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Where commitment meets community: Kristina Forbes (BS ’12) aligns global health initiatives

Kristina Forbes (BS ’12) wears many hats. As the vice president of operations for the Center for Global Health Innovation (CGHI), the University of Georgia alumna also works for an organization that addresses a broad topic with indeterminate reach: global health.

CGHI is an Atlanta-based nonprofit that represents over 250 organizations working together to address global health crises. CGHI also serves as the parent organization for several other entities such as the Global Health Crisis Coordination Center (GHC3), Georgia Bio and the Georgia Global Health Alliance.

With a broad role that comes with a wide reach, every day looks different for Forbes, from tackling information technology issues to planning a virtual awards dinner to directing overall strategy.

Forbes has always wanted to help people, but she never imagined that she would do it through science. She began her time at UGA as an education major but switched to psychology to better engage with people and understand the reasons behind their behavior.

Then Forbes participated in the Terry College of Business’s Institute for Leadership Advancement. While working with a nonprofit for the program’s service-learning project, Forbes found her passion for giving back.

Five days after graduating from UGA, Forbes started a job with the Atlanta Area Council of Boy Scouts of America. In this role, she found great purpose.

“I know what I was doing was making an impact,” Forbes said. “I know my work was important.”

Impact without borders

GHC3, a subsidiary of the Center for Global Health Innovation worked with other partners to donate 100,000 masks to health care workers in Zanzibar. This donation protected 310 doctors providing care to 350,000 people on the island.

Forbes’ current role with CGHI has provided ample opportunities to give back, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic brought public health into the spotlight across the globe.

“Nobody has gone untouched from this,” Forbes said.

Through CGHI and its many entities, national leaders have partnered to discuss how people can safely return to work, school and worship. A partnership with the Department of Public Health led to the development of the PAVE tool, which addresses equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine.

CGHI’s work also addresses workforce development in life sciences industries and equips Georgia’s high school science teachers with educational equipment through a loaning program.

Although Forbes’ community impact has been concentrated in the state of Georgia, the work she does echoes across borders to address global issues.

“Health is a global issue,” Forbes said. “There is no border.”

A hub for global health’s future

The BioED Institute’s equipment depot, supported by the Center for Global Health Innovation, loans equipment and supplies to high school science teachers across the state of Georgia.

Because of the pandemic, global health has become a more prevalent topic in day-to-day life. And thanks to the presence of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, the city has gained traction as a center for public health.

CGHI and its affiliates will fuel this traction with the creation of a global health innovation district in midtown Atlanta. The facility will house offices, laboratories, meeting spaces and a crisis center to help align global health efforts led by nonprofits and corporations.

Through her work with CGHI, Forbes is committed to improving global health initiatives and engagement with community.

“To me, commitment is being engaged,” Forbes said. “I’m committed to creating better health outcomes for everybody.”


WHERE COMMITMENT MEETS COMMUNITY

Whether life takes them to new cities or to the neighborhoods where they grew up, Georgia Bulldogs do more than get jobs – they elevate their communities. Bulldogs lead nonprofits, effect change and create opportunities for others. Wherever people are suffering, wherever communities are looking for effective leaders and whenever the world cries out for better solutions, Bulldogs are there to answer the call to service. It’s more than our passion. It’s our commitment.

Caroline Odom, an intern with UGA’s Division of Development and Alumni Relations, brings you a spring blog series that celebrates Bulldogs who embrace that commitment to helping others in their communities thrive.

Want to read about other Bulldogs impacting their communities?

Where commitment meets community: Jack Hartpence (AB ’15) pairs passion with community empowerment

On August 23, 2017, University of Georgia alumnus and 40 Under 40 honoree Jack Hartpence (AB ’15) was driving from Jackson, Wyoming, to Aspen, Colorado, on a business trip. As he attempted a U-turn in the large van he rented for the trip – the only vehicle the rental company had available – he was T-boned by a tractor-trailer.

“As I saw the truck coming and realized I was going to die, the only thing that came to my mind was one question: What have I done positively for the world and other people?” Hartpence said.

Walking away from the accident unscathed, Hartpence felt that he had been given a second chance to answer that question.

After graduating from UGA with a bachelor’s degree in English in 2015, Hartpence worked in politics, with think tanks and for campaigns. He used his previous experience with research and data to determine where the world struggled most.

“Water is the world’s most pressing problem,” Hartpence said. “Sustainable access to safe drinking water is the foundation for quality of life on earth today. With access to safe drinking communities can move to address secondary and tertiary quality of life indicators such as gender equality, economic opportunity, education, and health.”

In 2018, he co-founded Powwater, public benefit corporation that builds transparent technology and makes impact investments to improve access to clean water in East Africa and South Asia and empower the communities which they serve.

“A marathon, not a sprint”

As Hartpence explored how to address access to clean water, he noticed that many wells drilled by Western organizations provided only temporary solutions across Africa, Asia, and South America. With an average shelf life of only 18 months, donated wells weren’t a sustainable solution, the key problem being that they weren’t engaging the communities they affected.

Hartpence contacted Nobel laureate and professor Muhammed Yunus, the founder of microfinance. Through the mentorship of Yunus, Powwater established itself as a social business. Funding is reinvested into communities that lack access to clean water, allowing those communities to establish their own water systems that enhance their economy.

With this model, Powwater doesn’t have to rely on donations or outside funding. Instead, Powwater can “make money to do good for the world,” Hartpence said. By doing so, Powwater has brought sustainable drinking water to over 80,000 people in Kenya, Ethiopia and Bangladesh.

Jack Hartpence (AB ’15) gives a thumbs up with the Powwater team in Mombasa, Kenya.

Fueled by passion

Hartpence’s experience at UGA showed him the importance of doing what you love. He wasn’t fulfilled by what he was learning as an economics major, so he became an English major during his sophomore year. That program gave him a sense of purpose and creativity. .

“There were students who were far better writers than me, but I was passionate. I loved it,” Hartpence said about a senior class project that was recognized at graduation as the English department’s best work in digital humanities. “That lesson has played through my life. Passion is everything.”

After his accident in 2017, Hartpence found a renewed passion for life and improving the world. That commitment fuels Hartpence and his team as they consider the future of clean water across the globe.

Jack Hartpence (AB ’15) spoke on behalf of Powwater at the 2019 United Nations Global Assembly. Hartpence poses for a photo with Nobel laureate and professor Muhammed Yunus, a mentor of the company.

The future of clean water

As Powwater looks to the future, the company is using technology to create transparency around water, and better serve communities around the world with safe drinking water.

This spring, Powwater will launch the Powwater app, a mobile marketplace for water. The app will provide transparency around the quality of water, cost and timing of delivery from the thousands of private water suppliers that exist across the globe today. By creating transparency and empowering consumers, Hartpence believes Powwater can lead the way for higher quality and more affordable water globally.

With this app, Hartpence aims to optimize the private water market for the 2 billion people in the world relying on it today.

“We want to be a company that shares ideas and works with partners to get the job done,” Hartpence said. “I’m committed to empowering communities around the world with sustainable access to safe drinking water. I’m committed to doing everything I can do to be better tomorrow than I was today.”

A day in the life

In September 2020, we invited Jack to host an Instagram story takeover as a member of the 40 Under 40 Class of 2020. Watch the video below to check out a day in the life of operating Powwater:


WHERE COMMITMENT MEETS COMMUNITY

Whether life takes them to new cities or to the neighborhoods where they grew up, Georgia Bulldogs do more than get jobs – they elevate their communities. Bulldogs lead nonprofits, effect change and create opportunities for others. Wherever people are suffering, wherever communities are looking for effective leaders and whenever the world cries out for better solutions, Bulldogs are there to answer the call to service. It’s more than our passion. It’s our commitment.

Caroline Odom, an intern with UGA’s Division of Development and Alumni Relations, brings you a spring blog series that celebrates Bulldogs who embrace that commitment to helping others in their communities thrive.

Want to read about other Bulldogs impacting their communities?

March 19 is TEDxUGA 2021: Next Level

Bulldog are committed to crafting better tomorrows. We harness ambition to innovate, search for answers to big questions, and enact impactful solutions. As part of that commitment, many Bulldogs are gathering virtually on Friday, March 19 at 7 p.m. for TEDxUGA 2021: Next Level.

After postponing the 2020 event due to COVID-19, the eighth annual TEDxUGA will feature eight University of Georgia faculty, students and alumni who will share messages with the power to launch our world to the next level.

UGA alumni in this year’s speaker lineup are:

  • Cristen Conger (ABJ ’06) and Caroline Ervin (ABJ ’06), co-founders of Unladylike Media and co-hosts of the feminist podcast “Unladylike”
  • LaKeisha Gantt (MED ’03, PHD ’10), licensed psychologist, assistant professor of psychology at Piedmont College and member of the Athens-Clarke County Board of Education
  • Matt Stevens (AB ’03, MPA ’14), vice president of strategic impact at Creature Comforts Brewing Company

TEDxUGA 2020 ticket holders have priority for in-person attendance at The Classic Center Theatre, but the virtual livestream of this year’s event will allow Bulldogs from Athens, Georgia, to Athens, Greece, to join in this special event. Tickets for the livestream are $5 for UGA students and $10 for non-students.

Jeffrey Berejikian, a Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professor in the School of Public and International Affairs, speaks at TEDxUGA 2019: Amplify. Berejikians delivers a message, “What Godzilla can teach us about nuclear weapons.”

TED events gather thinkers, innovators and dreamers to cover topics related to technology, entertainment, design (TED) and beyond. UGA launched its first independently organized TEDx event in 2013 to highlight the spirit of TED already thriving on campus. TEDxUGA is organized by a team of faculty, staff and students from across UGA’s colleges and departments.

Don’t miss this opportunity to learn from members of the UGA community who are committed to a better tomorrow.

National Entrepreneurship Week: Q&A with Jasmyn Reddicks (BSA ’18)

Jasmyn Reddicks (BSA ’18) is the owner and founder of VTasteCakes, an Atlanta-based vegan bakery. While studying food industry marketing and administration at the University of Georgia, Jasmyn won the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences’ 2018 Food and AgriBusiness Entrepreneurial Initiative (FABricate). After graduating, Jasmyn launched her business and has been baking made-to-order cakes, cookies, cupcakes and muffins ever since.

In commemoration of National Entrepreneurship Week (Feb. 13-20), Jasmyn shares how her passion for baking with her family led her to launch a business that has a dessert for every Bulldog.

Before entering the FABricate Entrepreneurship Initiative, did you plan to launch a business after graduation?

Not exactly. I always knew I wanted to start a bakery one day, but I never thought it would be so early in life. I didn’t realize that I was limiting my own abilities by thinking too small until the opportunity to start a bakery presented itself. After my mentor, family and friends convinced me that I had a good enough idea to participate in the FABricate project, I decided to go for it. It ended up being one of the best decisions of my life.

What led you to combine your passion for baking with a vegan diet?

I was inspired by my friends who have food allergies. I grew up baking, but the older I got, the more I realized that many people have allergies to baked goods. After learning about the limited options that existed and consuming a few, I realized there was a big opportunity for improvement. I wanted to create a dessert that is delicious, beautiful and that anyone can eat!

 

Jasmyn Reddicks in front of a VTasteCakes banner

How did FABricate and other UGA programs prepare you to start and operate VTasteCakes?

The FABricate competition sparked my motivation that anything is possible no matter who you are. I transferred to UGA, and FABricate helped me find purpose at a large school. It also gave me many resources that I still use today. The UGA Small Business Development Center has helped me with funding and growing a small business. I also received funding from UGA’s Next Top Entrepreneur competition in 2019.

You often cite the influence of your grandma on your passion for baking. Do you consider your business a way of honoring her?

In many ways, I do. I am thankful for my upbringing. Baking was always a way to bond with my family and build community, which are two things I value. This has helped cultivate my view on life and inspired me to bring people together, one dessert at a time.

Have you encountered any challenges as a Black woman owning a business?

I think the biggest challenge is being respected and taken seriously. I don’t get automatic validation without having to prove it. But I have learned to overcome these challenges with grace. When people go low, I do the opposite and go high!

 

Jasmyn Reddicks holds a cake

 

Since graduating, leaving Athens and launching your business, what have you learned?

The biggest lesson I have learned is to enjoy every moment, even the tough ones. As an entrepreneur, there are highs and lows, but it is a beautiful thing to look back on how far you have come and how much you have grown as an individual. It still amazes me all the support I received over the years.

Do you have a preference for baking cakes or cupcakes?

Surprisingly, I am learning that I love to do cakes more. I feel like I am able to express my creative edge in my designs.

Can you share advice for Bulldogs who want to start their own businesses?

My advice would be to go for it and to choose passion over money. This is the perfect time to research an idea, test it out and not be afraid to ask for help. If you put in the hard work, avoid shortcuts and be consistent, it will pay off.

Your support today will help prepare tomorrow’s entrepreneurs and innovators.


DONATE TO THE FABRICATE ENTREPRENEURSHIP FUND

LEARN MORE ABOUT UGA’S INNOVATION DISTRICT


SUPPORT THE SMALL BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT CENTER

Now open: UGA Engagement Center

UGA Engagement Center Grand OpeningInnovation offers experiences for discovery. With extensive planning and partnerships, UGA’s Division of Development and Alumni Relations is discovering ways to expand and increase alumni participation and engagement.

The UGA Engagement Center is a nexus for this initiative. In its new facility located one block east of the Arch, DAR and the Engagement Center work in concert to communicate with alumni and friends about opportunities for support and participation.

By incorporating new digital technologies, the Engagement Center aims to create meaningful conversations between alumni and students, while expanding the scope of texting and video interaction. A team of 80+ student representatives shares updates from campus, opportunities to support UGA initiatives, and information relevant to alumni affinities.

After 25 years of calling alumni, the Engagement Center now offers a modern-day approach to connecting with alumni and utilizing smartphone capabilities. From visual caller ID technology to texting direct links for event registration and gift-giving, Engagement Center student representatives are enhancing UGA’s reach. You may even see a student you spoke with on the phone “face-to-face” in a video message.

The possibilities technology offers are exciting; and the Engagement Center is excited to connect you with UGA in new ways!

Alumnus Kyle Wiley expands technology access for COVID-19 researchers

Kyle Wiley (AB ’11) is the senior advisor to the chief commercialization officer at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and is an integral part of the DOE’s response to COVID-19. Wiley and his team have given researchers access to powerful computing resources, including two of the world’s most powerful supercomputers, to boost research during a period which relies on accelerated timelines and innovation.

Wiley’s role is to offer strategic advice to the CCO, to speak to external parties on behalf of the Office of Technology Transitions, and to engage with the 17 national DOE labs on a variety of initiatives. Like many others, his responsibilities have shifted in the face of a pandemic and Wiley is now a part of the battle against COVID-19.

Kyle Wiley tours a Shell ethane cracker plant in Pennsylvania.

Kyle Wiley tours a Shell ethane cracker plant in Pennsylvania as part of his work with the U.S. Department of Energy.

Wiley and his team prioritized expanding access to resources for public and private researchers across the country. This included providing resources to those looking for innovative ways to combat COVID-19 through the DOE’s Lab Partnering Service and COVID-19 Technical Assistance Program (CTAP). These initiatives give access to vital resources, experienced researchers, and information about facilities that may be useful in fighting the pandemic.

CTAP provides funding to DOE’s national lab system to assist non-DOE entities working to combat the virus. It also allows national researchers to offer assistance to U.S.-based entities facing technical challenges. Their team has seen the most success in two areas: supercomputing (the HPC COVID-19 Consortium) and technical assistance. The HPC COVID-19 Consortium is a private-public partnership between the federal government, industry and academic leaders to provide researchers access to high-performance computing resources. This partnership enables extensive research and modeling to understand COVID-19’s threat and create strategies to address it. The program has several active projects.

Wiley’s office has granted researchers access to the computational capacity to support research programs that are studying the virus. Meanwhile, DOE scientists are studying components of the virus to understand its replication process. Relying on previous experience from modeling of other infectious diseases, they can better understand how COVID-19 might behave and the supercomputers allow for quicker testing and effective drug screening.

Even as Wiley works on projects related to COVID-19, he continues his work with the technology commercialization fund and raises awareness for partnerships among minority business centers. The technology commercialization fund supports programs for applied energy research, technology development, demonstration and commercial application helping to mature promising energy technologies with potential for high impact.

Wiley’s road to the DOE began as a political science student at UGA. With the help of one of his professors, former UGA faculty member Morgan Marietta, he landed an internship with then-Congressman Paul Broun (BS ’67). That work experience, combined with an understanding of political science he gained from his time at UGA, have been instrumental to his career in the nation’s capital.

Prior to joining the DOE, Wiley held a number of positions, including assistant to the president of the Heritage Foundation, a Koch Associate at the Charles Koch Institute, and a specialist in Barnes & Thornburg’s Government Services and Federal Relations practice.

His work just goes to show: Dawgs never hesitate to jump into action, innovating and assisting in times of need.

Bulldogs answer the call for hand sanitizer

Communities everywhere were feeling the panic. Store shelves were stripped bare. Online orders were backlogged. Hand sanitizer was simply not available. That is, until enterprising and altruistic UGA alumni across the state of Georgia took rectifying the shortage into their own paws!

 

Georgia Pharmacists with compounding labs quickly mobilized into whipping up batches of hand sanitizer:

Dean Stone of IHS Pharmacy & Gifts delivers hand sanitizer to Candler County Sheriff John Miles & his team.” (photo provided by Dean Stone)

Dean Stone of IHS Pharmacy & Gifts delivers hand sanitizer to Candler County Sheriff John Miles & his team.” (photo provided by Dean Stone)

 

Distilleries had alcohol, and with that, they started to produce hand sanitizer:

Kelly and Jim Chasteen with hand sanitizer produced at ASW Distillery. (photo provided by Jim Chasteen)

Kelly and Jim Chasteen with hand sanitizer produced at ASW Distillery. (photo provided by Jim Chasteen)

 

Breweries were not to be left out. They, too, are converting their facilities to bottle up hand sanitizer:

Clean Creature hand sanitizer courtesy of Creature Comforts

(Clean Creature hand sanitizer photo courtesy of Creature Comforts Brewing Company)

Tony SIngletary and Tripp Morgan with Pretoria Fields message of hope

Tony Singletary and Tripp Morgan in front of Pretoria Fields Brewery’s message of hope for the community. (photo courtesy of Pretoria Fields Brewery)

 

All around the Bulldog Nation, University of Georgia alumni are answering the call. Share your stories of Dawgs helping Dawgs!

The Delta Air Lines Foundation commits $5 million to UGA Innovation District, Engineering

The University of Georgia will take a major step forward in its Innovation District initiative and enhance the College of Engineering, thanks to a $5 million gift from The Delta Air Lines Foundation.

The Innovation District initiative brings together people, programs and places to foster innovation, entrepreneurship and experiential learning at the University of Georgia. The first step of the initiative established Studio 225, the home of UGA’s thriving Student Center for Entrepreneurship, and The Delta Foundation’s gift catalyzes the next step to grow research commercialization and university-industry collaboration.

“I want to express my deepest appreciation to our loyal friends at The Delta Air Lines Foundation for their ongoing and generous support of the University of Georgia,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. “This gift will help us prepare our students to be successful leaders in the knowledge economy while enabling the research discoveries of our faculty to make the greatest impact on society.”

The gift includes $2.5 million to renovate the Spring Street Building, located just off Broad Street in Athens’ downtown area. The facility will provide flexible workspace, conference rooms and presentation areas to support faculty startup companies and enable students and industry partners to collaborate on company-based research and development projects.

“The Delta Air Lines Foundation is pleased to support the University of Georgia Foundation with a grant to promote innovation and entrepreneurship, and foster leadership in collaboration, design and development,” said Tad Hutcheson, senior vice president of The Delta Air Lines Foundation.

The Office of University Experiential Learning will receive $1 million from The Delta Foundation’s gift to launch the Student Industry Fellows Program. Students who participate in this program will complete training to develop innovation competencies, serve as campus ambassadors for the Innovation District and work alongside industry partners to solve real-world business challenges.

The remaining $1.5 million of The Delta Foundation’s gift will support the Student Success Center at Driftmier Engineering Center, home to the UGA College of Engineering. This center will provide space for academic advising, student support offices and experiential learning by way of spaces devoted to team projects and collaboration between students, faculty and industry partners.

The Student Success Center will also house the Emerging Engineers Leadership Development program (EELD). EELD was designed in partnership with the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development to provide undergraduate engineering majors with an opportunity to explore and cultivate leadership skills necessary for success as a professional.

This is the latest in a long line of significant contributions to UGA from The Delta Air Lines Foundation. Alongside this $5 million commitment, The Delta Foundation has pledged another $2.5 million to support UGA Athletics. In 2015, The Delta Foundation committed $5 million to the construction of the UGA Washington Semester Program’s residential facility, Delta Hall. The Willson Center for Humanities & Arts established the Delta Visiting Chair for Global Understanding thanks to an $800,000 gift in 1997. In recognition of The Delta Foundation’s many gifts and the long-standing relationship between the university and Delta, the airline received the 2018 Friend of UGA Alumni Award.

The Delta Air Lines Foundation’s gift is a significant step in enhancing the learning environment at UGA, a priority of the university’s Commit to Georgia Campaign, a record-breaking fundraising campaign that began in 2012 and will end in June. The campaign surpassed its $1.2 billion goal in 2019 and is now the most successful fundraising effort in UGA history.

Show off your red and black in style thanks to artist Melissa Mahoney (BFA ’87)

This article was written by Leigh Raynor Arndt.

All Bulldogs know that Saturdays in Athens are not for sweatpants. For those seeking a more refined gameday look, alumna Melissa Mahoney (BFA ’87) has designed a particularly stylish way to don your red and black. Her beautiful silk scarves have landed in the UGA Bookstore and embody Melissa’s love for her alma mater. The scarves’ combined artistry and practicality reflect the story of Melissa’s career–a path she began as a UGA student.

Melissa

Portrait of Melissa Mahoney (BFA ’87)

With several artists in her family, Melissa comes by her creative streak honestly. An Atlanta native, she now lives in Palo Alto, California. She’s led her own graphic design firm, Indigo Creative, since 1993. The success of her business now allows her to spend more time on another passion: painting.

Melissa’s scarf design uses high-energy swirls that run throughout her latest “Vortices” series, which is a collection of paintings and textiles. In addition to designing for UGA, she’s created scarves for Stanford and tech-juggernaut Google. And she’s been her own boss for more than 25 years. She attributes much of this success to the knowledge and skills she gained at UGA.

The Google scarf Melissa designed.

The Google scarf Melissa designed.

 

Melissa’s graphic design major and fine arts minor gave her practical know-how while allowing her to explore her artistic side. “Not all graphic designers can draw and paint, but these are great skills to have,” said Melissa. “They have helped me stand out in my field.”

After graduation, Melissa pursued graduate studies through UGA Cortona, a program that just celebrated its 50th anniversary. In Italy, Melissa was inspired by seeing in person the art that she’d studied for years. The trip also emboldened her. “Going to Italy gave me the courage to try new things and venture out,” said Melissa. Ultimately, her experience abroad led her to follow her dream of living in California.

After a few years working in Atlanta, Melissa packed up her belongings and drove across the country to the West Coast. With no job offer in tow, the move was risky. But the reward for her bravery has been a long career in California, the state that now “feels like home.”

Melissa continues to exhibit the courage she developed at UGA. A cold call and months of determination led to her Google scarf. A scarf for another tech giant will soon be on the way, too.

“There are so many ways to make a living as an artist,” Melissa said. “I’m lucky to do what I love. And I love sharing my passion. Seeing others enjoy my art brings me so much joy.”

UGA scarf

Melissa’s UGA scarf and more will be available at her pop-up shop at the UGA Bookstore in November.

 

Visit Melissa in Athens on November 22 and 23 for a “Scarf Pop-up” at the UGA Bookstore! Learn more.

And on Sunday, October 20, San Francisco Bulldogs can let their creative side loose during a workshop Melissa will lead at the Triton Museum of Art in Santa Clara.

 

Georgia’s “Green Girl” is making recycling more accessible

“Hey, Alexa … can I recycle this?”

Thanks to Katherine Shayne (BSENVE ’16, MS ’18) and her all-female research team at the University of Georgia, recycling really is as easy as asking your Amazon Alexa.

One of the youngest honorees named to the UGA Alumni Association’s 2019 40 Under 40, Katherine is the co-founder of Can I Recycle This, an organization working to clean up recycling by providing localized answers to specific recycling questions.

Katherine’s list of accomplishments doesn’t stop there. Just this month, the alumna spoke at the United Nations and led a team of UGA student researchers to the Dominican Republic to study marine debris. She’s also analyzed over one million pieces of marine debris collected through the Marine Debris Tracker, worked with Australia’s national science agency (CSIRO) and is a proud College of Engineering Double Dawg—all at the age of 26. 

Solving Wicked Problems

Katherine concentrated her undergraduate research and her graduate thesis on the end of life for materials, particularly ocean-bound plastics, working and learning under the expertise of Jenna Jambeck, an associate professor in UGA’s College of Engineering. Jenna is internationally recognized for her research on plastic waste in the ocean and is the other co-founder of CIRT.

“[I chose to study at UGA because] the University of Georgia is one of the top—if not the top—research institution working on this global problem from a waste management perspective,” Katherine said. “We have some of the best researchers here working on this grand challenge of waste management.”

“I’ve had a lot of opportunities here and every single one of them has been an outpouring of support … I think that that’s what is extremely unique to me about the University of Georgia.”

Early Beginnings at UGA

The idea for Can I Recycle This (CIRT) was conceived in 2017 and quickly became a pilot project headquartered in the Driftmier Engineering Building among UGA students.

In May 2018, CIRT went through UGA’s National Science Foundation I-Corps Program, a public-private partnership that aids collegiate innovators and includes an intensive, six-week Accelerator and up to six months of business and product mentoring.

“The program helped us narrow down what our business model was going to be, our customer focus and then how we were going to transition into scaling our model.”

Now, the all-female research team is working to develop this technology into a self-contained app that can answer every day recycling questions without the use of social media.

So, How Does CIRT Work?

It’s simple. First, add @CanIRecycleThis on Snapchat, Facebook or Twitter. Next, send a photo directly to CIRT and voila—you will instantly receive an answer based on your location. Or, simply ask your Amazon Alexa.

“You shouldn’t have to memorize recyclables on a day-to-day basis. We wanted to make it easy and accessible for consumers to utilize,” Katherine says. “Consumers interact with AI where they can ask and get a real-time response.”

When making use of CIRT, you’ll interact with “GG.” The significance of “GG” is two-fold: it’s Katherine’s sister’s nickname and also short for “Green Girl.”

On the Horizon

So, what’s next for CIRT? The team is developing a partnership with an e-commerce giant in order to integrate CIRT into packaging systems.

“Say you get a package from a big e-commerce giant and in that box or shipping confirmation email, it tells you everything in the packaging that’s recyclable and also everything that’s not. That information’s based on location because it’s where it was shipped. So, it just accesses our database and provides consumers with answers.”

As for Katherine, she’s continuing her research on plastic pollution as a researcher at the University of Georgia and is involved with a youth leadership group through the Sustainable Ocean Alliance. The group is drafting a white paper on the dangers of plastic pollution that will be presented to 20 governments around the world.

“Even though we might only make up 25% of the population, we’re definitely 100% of what’s going to be the future,” Katherine notes about the role youth can play in solving the grand challenges of our time.

Katherine will be honored during UGA’s 40 Under 40 Awards Luncheon in Athens this month. Meet her fellow 2019 40 Under 40 honorees.