Get to know the Georgia Women Give executive committee

Georgia Women Give is a nationwide, women-directed fundraising group inviting more women to become philanthropists and engage more deeply with the University of Georgia. Founded in the spirit of The First 12, the first women to attend UGA, the group is committed to philanthropy, community and learning. 

GWG concentrates giving and increases impact by asking donors to designate their gifts to any of three specific funds: a merit-based scholarship fund, a study away support fund and an unrestricted fund that will send money to high-priority areas as directed by an executive committee. 

The Georgia Women Give executive committee is comprised of: 

Elizabeth Correll Richards, Chair, Atlanta, GA  

Cortney Beebe (AB ’98), Naples, FL  

Suzy Deering (BSFCS ’92), Bluffton, SC  

Ali Gant (AB ’01, MPA ’11), Chattanooga, TN  

Erika Lane (BBA ’93), Athens, GA  

Stephanie Powell (BSED ’94, MED ’97, EDS ’99), Statham, GA  

Diane Smock (AB ’74), Greenville, SC 

We asked them a few questions about who they are, their connection to UGA, and more. 

What is your proudest professional accomplishment?

Cortney Beebe: I was in charge of the 2005 Superbowl for Alltel in Alltel Stadium. We took 500 customers and clients, split up and stayed in three locations for three days and I didn’t lose anyone. All were alive and accounted for on Monday morning. 

Diane Smock: The Upstate Mediation Center is the sole provider of mandated mediation services on a sliding fee scale to litigants who otherwise would not have access to mediation. When it lost its funding, I was hired to oversee its closing. Instead, I was able to secure sustainable funding and otherwise improve the internal operations. Twenty years later, the UMC is still in operation and is thriving. 

What’s your favorite UGA-related memory?

Elizabeth Correll Richards: In 2017, UGA played Notre Dame. Both of my children were students at Georgia and all their friends wanted to go to the game, but it was expensive. So, I rented an RV, loaded 13 sophomores and seniors in the RV with my husband and drove to South Bend, Indiana, where we rented a house near the stadium. It was a weekend for the books. 

Ali Gant: Without a doubt, it was the summer of 1999. I was so lucky to be selected as one of 12 Orientation Leaders. That summer shaped the rest of my life: the way I lead both small and large groups, the way I can work as a part of a team of dynamic individuals and, most importantly, the fact that I met my husband. We didn’t get married for five more years, but that summer planted the seeds for the rest of my life. 

What constitutes a perfect day for you?

Cortney: No alarm, a stack of pancakes, a good workout (optional), then pack a cooler and spend all day on the beach with an amazing book. Then, a hot shower, dinner with my hubby and great friends, and head to bed early. Rinse and repeat. 

Diane: Waking up early to enjoy coffee, the New York Times (in hard copy!), and chatting with my husband before our busy days begin. Spending the day hiking in the nearby mountains with a few friends, then coming home to sit by the fire while enjoying a glass of wine or cup of tea and getting lost in the pages of a good book.

Stephanie Powell (left) and Diane Smock at the 2024 Georgia Women Give spring event’s signature luncheon.

What trait do you consider to be your “superpower?”

Erika Lane: My superpower lies in my organizational skills and ability to self-motivate. Balancing the daily demands with the beautiful things in life that keep you going: family, friends, travel and a little tennis. 

Suzy Deering: Being a Christian female in male-dominated industries. It allowed me to be empathetic and vulnerable which truly was a superpower.

Elizabeth: The ability to stay up late. It never bothered me when my kids pulled an all-nighter or needed a late-night ride. I am generally up until 3 a.m. – but don’t schedule anything for an early morning, I hate those! 

Elizabeth Correll Richards speaks at the 2024 Georgia Women Give spring event’s panel discussion.

Who is the woman you most look up to? Why?

Stephanie Powell: Laura Bush and Dolly Parton. These ladies are both classy, iconic women who know how to get a job done with grace and grit. 

Suzy: My grandmother was an amazing God-loving soul who stood tall and strong and provided unconditional love and a listening heart. I’m grateful my mom followed her mother’s footsteps and continues to fill that role. My mom is one of the strongest women I know. 

What traits do you value most in your friends?

Erika: When it comes to friendships, I value honesty, trust, and openness. Someone who will show up at your door with a bottle of wine – sometimes to laugh, sometimes to cry and hopefully many times to celebrate. 

Ali: I appreciate friends who, first and foremost, value kindness above all else. I also value friends who send me funny memes. 

Ali Gant speaks with an attendee of the annual Georgia Women Give spring event luncheon.

What were your favorite things to do with friends during your time at UGA?

Diane: As soon as the weather started to warm up after a chilly winter, several of us would wake at sunrise, pile into a car, and drive for hours to Sea Island, Tybee Island or even Panama City beach for a weekend of sun and fun, then drive back on Sunday night, sunburned and happy. 

Stephanie: During my time at UGA, you could find me Between the Hedges on game days as a Georgette, at the Zeta house, Spanky’s, listening to live music at the Georgia Theatre or (believe it or not) at Legion Field, which was a fun gathering spot for outdoor concerts and student events.

Lisa Sarajian is living la vie en rose

A passion for the arts led Lisa to study abroad. Now, she helps Bulldogs who want to do the same. 

When Lisa Sarajian (BBA ’82) was a student, Athens felt imbued with a certain kind of magic. The city’s music scene was reaching its peak with the emergence of beloved bands like R.E.M., Pylon and the B-52s. As a freshman, Lisa spent her time after classes listening to bands play on Legion Field, exploring the growing downtown area and taking walks through UGA’s beautiful historic North Campus.  

An international business major with a passion for the arts, Lisa loved immersing herself in Athens’ cultural scene. She could frequently be found wandering the galleries of the Georgia Museum of Art and attending free classical music concerts on North Campus. Music was at the center of life in Athens and the sound of live concerts spilled out onto sidewalks everywhere… on campus, downtown and in public parks.  

“I just found there was always something fun to do,” Lisa said. 

Lisa’s favorite Saturday afternoon activity was going to film screenings. A native of Marietta, Georgia, she hadn’t had as much access to the arts as she had wanted to growing up, and the thriving cultural scene she had become a part of was absolutely invigorating for her. Moving out of the suburbs to live in Athens opened up her world. 

“It was my first introduction to foreign and independent films,” she said. “I would take some French classes and go to a French film festival.” 

When Lisa learned about an opportunity to study abroad in France for the summer of 1979, she was thrilled. The trip, which focused on the arts, led her to Normandy, Paris and the Loire Valley.  

  • Lisa (second from left) in Loire with friends on her study abroad trip in 1979.
  • Lisa (second from right) with her host family on her study abroad trip in 1979.
  • Lisa on a trip to Paris in 2004.
  • Lisa took her father, a career naval aviator, on a trip to Normandy in 2007.
  • Lisa (second from left) with her sister and nieces on a trip to Paris in 2010.

“It was such a transformative experience for me,” she said. “I knew that I wanted to bust out at some point and see the world and broaden my horizons and I would not have had that opportunity otherwise.” 

After graduating from UGA, Lisa went on to her first job, a role in finance she gained with the help of UGA’s career services department, now centralized in the Career Center. She worked in a few different jobs in the finance and advertising industry before moving to New York City to start her job at Standard & Poor’s, where she worked for almost three decades.

Lisa remembers her study abroad trip as one of the most meaningful experiences of her time at UGA, but she also understood firsthand how finances could be an obstacle for students hoping to study abroad. She had been unable to work a summer job that year, which was an important source of support through her time at UGA.  

Lisa wanted to make it possible for more students to have a life-changing experience abroad like she did, so she created a study abroad scholarship. 

“I was drawn to this opportunity as a way to give back and to give other people that opportunity as well, particularly kids who would not otherwise have the means to travel,” she said. 

After her retirement in 2015, Lisa went back to school, earning certificates in gardening through the New York Botanical Garden and studying French. Today, she lives on the Upper West Side of New York City. She is a board member and consultant for various nonprofits in her area, including The Trust for Public Land, and an active member of the West Side Community Garden, where she maintains a plot. She stays connected to her friends from UGA with regular lunch dates, and she returns to France as often as she can.


Project Red grows campus impact thanks to student donors

Period poverty, or a lack of access to proper menstrual products and the education needed to use them effectively, has affected billions of people around the world. Project Red hopes to change that, one free biodegradable menstrual product at a time – and with the support of thousands of Senior Signature donors, the student organization is ready for the challenge. 

Project Red, a UGA student organization formed in May 2020, works with UGA’s Facilities Management Division to place free biodegradable menstrual products in all-gender restrooms in 11 central locations on the UGA campus. The group also fosters discussions about menstrual health and period poverty, conducts research to identify needs and menstrual equity concerns among the student body and serves as a model for other organizations throughout the Southeast. 

Project Red was initially supported by a grant from Aunt Flow, a menstrual product provider, and a 2020 Campus Sustainability Grant from UGA’s Office of Sustainability. As the organization grew and awareness of its work increased, Project Red’s resources struggled to meet demand. It needed financial support to continue to make an impact. 

That support came in 2023, when Project Red was chosen to receive the 2022-2023 Class Gift. The group used the $6,000 donation to purchase two new dispensers, 15,000 menstrual products, and a series of promotional materials. It also reserved funding for future expenses to expand their reach on campus and continue to combat period poverty at UGA. 

Senior Signature

The Class Gift is coordinated by the Student Alumni Council and funded by Senior Signature, an annual giving campaign for graduating students to give back to campus by contributing to areas that were significant to their UGA experience. Each student’s minimum contribution is $30, with $10 supporting the Class Gift initiative and the other $20 being directed to a fund of the student’s choosing. UGA student organizations are eligible to apply for the Class Gift each spring to receive funds for the following academic year. Senior Signature donors vote on the final Class Gift recipient. 

“By being able to select the class gift, students are making their mark on UGA,” said Emily Neece ’25, the Student Alumni Council’s vice president of philanthropy. “The graduating class gets to support something that will help other students and leave a legacy.” 

With the collective support of Senior Signature donors, Project Red is able to continue to meet student needs across campus — but Senior Signature’s impact does not stop there. The Class of 2024 will select another organization as the recipient of its Class Gift. During the 2024-2025 academic year, this organization will receive up to $6,000 to support their work within our campus community.


Celebrating a legacy of giving

This year’s Heritage Society Tailgate (on November 4 prior to the UGA vs. Missouri game) was a tremendous success. It is always a great time when our members gather for food, drink and game day fun. Check out the photo gallery from this year’s festivities. As always, it’s great to be a Georgia Bulldog! 

Want to attend next year and celebrate your commitment to UGA? All it takes is becoming a member of the Heritage Society. Learn how you can help ensure UGA’s future, make a positive impact, cement your legacy and maybe even enjoy tax benefits. It’s easier than you might think! Contact the Office of Gift and Estate Planning for more information about joining the Heritage Society. As you can see from the photos, they’re a fun bunch. 


UGA giving challenge leaves Gators seeing double (Ls)

The University of Georgia and the University of Florida squared off twice this past week—once on the field in Jacksonville, and once in Beat Week 2023, a head-to-head giving challenge—and the Bulldogs came out on top in both. 

Beat Week is a week-long giving challenge where UGA and another university compete to see who can drive their supporters to make more gifts over the course of a week. UGA went head-to-head with Auburn University for the past three years—with the red and black winning each time—before taking on Florida.  

With a strong reputation in the fundraising world, UF was looking for a win, but the Bulldog faithful kept UGA in the lead throughout the week. Georgia’s Beat Week victory was nearly as resounding as the one in EverBank Stadium. 

UGA – 4,156 

UF – 3,339  

Donors of all stripes contributed to the win—alumni, students, parents, faculty, staff, and friends of the university—and UGA staffers from all corners of campus worked for months to mount the effort that earned the university its fourth consecutive Beat Week win. 

Beat Week raised over $1.5 million to numerous areas at UGA, including scholarships, research, academic programming and much more. Kirby Smart’s Dawgs proved their No. 1 ranking on Saturday, but Bulldog Nation proved theirs all through the week. 

Thank you to everyone who made Beat Week a win! Go Dawgs! And Later, Gator! 

Leadership program accepting nominations

This story, written by Charlie Bauder, was originally published on UGA Today on Aug. 3, 2023.

The University of Georgia continues to accept nominations for rising 10th and 11th graders to participate in the inaugural Youth LEAD Georgia class in January 2024.

This past January, UGA received a $1.5 million pledge from Chick-fil-A Inc. to support the development of Youth LEAD Georgia, a new UGA-led statewide youth leadership program, as well as an annual youth leadership summit at UGA.

Students participating in Youth LEAD Georgia. (Photo by Charlie Bauder)

Students participating in Youth LEAD Georgia. (Photo by Charlie Bauder)

“Communities of all sizes continue to nominate outstanding youth to participate in the program,” said Matt Bishop, director of the UGA J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, which is creating and implementing both Youth LEAD Georgia and the annual summit. “We are excited about the interest in Youth LEAD Georgia and look forward to assembling an inaugural class that represents all corners of the state.”

Nominations will remain open through Sept. 1 and nominated youth will have until Sept. 30 to complete their application.

An adult must nominate students, after which the student and their parent or guardian will receive an email with a link to the application form. For the selection committee to consider students, they must complete the entire application form.

Youth LEAD Georgia participants. (Photo by Charlie Bauder)

Youth LEAD Georgia participants. (Photo by Charlie Bauder)

There is no cost for student participants. Meals, transportation for tours and program activities, and program materials are available through the pledge from Chick-fil-A. Those selected for the inaugural Youth LEAD Georgia class will be expected to attend all sessions and will be invited to the annual summit in July 2024 at UGA.

During Youth LEAD Georgia, Fanning Institute faculty will work with the youth to build their leadership skills, develop awareness of issues facing Georgia and explore ways to apply their knowledge to issues within their communities. Also, youth will learn more about postsecondary opportunities, businesses and industries in Georgia.

To support youth in applying those leadership skills, Rodney Bullard, CEO of Atlanta-based nonprofit The Same House, has made a $100,000 gift over the next three years to UGA. Bullard’s gift will provide funding for Youth LEAD Georgia participants to plan and implement specific projects in their respective communities.

“This new gift to UGA’s Youth LEAD Georgia program will not only benefit our participants but also help these youth have a meaningful impact in their communities,” said Bishop. “We appreciate Rodney’s commitment to the program, and we look forward to working with both him and Chick-fil-A moving forward.”

Such an effort aligns with the mission of The Same House, Bullard said.

“Inspired by other leadership programs, Youth LEAD Georgia is exactly the kind of program of collegiality and collaboration that we want to foster in tomorrow’s leaders and as a legacy to the state of Georgia,” Bullard said. “It covers three of our key focus areas: youth, education and training, and community improvement and development through the service projects the participants will undertake over the next three years.”

Bullard, along with fellow Georgia businessman and colleague Fred Hicks, has been instrumental in shaping the programming and curriculum.

UGA will announce the inaugural Youth LEAD Georgia class this fall.

Those wishing to nominate a youth for Youth LEAD Georgia may do so here.

For more information on Youth LEAD Georgia, click here.

Travon Walker’s TW Foundation Donates To UGA Athletics

This story was originally published on the UGA Athletics site on July 24, 2023.

Former Georgia Bulldog Travon Walker, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, has donated $44,000 to UGA Athletic Association via the Travon Walker Foundation.

“The University of Georgia has made a major impact on my career in many ways,” Walker said. “Without the University of Georgia, to be honest, I really don’t know where I would be at this point. I’m truly grateful that I went to the University of Georgia, which helped instill me with leadership, integrity and discipline. One of the main things that made me contribute and give back to the University of Georgia was just the simple fact that the university poured so much into me. UGA helped provide me with the opportunity to continue my journey and do things that I like to do, which are to play football and go to school to get a great education. Those factors played a major role in my decision to attend the University of Georgia, and I’m extremely thankful about that decision.”

Walker’s gift is part of the Foundation’s #BlessUp44 campaign. The initiative will annually donate $4,400 44 times, synonymous with the jersey No. 44 Walker has worn throughout his football career. The donation to UGA represents 10 of those offerings for 2023.

The Walker Foundation’s donation has been specifically ear-marked for UGA Athletics’ Sports Medicine program and the purchase of specific equipment to assist in both rehab and training.

“We greatly appreciate Travon’s generous donation through the Travon Walker Foundation,” said Ron Courson, the UGA Athletic Association’s Executive Association Athletic Director for Sports Medicine. “Travon represented the University of Georgia extremely well both on and off the field and continues to make positive impacts now through his play in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars and in the community through his foundation. The funds will be used to purchase a Kineo Intelligent Load system. Kineo is a new generation robotic machine from Italy designed for both rehabilitation and training. It offers a wide variety of testing and training capabilities and is the first unit that can test with both open chain and closed chain. This gives us outstanding functional training capabilities and will greatly benefit our student-athletes.”

Walker was a standout at Upson-Lee High School in Thomaston, Ga., where he was named first-team all-state in football and second-team all-state in basketball as a senior. He was ranked among the nation’s top-10 defensive line prospects in the Class of 2019 by every major recruiting services.

Walker blossomed at Georgia and started at defensive tackle in all 15 games during the Bulldogs’ 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship season. As a junior, he tallied 37 tackles, 6.0 sacks, 7.5 tackles for loss and a team-high 36 quarterback pressures, closing out his Georgia tenure with a career-best seven pressures in the national title win over Alabama. Walker was named SEC All-Freshman in balloting of league coaches in 2019 after recording 15 tackles, with 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. He helped clinch the SEC East title with a fourth-down sack at Auburn.

Walker became the fifth Georgia player to be selected first overall in the NFL Draft when he was chosen by the Jacksonville Jaguars. With the pick, Georgia tied Notre Dame, Oklahoma, and USC for the most first-overall picks by one institution at five. In his rookie season, Walker started 14 of 15 games played and recorded 49 tackles, 3.5 sacks, one interception, two passes defended and one forced fumble while helping the Jaguars reach the Playoffs for the first time since 2017.

About the Travon Walker Foundation 
The Travon Walker Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization committed to helping the youth of today be where their feet are. We show young people how to use their strengths to identify, plan, and pursue their passions. The Travon Walker Foundation aims to inspire the next generation of leaders, entrepreneurs, and community builders. The foundation’s focus areas include job creation in Thomaston, Ga., (Travon’s hometown); business and financial literacy for youth; youth sports facility & equipment improvements; and community development in Thomaston.

Support sports medicine at UGA

UGA three-year fundraising average hits record $235.1 million

Donors have long been a powerful source of progress at the University of Georgia, and the past year was no exception. Private donations to UGA in fiscal year 2023 reached $242.8 million, the second-highest fundraising total in the university’s history.

“I want to express my sincere thanks to each and every donor for helping us continue to elevate the University of Georgia to new heights,” said President Jere W. Morehead. “UGA would be a vastly different place without the generous support of our alumni, friends and the UGA Foundation. Private giving helps faculty members raise the bar in their fields, helps connect communities across Georgia to university resources, and helps students achieve things they never thought possible.”

From July 2022 to June 2023, 71,223 donors contributed to UGA, resulting in the third consecutive year—and sixth year of the last seven—that donations have surpassed $200 million. The university’s three-year rolling average, which averages the three most recent years of giving, rose to a record $235.1 million—the third consecutive year this number has risen and the sixth consecutive year it has exceeded $200 million.

“What is so special about the UGA community is that their support is not just strong, it is always so consistent” said Neal Quirk, who chaired the UGA Foundation Board of Trustees during FY23. “Year in and year out, our donors give generously, and that reliable support is so very valuable. No matter what economic conditions arise, the university and its students can thrive thanks to the backing of our great alumni and friends. It makes our entire board very grateful and very proud.”

Over the course of the year, donors endowed 16 faculty positions, bringing UGA’s total to 356, and created 158 scholarship funds. In total, private giving established 301 endowed funds, which will provide reliable, long-term funding to a multitude of areas at the university.

But these numbers tell just a small part of the story. Donor support for UGA took many forms during the 2023 fiscal year. Among them:

  • The UGA College of Engineering is significantly expanding its work in electric mobility thanks to a $5 million investment from Georgia Power Company—the largest single gift ever made to the college. This funding will create scholarships for students pursuing an e-mobility certificate, support e-mobility research and facilitate a statewide e-mobility network and community partnerships.
  • A new, women-directed fundraising group, Georgia Women Give, launched in March to invite more women to become philanthropists and deepen their engagement with UGA. Since then, the group of 75 founding donors have raised over $1.8 million, all directed to three funds supporting scholarships, study away and UGA priority areas.
  • The UGA Poultry Science Building continued to receive significant support, including the largest single gift toward the building to date: a $3 million pledge from the Luther and Susie Harrison Foundation. The building—a 70,000+ square foot, state-of-the-art facility on D.W. Brooks Drive—will help make UGA the global epicenter of poultry science. Its doors will open this fall, with classes beginning in spring 2024.
  • A gift of $1.5 million that, along with a previous commitment, established the John and Alice Sands Offensive Coordinator position on the football team.
  • Chick-fil-A pledged $1.5 million to develop a new statewide youth leadership program and annual summit. The Youth LEAD Georgia program will provide college- and career-readiness through leadership development for 30 to 40 rising Georgia high school sophomores and juniors each year, and the summit will take place at UGA, bringing together high school students from each of Georgia’s 159 counties.

The University of Georgia’s annual Dawg Day of Giving provided perhaps the best example of how widespread support for UGA has become. On March 30, donors contributed 11,091 gifts to UGA in 24 hours, setting a single-day giving record at the university for the second year in a row. Donors hailed from all 50 states, and their gifts totaled $5.6 million.

The annual Senior Signature student giving campaign also set a record this year, with 3,377 members of the Class of 2023 donating to the class gift program, which has been in place since 1991. Parents of UGA students set high watermarks as well when the Parents Leadership Council both raised and awarded over $1 million to benefit campus organizations.

“UGA’s status as a powerhouse of academics and athletics relies so much on donor support. We just can’t thank our generous supporters enough,” said Jill S. Walton, interim vice president for development and alumni relations. “Our successes are in large part thanks to them, so watching that support grow is exciting—just imagine where our students, our university and our state will go next.”

Alumni among new UGA Foundation leadership, members

Athens, Ga. – The University of Georgia Foundation Board of Trustees approved changes in leadership and board positions during its annual June meeting in Greensboro, Georgia. These individuals’ terms began July 1. 

The board voted unanimously to elect Allison C. Ausband as chair for a two-year term running through June 30, 2025. She succeeds Neal J. Quirk Sr., whose term concluded June 30. The board also elected trustees E. Howard Young as executive vice-chair, Bonney S. Shuman as secretary, and James G. Cochran Jr. (Guyton) as treasurer. 

The UGA Foundation elected three new trustees who will join current members to comprise a 46-member board. Those individuals include Yvette K. Daniels, Edward R. Castro and Mark L. Jennings. 

The board also accorded emeritus status to six trustees: Eleanor F. Banister, Mark B. Chandler Sr., Jennifer D. Flanagan, Ted McMullan, John H. Crawford IV and Barry L. Storey. 

Two advisory trustees, Mark A. Kauffman and R. Scott Kingsfield, were elected to assist foundation committees in defining and achieving their strategic goals. 

Individuals with new positions or status in relation to the UGA Foundation are: 


  • Allison C. Ausband, of McDonough, chair, is the executive vice president and chief customer experience officer for Delta Air Lines. She previously served as vice-chair, chair of the foundation’s Nominating and Trusteeship Committee, and strategic vice-chair. She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from UGA in 1983. 
  • E. Howard Young, of Atlanta, vice-chair, is president of General Wholesale Beer Company. He previously served as chair of the Student Scholarships and University Initiatives Committee, and strategic vice-chair, which oversaw the Development Committee, Student Scholarships and University Initiatives Committee, and Special Projects. He earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing from UGA in 1982. 
  • Bonney S. Shuman, of St. Simons Island, secretary, co-founded Stratix Corporation in 1983 and served as president and then CEO. She previously held the treasurer position, chaired the Finance Committee and, from 2017 to 2019, she was the UGA Alumni Association president. She earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from UGA in 1980. 
  • James G. Cochran Jr. (Guyton), of Carrollton, treasurer, is executive vice president and chief financial officer for Southwire Company, LLC. He earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from UGA in 1988. 

Elected Trustees

  • Yvette K. Daniels, of Stone Mountain, is the deputy director of workforce management for the Georgia Department of Public Health. Daniels is the immediate past president of the UGA Alumni Association. She earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from UGA in 1986 and a law degree from UGA in 1989. 
  • Edward R. Castro, of Atlanta, is the president of Ed Castro Landscaping in Roswell. He earned a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture from UGA in 1988. 
  • Mark L. Jennings, of Watkinsville, is the owner of Athens Construction Group, LLC. 

Advisory Trustees

  • Mark A. Kauffman, of Atlanta, is the retired former owner and president of Kauffman Tire, Inc., and Treadmaxx Tire Distributors, Inc. He earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from UGA in 1984. 
  • R. Scott Kingsfield, of Atlanta, is a partner with Luminate Capital Partners. 

Ex-Officio Voting Trustee

  • C. Lee Zell, of Atlanta, has succeeded Yvette K. Daniels as UGA Alumni Association president. Zell earned a bachelor’s degree from UGA in 1996, and is a national account executive with WBD Sports, the sports marketing and broadcast arm of Warner Bros Discovery. 

Family connection to UGA inspires commitment to giving and service

Charlene Johnson Benn (BS ’85) had a connection to the University of Georgia before she could even walk. She was named after Charlayne Hunter-Gault (ABJ ’63), who was an award-winning journalist, foreign correspondent, civil rights activist and one of the two first Black students to attend UGA. Benn has big shoes to fill, and she takes honoring her namesake’s legacy very seriously.

Charlene’s family bleeds red and black–she, two of her siblings, her goddaughter and her children attended UGA. Their family’s journey at UGA began when her older sister, Dianne East (BBA ’83, MACC ’86), made the decision to enroll.

Dianne and Charlene babysat as teenagers for a neighborhood family who was deeply connected to UGA, and the family encouraged them to apply. Although neither of the sisters’ parents had graduated from high school, they had encouraged their children to prioritize their education. Dianne enrolled first, next was their brother, Albert Johnson Jr. (AB ’82), then Charlene.

“It was a no-brainer by then,” Charlene said of her decision to attend UGA. It was the only college she applied to.

Charlene and Charlayne Hunter-Gault pose for a photo

Charlene and Charlayne pose for a photo in the UGA Chapel.

The start of a family legacy

The three supported one another during their time at UGA, all sharing one car on campus and meeting up frequently for football games and other activities. When the Georgia Bulldogs won the college football national championship in 1980, Charlene and Dianne were cheering on their brother as he played in the Redcoat Band. After Dianne joined Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Zeta Psi Chapter, Charlene joined the sorority as well, an experience she said helped bring her out of her shell and make the most of her college experience.

As a student, Charlene devoted herself to uplifting UGA’s Black community. She served as president of Delta Sigma Theta as well as being involved in Pamoja Singers and the Committee for Black Cultural Programs.

Charlene has continued her service to the university as an alumnus through her giving efforts and membership on the UGA Alumni Association Board of Directors. She has had the opportunity to meet her namesake, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, a few times, an experience which deepened her emotional connection to UGA even further.

She served on the Black Alumni Leadership Council, focusing on ensuring that all alumni feel a sense of ownership and passion for continuing the legacy of Charlayne Hunter-Gault and Hamilton Holmes through their giving and their support of diversity and inclusion.

Continuing the legacy

When it was time for her children and goddaughter to apply to college, Charlene strongly urged them to attend UGA because of her own experience. Both of her daughters and her goddaughter chose to attend and remember being impressed by Charlene’s love and commitment for the university years after her graduation.

Charlene and her sister were overjoyed that her children had chosen UGA because it continued their family’s legacy and deepened their own connections to the university. She showed her daughters around campus during their orientation, pointing out places that were important to her along the way—places at which her daughters would go on to make their own memories.

Peyton Fraser (BS ’14, BSED ’14), Charlene’s youngest daughter, said that coming to UGA “felt like a sense of home.”

“Our family legacy made our experience unique,” she said.

Charlene's daughters pose in the stands at a UGA football game

Charlene’s daughters, Taylor and Peyton, pose in the stands at a UGA football game.

The impact of giving

Charlene’s family ties to the university have inspired her to give back. Both she and her sister received scholarships to attend UGA and are very grateful for the contributions that helped make their time at UGA possible. The two created a need-based scholarship in 2020 in support of minority students. The scholarship, called the Albert and Naomi Johnson Scholarship, is named in honor of their parents and empowers students who otherwise may not have been able to attend college.

“We wanted to make a path for anyone who really wants to get an education,” Charlene said. “Small scholarship funds made all the difference for us.”

Charlene credits UGA with her professional success. She got her first job after graduating from UGA at SunTrust (now Truist) after meeting her boss, a fellow Bulldog, at a UGA job fair. The job launched her lifelong career in information technology and financial services. She currently works as senior director of operations and technology strategy at Fiserv, a financial technology company.

“I will tell anyone that my attendance at the University of Georgia has made all the difference in my life,” she said.