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What do you really know about bats?

Duh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh BAT … WEEK! Not what you were expecting? Neither was I until the Odum School of Ecology launched their Bulldogs for Bats campaign. Since then, I’ve learned a lot about bats that has completely reshaped my opinion. Much like the beloved DC Comics superhero who saves Gotham, bats are saving local ecosystems in the night and are often misunderstood. From Australia to right here in Athens, Georgia, bats serve as natural pest control and are essential pollinators of many plants.

So what’s Bat Week, you ask? It’s an international, annual celebration designed to raise awareness about the need for bat conservation. And it starts today! Did you know bats face risk of disease, habitat loss, pesticide use and wind energy, just to name a few? Diminishing numbers of bats pose a threat not only to the functioning of healthy ecosystems, but also to human well-being. Insect-eating bats, including the 16 species found in Georgia, save the U.S. agricultural industry at least $3 billion a year in pest control costs and crop damage. Bats also help control mosquito populations and may reduce the risk of emerging diseases, such as West Nile Virus, in the Southeast. This week, we’re spreading awareness about the vital role bats play, and how you can help save them.

Bulldogs for Bats is a campaign that’s been running the entire month of October to raise support for bat conservation efforts. All funds donated will provide local bats with a safe, sustainable environment while enhancing student learning and research opportunities. While many of our graduate students have conducted fieldwork research abroad, building bat houses in the community will provide students more chances for experiential learning and hands-on research right in our backyard.

So when you see some of these so-called “spooky” creatures on Halloween, think of the difference they’re making in our environment. And please consider saving the bats—what better time than during Bat Week?

Alumni turn their appreciation for the coast into an opportunity for a student

This story was written by Kelly Simmons and was originally posted to Outreach.uga.edu on July 8, 2019. 

You can see the salt marsh from nearly every room in Dorothea and Wink Smith’s Hilton Head home.

The activity varies with the tide. When the water is high, boats cruise through a channel that connects residents and businesses to the intercoastal waterway and the ocean. At low tide, you can walk out to the edge of the marsh where there might be wading birds, like herons, egrets and wood storks. Geckos perch on the wooden rail of the deck.

Their fascination with the marsh, its occupants and importance to the coastal ecosystem is what drew the Smiths from their home in Ohio to the South Carolina shore once they retired.

And it was that fascination that drew the Smiths to UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant on Skidaway Island, in neighboring Savannah.

“We live on the marsh, we walk on the beach,” Wink Smith (BBA ’72) says. “It fit right in.”

Since then, the Smiths committed money from the Patrick Family Foundation (Dorothea Smith’s family’s foundation) in Decatur, Georgia, to fund a summer internship at UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant on Skidaway Island for a UGA student interested in marine sciences. Their gift will endow one internship a year.

“We have an emphasis on education and community and being a part of anything that helps the environment,” Dorothea Smith (AB ’72) says of the foundation.

UGA offers summer internships in public education programming, communications, phytoplankton monitoring, marine careers, aquarium science, facilities operations and shellfish research at the Skidaway Marine Education Center and Aquarium.

“We went over there and were very impressed,” Dorothea Smith says. “We are facing ecological changes, and they’re on top of it.”

“The connection between us living here on the marsh and seeing what they’re doing with education made this scholarship opportunity push all the buttons we were looking for.”

Students supported by the Patrick Family Foundation Fund for the Smith Family Marine Summer Internship will have an opportunity to engage in a broad range of activities at the UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant facilities on Skidaway Island.

They can help care for the animals on display at the UGA Aquarium, learning to use scientific instruments commonly used in marine science research. They will have the opportunity to research specific behavioral and physical characteristics of several marine species, as well as their habitats and diet. They can shadow marine science researchers in the field and lab, learn about shellfish research, including oyster production at the UGA Hatchery, and perhaps apply their knowledge of marine science concepts in the design and execution of a research project.

“Summer interns in this role will gain a deep understanding of Georgia’s coastal habitats and the functions of coastal ecosystems,” said Mark Risse (BSAE ’87, MS ’89, PHD ’94), director of UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. “The Smiths recognize that this experience is fundamental to a student interested in becoming a marine scientist or education.”

Dorothea Patrick Smith, from Decatur, Georgia, and Wink Smith, from East Liverpool, Ohio, met as students at UGA. They honeymooned on Hilton Head and made a home for their three girls in Ohio, where Wink Smith worked in the ceramics industry.

They bought their house in Hilton Head five years ago and spend 9-10 months of the year there. They plan to sell their Ohio home and relocate there permanently.

Between living on the marsh and the early morning walks on the beach, they have found ways to get involved in local conservation efforts. During a recent morning walk, Wink Smith found an unmarked turtle nest on the beach and contacted the person on Hilton Head responsible for tracking the turtles during nesting season.

“With education and communication we’re all becoming better stewards of the beach, the ocean and the marsh,” Dorothea Smith says.

The Student Tour of Georgia: Not Your Average Spring Break

Spring break is a time when strangers and university faculty group together to get on a bus and learn about agricultural sustainability, economic development and every other aspect of the state of Georgia that the University of Georgia impacts.  

That’s not actually a traditional spring break, but it was spring break for the 25 students and various faculty members on the inaugural trip of the Student Tour of Georgia. Put together by the President’s Office, Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs and the Office of the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach, the Student Tour of Georgia was an experiential learning opportunity based off the longstanding New Faculty Tour created to teach students about what it means to be a land and sea grant university. 

Students went on a boat ride at UGA's Marine Extension.

Students visited UGA’s Marine Extension and went on a boat ride at sunset.

On the first morning of the trip, students heard from University of Georgia President Jere W. Morehead and Vice President of Public Service and Outreach Jennifer Frum about the importance of the trip ahead. With 25 students from various majors across campus as well as supervising faculty, the bus loaded up and headed out at 8am on Monday morning. 

Day 1: 

The tour’s first stop was Jaemor Farms. An hour outside of Athens, we learned about the multi-generational history of the farm from UGA alumna Caroline Black Lewallen (BSA ’11). We were each treated to a delicious fried pie or homemade ice cream. From there, the tour headed to Amicalola Falls to visit one of Georgia’s state parks, and the students climbed around 600 stairs to the top of the falls. At this point it was raining pretty hard, and everyone was thoroughly soaked and ready for a nice hot coffee or tea as we all got to know each other and participated in trust-building exercises at the Amicalola Falls Lodge.  

Day 2 

The second day of the trip started and ended in Atlanta. We started off the day by visiting the Capitol, and it was many students first time entering the building. We sat in on committee hearings and met the Incoming Vice President for Government Relations Toby Carr (BSAE ’01, BBA ’01), as well as put our photography skills to good use on the staircase. 

Students on the steps of the Capitol.

The second day of the tour started at the Capitol in Atlanta. Photo courtesy of the Office of Public Service and Outreach.

From there, we went to the Georgia Experience Center and heard from employees of Georgia Power about how they pitch the state of Georgia to companies who potentially want to open offices or factories here. After that, we went to the Center for Civil and Human Rights and individually toured the three floors of the museum. It was a moving way to remind ourselves of the injustices against human rights that are still happening across the world, as well as reflect on Atlanta’s role in the civil rights movement.    

Our final academic stop of the day was Ebenezer Baptist Church where we got to sit in the pews of the church where Martin Luther King Jr.’s family preached. We were told that the church had been made to appear how it looked on the day of Martin Luther King Jr.’s last sermon, which was played for us. It was a surreal experience to hear Martin Luther King, Jr.’s sermon in which he says what he would like his eulogy to be like, considering that sermon became his own self-eulogy. You can listen to that sermon here.   

We enjoyed a great dinner with UGA Young Alumni Leadership Council members Daniella Singleton (BS ’08, AB ’08), Shayla Hill (BBA ’08), Anna Reddish (BSA ’08, MADS ’09) and alumni Ryan Reddish (BSFR ’08, MFR ’10) and Black Alumni Leadership Council member Jacinta Smith (BS ’01, MS ’04, DRPH ’21) and past president Raymond Phillips (BS ’12, MBA ’18). 

Day 3 

Day three kicked off in Fayetteville for a tour of Pinewood Studios. Though we didn’t see any celebrities (and we couldn’t tell you if we did), it was cool to see where the Marvel blockbuster movies are filmed, and learn about the Georgia Film Academy and the “new urbanism” movement in nearby community Pinewood Forest. 

Students inside a sound stage at Pinewood Studios.

Students got to enter a sound stage at Pinewood Studios. Photo courtesy of the Office of Public Service and Outreach.

After that, we traveled to Macon for a lunch-and-learn. We heard about the economics behind Newtown Macon, an effort to revitalize the city, as well as the Ocmulgee National Historical Park. Our next stop was in Hawkinsville, where we learned about UGA’s Archway programs, and a Youth Leadership Program called LIFE League. From there, we traveled to Albany State University’s campus for a dinner where we learned about their disaster recovery progress in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael. Although Albany State’s students were also on spring break, we enjoyed meeting students from Howard University in Washington, D.C. who were there helping with recovery efforts on their own spring break “impact” trip. 

Day 4 

On the fourth day of the trip, we visited UGA’s Tifton Campus and learned about what students there are focusing on studying, including going on a tour of an incredibly energy efficient home as well as seeing a demonstration of a drone that can tell farmers how much water their fields need. We also visited UGA’s dairy research facility and pet baby cows, which was a really great time. 

Students pet baby cow at UGA's dairy research facility.

Students got quality time with baby cows at UGA’s dairy research facility.

At the Okefenokee Swamp, we learned all about alligators, including one named Crazy. We got to pet a baby alligator named Tiny, and then took a small boat tour through the swamp, followed by a train tour of another area of the swamp. 

Our last stop of the day was UGA’s Marine Extension on Skidaway Island, where we were greeted by none other than Uga X. Remember how petting baby cows AND baby alligators was really fun? We then got to pet and pose for photos with the best dawg, and that’s certainly a lot of students’ favorite memory from the trip.  

Day 5 

On the fifth and final day of the tour, we woke up in Savannah and went to the Georgia Ports Authority and learned about their work and took a tour of the ports. Next, we went to Gulfstream Aerospace and saw the process behind the construction of $60 million-dollar jets, as well as the creation of simulators for pilot education.  

Finally, we stopped in Washington County and enjoyed Dairy Lane milkshakes as we heard from UGA alumna Conni Fennell-Burley (BSHE ’88), an Archway Professional. It was, no pun intended, a sweet finish to the week.   

This summary doesn’t even begin to mention the time we spent as a group reflecting on what we had learned that day, starting snack delivery chains on the bus or playing silly bonding games. By the end of the week, we had perfected our group photo pose. While it wasn’t a traditional spring break, I believe an alternative spring break where we got to see so many places in Georgia made us all the more grateful to be at the University of Georgia. UGA is and will continue to be a landgrant and seagrant university that is committed to making a positive impact on not only the state, but the world.  

 

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See.Spark.Go gives 100+ UGA students hands-on experience

Brittany (ABJ ’04) and Andy Thoms (BSFCS ’02) married their passions for storytelling and entrepreneurship to establish See.Spark.Go, an Athens-based public relations agency with offices in Atlanta and Newport Beach, Calif., and 24 full-time employees. While building their successful business, they also provided an important training ground for UGA students by offering unique experiential learning opportunities.

Brittany, a Grady College of Journalism alumna, has a background in national-brand public relations, and Andy, a Family and Consumer Sciences alumnus, was born with a natural entrepreneurial mentality. Playing off their strengths, the couple opened a PR firm with the purpose of building relationships to drive results.

Relive your glory (glory) days

 

“We started See.Spark.Go because we really wanted to be choosy about the types of stories that we told as a PR agency,” Brittany said. “We had the short-term goals of living in Athens, starting our own business, and telling the best stories.”

From the beginning, interns have been an integral part of See.Spark.Go. The company started as a staff of three – Brittany, Andy, and an intern. As the first year went on, the couple realized how vital to the business their intern had become, so they continued to recruit students that were also passionate about the company’s mission.

Since its founding in 2007, the company has hired over 100 University of Georgia students as interns, and following the university’s 2016 implementation of an experiential learning requirement for undergraduate students, this internship opportunity has become even more valuable.

See.Spark.Go, an alumni-owned PR agency in Athens, has given hundreds of UGA students experiential learning opportunities as interns.

“I think it creates a win-win environment. Students get to see agency operations at a high level, and the business benefits from that youthful knowledge of what’s trending currently,” Andy said.

Kaci Pollack, now an employee of See.Spark.Go, started with the company as an intern.

“I really feel like my experience in Grady College was completely enhanced by my time as an intern at See.Spark.Go. They worked really well together to give me a well-rounded education. I think that’s what the company is able to do for our students who come from Grady,” Pollack said.

Through the internship program, students gain more than just the experience of working at a PR and communications agency. Brittany and Andy invite guest speakers to talk to the interns about other life skills, such as budgeting and resume development.

“At the end of the day, Brittany and I have a passion to see people discover their dreams. What better time to start dreaming than during your time as a university student?” Andy said.

The glue of experiential learning is UGA’s community partners, like Andy and Brittany Thoms of See.Spark.Go, who provide life-altering opportunities for students to cultivate their professional and personal development and in turn, gain immeasurable skills that will be poured back into our state and nation in the years to come.

See.Spark.Go’s trust in UGA students has paid off. After starting out in their Athens home and growing to a small office off Atlanta Highway, the agency moved to its current location, a charming house on Milledge Avenue. The company has since expanded to include offices in Atlanta and California, due to its growing team and burgeoning business, specializing in integrated communications and brand management for organizations such as fab’rik, Your Pie, Farm Burger, Kanakuk Kamps, Airstream, and All Pro Dad.

If your company is interested in partnering with UGA to provide experiential learning opportunities, please visit itstartswith.uga.edu/corporate.