Under 40 Black Lawyers. Hawkins holds a passion for community service, serving as a program director for the Fulton County Youth Leadership Academy, among other roles supporting the development of youth and young professionals. He’s a proud member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.



George Azih (BBA ’03) 

George Azih launched his software company, LeaseQuery, in 2011 with his roommate, Chris Ramsey (BS ’05), while still working as a full-time accountant. The promise of the startup, which uses innovated software to help accountants and financial professionals reduce lease accounting errors, lured him into full-time entrepreneurship in 2014. Azih hasn’t looked back. From 2018 to 2019, LeaseQuery’s client base doubled from 500 to more than 1,000, and it’s grown since to more than 2,000 clients in 93 countries. The dynamic expansion landed Azih as a finalist for the prestigious Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year® 2020 Southeast Award. In 2020 and 2021, LeaseQuery was named the No. 1 fastest-growing Bulldog 100 business, making it the first company to receive that title two years in a row. On Azih’s LinkedIn profile, he describes himself as “Founder & CEO of LeaseQuery. Proud father. UGA Bulldog.”


OSC Edge

Tiffany Bailey (AB ’02)  

Tiffany Bailey has parlayed an English degree from UGA into a notable entrepreneurial career. After a post-college position with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, she founded OSC Edge in 2010. Her vision? Providing expert solutions in IT to government and businesses. As CEO and president, Bailey’s visionary management of day-to-day operations has led to contracts with IT clients and the Department of Defense. OSC Edge employs staff across the U.S. and in Puerto Rico. Bailey is an alumna of Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Small Businesses Program, a member of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association, and the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce.


YouthServ360 Inc.

Christina Guillen (AB ’04, AB ’04)
Hilary Carruthers (AB ’04, BSW ’04, MSW ’06, DRPH ’21)
Jazmin Briggs (AB ’05)

Christina Guillen graduated from UGA and went immediately into the classroom at age 20 with Teach For America. That influential experience led her back to Clayton County, Georgia where she was determined to transform local education. In 2008, she created YouthServ360 to help young people experience travel and community service, the gifts that transformed her own life. Students in YouthServ360 programs have now performed 100,000 community service hours, taken 40 college tours and attended 200 life skills workshops. With colleagues and fellow UGA alumnae, Hilary Carruthers and Jazmin Briggs, Guillen and YouthServ360 also launched 7 Pillars Career Academy, the first charter school in Georgia to allow students to set their own pace in curriculum and place of engagement.


Written by Charles McNair

Mentorship smooths the path for a first-generation UGA student

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Discover the joys of providing mentorship.

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

The Natural: UGA showed Jackie Mattison new trails to blaze

This story was written by Charles McNair. 

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

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

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

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

Tumbled, she might have said.

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

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

Jackie Mattison performing 1975

Jackie Mattison performing a gymnastics routine in 1975.

That day changed everything.

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

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

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

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

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

Mattison and her teammates blazed the trail for them.

A vault into cheerleading

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

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

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

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

Jackie Mattison gymnastics team 1976

Jackie Mattison with her gymnastics team in 1976.

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

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

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

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

UGA also readied Mattison for life after Athens.

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

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

She took that formula into the world.

Passing it forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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