Professor Vanessa Ezenwa is internationally recognized for her research on the ecology of infectious diseases. Her laboratory explores how behavioral, physiological, and ecological processes shape patterns of disease in wild animal populations. A new NSF grant of nearly $3 million is helping her expand graduate training in this emerging field.

During the past year, the University of Georgia advanced several student-centered initiatives to further strengthen its world-class academic environment. Plans moved forward to elevate graduate and professional education, to shrink class sizes and expand experiential learning at the undergraduate level, and to build facilities to support the future of teaching, research, and service at UGA. When viewed collectively, these and other initiatives from 2016 paint a picture of a university that is setting a new standard of excellence.

Elevating Graduate and Professional Education

The quality of graduate and professional education and the impact of the research enterprise go hand in hand: the two functions are highly connected, as talented students seek the mentorship of extraordinary scholars and then go on to advance discovery through their independent work.

Launching New Initiatives in Graduate Education

As a part of a broader strategy to expand the research enterprise, UGA introduced an initiative in 2016 to enhance the quality and quantity of the graduate student population. This initiative includes several components and will be directed by Graduate School Dean Suzanne Barbour, who assumed her role in July 2015.

Professional development is a cornerstone of this new initiative. Barbour is helping expand opportunities for graduate students to hone professional skills that will serve them well in any career—inside or outside of academia. For example, the new Graduate Scholars Leadership, Engagement, and Development (GS LEAD) program will equip students with communication, collaboration, and problem-solving skills through an immersive summer academy and a community engagement course.

In addition, the Graduate School has hired a full-time grants coordinator to help faculty successfully compete for training grants that support outstanding graduate students and fund innovative graduate training programs. Two new fellowship programs also will be established to boost the recruitment of top students in fields that align with UGA’s research strengths and Georgia’s knowledge-based economy.

As another element of the initiative, Barbour is planning to launch a competitive internal grant system to incentivize schools and colleges to invest in new interdisciplinary graduate programs. This step will strengthen UGA’s position to address some of the world’s most pressing challenges, which now reside at the intersection of traditional academic fields.

This initiative, sponsored by the Graduate School, is yet another example of UGA’s steadfast commitment to growing its vital research enterprise.

Suzanne Barbour

Suzanne Barbour

Graduate School Dean

Training the next generation of scholars

UGA faculty are advancing graduate and professional education by adopting innovative training programs to prepare the next generation of leading scholars and practitioners.

Vanessa Ezenwa, associate professor in the Odum School of Ecology and the College of Veterinary Medicine’s department of infectious diseases, is leading a team to develop a new interdisciplinary program in disease ecology that will transform the way graduate students are trained to combat the spread of infectious diseases around the world. Instead of viewing the spread of infectious disease only through a medical lens, this model adopts a more global approach that integrates applicable knowledge from across fields—from ecology to microbiology and cellular biology.

Ezenwa’s work is funded by a five-year, $2.99 million grant, announced this year from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The grant is part of the new NSF Research Traineeship program, established to support innovative and transferable models for interdisciplinary graduate education in the areas of science, engineering, and math.

Graduate education with global reach

UGA graduate students represent:

Funding top LAW students

The School of Law recently established the Philip H. Alston Jr. Distinguished Law Fellowship program to provide the best and brightest law students with full tuition and high-impact experiential learning opportunities such as domestic and international externships, guided research endeavors, and meetings with the nation’s top legal leaders. The program was established through a $2 million gift from the John N. Goddard Foundation and was named after an accomplished UGA alumnus and supporter. Georgia Law will join a small group of institutions offering full-tuition-plus law school scholarships once this fellowship program is fully implemented in fall 2016.

Small class sizes allow faculty, such as I.W. Cousins Professor of Business Ethics and Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Programs Marisa Pagnattaro, to promote greater student-faculty interaction and engagement in course content.

Preparing the leaders of tomorrow

At the heart of undergraduate education at the University of Georgia is a steadfast commitment to preparing the next generation of leaders for the state of Georgia, the nation, and—increasingly—the world. This commitment is driving new, learner-centered initiatives that allow students to connect academic interests with opportunities to make a difference.

Emily Giambalvo

Emily Giambalvo

Third-Year, Management Information Systems major

Class of 2019 Sets New Mark
for Academic Quality

Average GPA
Average SAT score
Average ACT score

Expanding Experiential Learning

This year, the University continued laying the groundwork for a new campus-wide experiential learning initiative. Fully implemented in fall 2016, the University is the largest public university in the nation to provide each of its undergraduate students with a high-impact, experiential learning opportunity.

Through research, internships, study abroad, service-learning, and other significant learning experiences, UGA students will learn to leverage course content against pressing issues beyond the classroom walls; they will enhance problem-solving and critical thinking skills; and they will become better prepared for graduate school and careers in the 21st century.

To complement this bold new initiative, UGA is developing an Experiential Transcript that will officially document the details of all of the experiential learning opportunities completed by students. This tool will help students discuss their academic experiences more cogently, write better cover letters and résumés, and otherwise effectively communicate the many ways that their UGA education has equipped them for the world beyond the Arch. The Experiential Transcript will be available to students in fall 2017.

UGA’s experiential learning requirement is new, but the concept is not. Students at UGA, such as Emily Giambalvo, long have pursued opportunities for hands-on learning. Giambalvo, a third-year management information systems major, dreams of becoming a national or international sports journalist. In many ways, she already is living that dream through the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication’s Sports Media Certificate program.

Her sports media coursework has provided her with an in-depth look into sports reporting and writing, and she was able to put her studies into practice this summer through a communications internship with USA Track and Field in Indianapolis, Indiana. There, Giambalvo wrote news and feature stories about U.S. athletes competing for spots in the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Her internship culminated with an exciting week in Eugene, Oregon, covering the 2016 Olympic Trials.

Giambalvo traveled to Rio with other Grady College students in fall 2016 to cover the Paralympics and write news stories for the Associated Press.

Developing Real-World Solutions

Karen Whitehill King

UGA faculty continue to find creative ways to incorporate experiential learning into coursework. For the last two years, Karen Whitehill King, the Jim Kennedy Professor of New Media and Professor of Advertising, has provided students in her ad campaigns course with opportunities to conduct research projects for Turner Entertainment Network for late-night television shows. She also created a project that allows teams of students to pursue research questions provided by the international media agency PHD Worldwide on media use and purchase behaviors among millennials. These unique learning opportunities ensure that her students obtain experience developing and presenting real-world solutions to media agencies.

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Measures of Student Success

6-year graduation rate reaches all-time high at
First-year retention rate reaches record at

Reducing Class Sizes

Higher education research is clear: small classes allow professors to create highly engaging classroom environments, where learning, collaboration, and mentorship flourish. With this understanding in mind, UGA launched an initiative this year to reduce class sizes by hiring more than 50 new faculty members and adding over 300 new course sections across approximately 80 majors. Most of the course sections will have fewer than 20 students. This $4.4 million initiative is part of a broader strategy to maximize student learning and success and to strengthen the University’s world-class learning environment.

Provost Pamela Whitten

Provost Pamela Whitten (center) is playing an important role in advancing initiatives to strengthen undergraduate education at UGA. She also is leading the University’s new Women’s Leadership Initiative, launched in 2015 to enhance leadership and career development for female faculty and administrators on campus.

Investing in Undergraduate Research

Undergraduate research is a cornerstone of experiential learning at UGA. Participation in this high-impact learning opportunity continued to increase in 2016 as the University’s undergraduate research assistantship program—established in the fall of 2014—further matured. This innovative program, facilitated by the Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities (CURO), provides $1,000 stipends to outstanding undergraduate students to conduct research in partnership with faculty.

UGA remains one of a handful of universities across the nation where a student can complete up to four years of faculty-mentored undergraduate research across any discipline on campus. The University nearly doubled the funding for the research assistantship program in 2016 to encourage even greater levels of participation in research among undergraduate students.

Many assistantship recipients participate in UGA’s annual CURO Symposium, where undergraduate researchers present their findings to the campus community. This year’s symposium included a record 407 participants.

Expanding Student Participation in CURO

Connecting Passion to Opportunity

Lauren Dennison, who graduated in the spring as a double major in genetics and biochemistry and molecular biology, had a passion for undergraduate research at UGA. She conducted research in the lab of Stephen Hajduk—professor of biochemistry and molecular biology—on trypanosomes, the causative agent of African sleeping sickness. That research resulted in a paper published in a peer-reviewed journal. She also conducted research at the New York University Langone Medical Center and the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. In 2015, Dennison received the Barry Goldwater Scholarship, the premier undergraduate scholarship in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences, and engineering. She now is pursuing a doctorate in cellular and molecular medicine with a focus on cancer at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Lauren Dennison

Lauren Dennison

2015 Goldwater Scholar, Foundation Fellow, and CURO participant

Much like Dennison, Johnelle Simpson—who graduated in the spring with degrees in political science and risk management and insurance—also pursued experiential learning opportunities aligned with his passion. In addition to studying abroad in China, he served as the 2015-2016 Student Government Association President. During his term in office, Simpson helped bring a nighttime shuttle service to campus and worked with local government officials to improve student safety in Athens. His leadership experience prepared him well for his current position at Georgia-based nonprofit Great Promise Partnership, where he provides at-risk youth in Clarke County schools with on-the-job training and mentoring and teaches them life and career skills for the future.

Johnelle Simpson

Johnelle Simpson

2015–2016 Student Government Association President

This spring, undergraduate student leaders helped to launch an exciting new initiative called Road Dawgs, in which they embarked on a road trip to visit high schools across Georgia, encouraging underrepresented students to apply to UGA. In recognition of the ongoing efforts to promote a positive and welcoming campus environment, the University recently received the INSIGHT Into Diversity Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award for the second consecutive year.

Road Dawgs
President Morehead speaks at memorial at Tate Student Center Plaza

UGA Community Mourns

In late April, the UGA community joined together for reflection following a terrible automobile accident that took the lives of four students and critically injured another. During the gathering, President Morehead extended deepest condolences to the families and friends of these students and urged the campus to draw together as a UGA family. “The loss of any student is very difficult. A tragedy of this magnitude is truly devastating,” he told the crowd of an estimated 1,500 UGA students, faculty, and staff at the Tate Student Center Plaza.

Link to OU Campus