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Q&A with Trey Jarrard (AB ’93)

Trey Jarrard (AB ’93) is the CEO of Renewvia Energy. He founded Renewvia Energy in 2008 to develop solar power systems in financeable favorable regions across the United States. Under his leadership, the company expanded internationally in 2013 to develop utility-scale solar in Uruguay and then, hybrid and standalone solar photovoltaic and battery-powered microgrids in the Marianas Islands in 2016, Kenya in 2018 and Nigeria in 2019. Today, Renewvia operates under an expanded mission not only to add value to its U.S. clients, but also to improve the quality of life for people who live in power challenged areas while providing above market returns for investors.

Trey came to Athens recently to speak to several classes and tour campus. We asked him a few questions to find out more about what he does, his company and how his time at UGA shaped his professional path.

What made you want to start your own business? And why this particular business?

Opportunistic timing with target market. Specifically the activation of substantial commercial tax benefit for renewables in the US led me into the solar sector.

How did your time at the University of Georgia impact your professional and personal path?

Peer connections made at UGA directly introduced a unique track that would otherwise not have manifested in any form. One specific UGA connection changed my professional path completely from one sector over a short period of time that resulted in me identifying the current opportunity I am pursuing.

What is your favorite part of campus to revisit? What brings you back or keeps you connected to UGA?

The campus has grown so substantially over the last 25 years, some areas are difficult to recognize but old campus remains my favorite.

What are you most proud of professionally?

Being part of the initial funding of a large publicly traded company and starting an international company.

Many governments, non-profits, and individuals are working to create a more sustainable society and a more sustainable economy. Where do you see Renewvia fitting in to these efforts? What role can your work play in building a better future?

Renewvia is directly contributing to multiple governments in sub-Saharan to help solve poverty through provision of affordable and reliable sustainable power. Every solar microgrid Renewvia builds in Africa directly replaces a form of fossil fuel, disposable batteries or solid fuel, thus avoiding and reducing carbon emissions. Providing power in these communities directly impacts health, productivity, safety and gender equality. Improvements in each of these areas provides the people of these communities a critical element for improving quality of life in multiple forms.

If you could give one piece of advice to students, what would it be?

Meet as many people as you can, get to know them, learn from them and stay in touch.

Hurricane Dorian

Hurricanes in Georgia: what you need to know from Dr. Marshall Shepherd

As hurricane season approaches its peak and storms are forming, we wanted to learn more about what to expect this year, how to prepare and what the future looks like for hurricane forecasting. For these pressing questions, we turned to Dr. Marshall Shepherd, who is director of the UGA Atmospheric Sciences program, the Georgia Athletic Association Distinguished Professor of Geography and Atmospheric Sciences, a Forbes contributor, the host of Weather Geeks on The Weather Channel, and the former president of the American Meteorological Society. Let’s just say he’s a big deal when it comes to weather and climate.

Marshall Shepherd

What does a typical hurricane season look like in Georgia?

We have not had an actual land-falling hurricane in over a hundred or so years, and interestingly, it’s because the coast of Georgia sort of aligns in such a way that there’s something in the Atlantic ocean called the Bermuda High, a large high pressure system. Because of the way the air circulates around that high pressure system in the northern hemisphere is a clockwise circulation, it means when those hurricanes are coming out of the tropics, they tend to end up on the left side of that high, and so they’re already starting to curve and head northward, so they don’t really sort of move into the coast. 

So I would say for hurricane seasons here in Georgia, although our coast can certainly be impacted by a land-falling storm, it is unlikely because of that curvature. However, as we saw in 2018 with Hurricane Michael and we’ve seen in the past with storms like Tropical Storm Alberto and even with Irma, it is possible. Hurricane season for Georgia is two-faceted: one in the sense that we theoretically can get land-falling hurricanes on our coast but we rarely do because of the curvature, and secondly, we often can get storms that move into our state once they make landfall elsewhere.

Hurricane Michael and Irma are good examples of that, and they also illustrate something that I always try to convey about hurricane impacts, which is that we shouldn’t get too fixated on category all the time, because the impacts associated with a storm like an Irma or a Michael can certainly impact us in Georgia.

Often hurricanes are downgraded to tropical storms by the time they get to Athens. What are the main threats that impact Athens in hurricane season?

With storms that are going to impact us in north and central Georgia, we’re typically going to see lots of rainfall. Even though the storm is weakened from a hurricane, as we saw with Irma or Michael, it still can have tropical storm force winds, which, coupled with rainfall, can be a hazard for falling trees, causing power outages. When storms make landfall in the panhandle of Florida, we can experience tornadoes in the outer rain bands as those bands spiral out to land. The worst impacts of a land-falling hurricane tend to be on the right-front quadrant of the storm, and so that’s where the worst storm surge is on the coast, but it’s also where you get the strongest winds and where you’re most likely to have those spin-up tornadoes.

Hurricane Dorian

What are some of the precautions Georgians can take to prepare for hurricane season?

Hurricane season for Athens is probably going to be rainfall, wind and loss of power, and so it’s important to prepare the way you would for any storm where you might lose power. Some things to have on hand:

  • Extra batteries
  • Your cell phone and extra charging capacity
  • Nonperishable food items in case you can’t cook for a while.

Before a storm arrives, remove items from your deck or outside your home that could become projectiles in 50 or 60 mile-per-hour winds. I recommend keeping an eye out for large trees around the home, because when you have a lot of rain and wind, those things can fall.

Editor note: UGA Extension reminds Georgians to put more than milk and bread in emergency food supply.

When does hurricane season begin for Georgia?

Typically, August tends to be like the first hill on a roller coaster. We can certainly get a very active season once we get into September and October. In August, the formation point for hurricanes tends to shift more to the western Caribbean, but by September we’re getting to what we call the Cape Verde hurricane season. We start getting waves coming off of the African coastline and some of them, if the conditions are favorable, can develop. [As of late August], the busiest part of the season still looms ahead of us.

What factors influence how active each hurricane season is in Georgia?

Various things. For example, if we’re in an El Nino, which we were for much of the past year, that can tend to lessen hurricane activity in the Atlantic Ocean and the Atlantic Basin because it brings the jet stream too far south and hurricanes don’t like a lot of wind shear. During La Nina, it tends to be the opposite because the jet stream stays to the north. So those are the background factors. We always start by looking to see if we’re in a La Nina, El Nino or a neutral year. I think we’re trending from a weak El Nino to somewhat of a neutral situation, which is perhaps why some experts have upped their estimations for this year’s activity.

Another factor for the Atlantic hurricane season that’s actually quite impactful right now is that there’s a lot of Saharan dust coming off Africa, and that dust actually can inhibit the formation of these waves. If you look at satellite images, there’s quite a bit of dust over the Atlantic ocean. Other than that, you just need warm water and not a lot of wind shear in the atmosphere, so if you can get all of those conditions and you can get these things to develop, then you can certainly get more active hurricanes. 

Now what determines where they go is dependent on the center of that high pressure system that I mentioned. If that thing is further out towards Europe, then as they start curving around, they’re going to curve out to sea. If that high is closer to the United States, then it’s more likely that they’ll curve and affect Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. So we’re always looking for the location of that semi-permanent high pressure system.

What kinds of research is UGA doing regarding hurricanes?

There’s research being conducted in various places across campus, including our Atmospheric Sciences program. My research group’s work is funded by NASA and is focused on the Brown Ocean Effect. It’s this notion that sometimes hurricanes, when they make landfall, don’t weaken as we expect, and they can maintain their strength or intensify if the soil is moist or it moves over a swamp or wet land mass. I have a group looking at that with a sophisticated mass of models; it’s really interesting hurricane and tropical cyclone work.

There’s interesting research out of the Skidaway Institute for Oceanography about these robotic drones, and they can plunge deep into the water and measure water temperature, salinity and some other things. That’s huge, because we often hear about hurricanes and the sea surface temperature, but it’s really the depth of the warm water, something we call the ocean heat content, so these drones allow us to learn about the structure of that deep water. One of the things that happens as hurricanes come along and tap into that warm water is they churn up water, and often they churn up cold water, which self-limits development. But if it’s churning up warm water, that’s still sufficient to support hurricanes. We’re pretty good with hurricane track forecasts, but hurricane intensity forecasts lag behind, and part of the reason is we lack the understanding of what’s going on in the deep ocean water, so I think that research by the University of Georgia is game-changing.

Is there anything else Georgians should know about hurricane season?

There’s a lot of fake information about weather out there on social media, so I would recommend people follow credible sources of information about weather. The first place I start is the National Hurricane Center.

Thank you to Dr. Shepherd for taking the time to share this information with us, especially as Hurricane Dorian threatens the Southeast in the coming days. Be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

How Computer Science became one of UGA’s most popular majors

Journalism, business administration, pharmacy, computer science: believe it or not, these majors are in ascending order of total enrollment at the University of Georgia.  

In fact, computer science has the fourth highest enrollment among all majors at UGA. And the graduate degree computer science program is the fastest growing program on campus, having seen a 60 percent enrollment increase from fall 2013 to fall 2018. 

Combine that with the undergraduate program’s 153 percent rise in enrollment in the last five years and you have, undeniably, one of UGA’s most popular departments. We talked with several CS alumni to ask them about their experience and find out more. 

Established in 1984, the Department of Computer Science in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences at UGA has expanded to include more than 195 enrolled graduate students and over 1,100 undergraduates. Lori Kittle (BS ’86) was among the first graduates with a degree in computer science.  

“I simply felt like the future would be all about the computer, although I certainly did not envision all the advances that have occurred,” said Kittle. Along with the coursework, Kittle said, “One of my favorite memories at UGA is making lifelong friendships with my fellow CS classmates.” 

Kittle attributes her successful career, including a stint as the Chief Information Officer at Landry’s, Inc.—a $4 billion restaurant, hospitality, and entertainment businessto her education at UGA. She demonstrated her appreciation of the department when she created a scholarship fund for computer science students. Kittle also serves on the department’s advisory board, which provides industry input that helps guide curriculum for the program.  

Like Kittle, Maja Culum (BS ‘19) chose to study computer science because she knew “coming into the university that technology was becoming prevalent within every field,” and there was no way around interacting with it. Culum, who was hired full-time in the UI/UX department at NCR Corporation, believes studying computer science at UGA allowed her to “choose a role within the tech industry that suited her strengths and interests.” 

“That’s what I like most about Computer Science: it’s never limiting, and there’s so much to choose from,” said Culum. My experience in the Department of Computer Science at UGA was both challenging and incredibly rewarding. The professors are knowledgeable and always willing to help, which encouraged me to stick with the major despite the challenges. 

The comprehensive coursework and faculty expertise Culum credits have also led to the growing recognition of the department. Dr. Thiab Taha, UGA Computer Science department head, believes the diversity in research expertise and the increasing number of courses provides students the opportunity to choose the path they are most interested in.  

Students interested in engaging in technology-centric extracurricular activities can join one of many clubs and groups, including Data Dawgs or UGA Hacks, which hosts a hackathon every spring on campus. The UGA Computer Science department also houses the Institute for Cybersecurity and Privacy, which was designated a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Research (CAE-R) through academic year 2022. 

Muhammed Ahmed’s (BS ‘18) passion for problem solving drew him to major in computer science at the University of Georgia, but it was the countless opportunities available within the department that he loved most about his studies.  

“Majoring in computer science helped me secure my dream job,” said Ahmed, a data scientist at Mailchimp. “The program provided me with a strong technical foundation and the soft skills I need to communicate effectively. I had the chance to learn through clubs, research projects, hackathons and many on-campus events.” 

All of the above are reasons a firm like Forrester Research calls Atlanta one of the US’ five elite tech talent markets. As businesses continue to take advantage of this rich market, UGA CS graduates are reaping the benefits, finding positions in global organizations like NCR, The Home Depot and AT&T.  

There appears to be no slowdown in the rise of computer science at UGA, either. Employers and partners of the university are finding new ways to directly engage students through career and internship fairs, UGA Hacks’ hackathon, student organizations and industry panels. And as UGA CS alumni continue their career progression and become the leaders of those employers and UGA partners, UGA’s tech talent pipeline will only become stronger. 

Megan Reeves (AB ’18) is working to preserve the future

We all have favorite destinations: the sunny Miami beaches, the picturesque Grand Teton Mountains, The Great American City of Chicago, charming Savannah and the buzzing Big Apple. We want to share these places we love with friends and family, and incorporating sustainability into our lives ensures we will always be able to do that.

Megan Reeves (AB ’18) grew up with Stone Mountain in her backyard. She and her family spent weekends hiking, visiting national parks, and enjoying the outdoors, all of which sparked an interest in sustainability. The value of sustainable practices solidified for Megan when, as a communication studies major, she worked towards earning the Certificate in Sustainability at the University of Georgia.

The Sustainability Certificate, created in 2016, was a response to requests by students for more sustainability education in the university’s curriculum. The program aligns with UGA’s 2020 Strategic Plan that declared leadership in sustainability research, education and service would become “hallmarks” of the university.

“The Certificate in Sustainability provides students with foundational knowledge and leadership skills to create systemic change, add value to businesses, and improve the world. Our students learn by doing: working in interdisciplinary teams to develop sustainable solutions to real-world challenges and community needs,” said Kevin Kirsche, director of the Office of Sustainability at the university.

Megan Reeves and colleagues

Left to right: Dr. Ron Balthazor, Megan Reeves, and Melissa Ray

In Megan’s opinion, the uniqueness of the Sustainability Certificate program comes from the diverse coursework and the differing educational backgrounds of students united by a common passion for sustainability. The interdisciplinary approach of the certificate, supported by 10 schools and colleges, provides a holistic education for students, who take courses in three spheres of sustainability—ecological, economic and social—taught in an array of departments. At the program’s conclusion, students complete hands-on capstone projects that tackle a variety of sustainability challenges.

Megan has had the privilege of watching the program flourish from the first small cohort of 20 students to 160 current students. The program opened many doors for Megan. The most influential experience Megan had during the program was working as the Sustainability Certificate Intern alongside Dr. Ron Balthazor and Melissa Ray, both of whom oversee the program. During the internship, Megan met with a wide variety of students, spreading the word on the new program, and she worked alongside people she calls “the most uplifting and outstanding individuals.”

Dr. Balthazor says Megan “embodies the very best of what we hope for in students in the Sustainability Certificate program.”

“Like so many of our students, she sees the challenges we face with clear eyes and diligently and enthusiastically works toward solutions,” said Dr. Balthazor. “Her interesting mix of sustainability-focused course work and her experience in internships and our capstone project all give her perspectives and skills that she brings to her ongoing work in sustainability.

“She is, in every way, an inspiration to me, and I know she will accomplish so many good things. She gives me great hope.”

Today, Megan works on the Recycling and Waste Division team at Cox Conserves. This branch of Cox Enterprises focuses on enhancing sustainability within all extensions of Cox and the communities they serve. The division, launched in 2007, has ambitious goals, including being zero-waste-to-landfill by 2024 and carbon- and water-neutral by 2044. Megan believes her time in the Sustainability Certificate program prepared her to be successful at Cox Conserves.

Megan and Hairy Dawg

Megan and Hairy Dawg pose for a photo on North Campus.

Dr. Balthazor and Melissa remind their Sustainability Certificate students to “remember the why” behind sustainability: people. As a part of the sustainability industry, Megan now sees the value of this wisdom. It’s easy to get caught up in debates around sustainability, but we must remember the end goal: preserving the places we love for the people we love.

Because of her experience in the Sustainability Certificate program, Megan has two pieces of advice to others hoping to follow a similar path. The first: don’t be afraid to pick people’s brains, because doors will open when you ask questions and show your curiosity. The second: always go back to the “why.”

If you are interested in giving to advance sustainability initiatives at the University of Georgia, please demonstrate your commitment to Sustainable UGA.

National Dentist’s Day 2019 – Dr. Vy Do (BS ’10)

Dr. Vy Do (BS '10) in front of a dental clinic he volunteered his talents at in Kikiyu, Kenya.

Dr. Vy Do (BS ’10) volunteering at a dental clinic in Kikiyu, Kenya.

Is there a better feeling than freshly cleaned pearly whites? We owe halitosis-free breath and healthy gums to our fearless dentists, without whom the world would have far less smiles! On National Dentist’s Day, we’d like to recognize all those who care for our toothy grins.

Dr. Vy Do (BS '10) celebrated his 30th birthday at Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia and brought his UGA pride with him.

We have many alumni who go on to become dentists – take Dr. Vy Do (BS ’10), for example. Vy is an associate dentist at several Atlanta-area practices, treating everyone from young children to grandparents. He believes that his varied experiences and interests at UGA prepared him for his career and gives back to his alma mater to make a difference for current and future students.

Learn more about Vy’s UGA experience – from studying abroad in Italy to playing in the university orchestra – and his journey to become a dentist here.

A special thanks to Vy for being a lifelong supporter of UGA – and thank you to all of our dentists for reminding us to floss. Happy National Dentist’s Day!