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Gifts from alumni create CAES Rural Scholars Program

A new scholarship program funded by University of Georgia alumni and benefiting qualified students from rural areas of Georgia who seek to earn degrees from UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences is now recruiting students for its first cohort to begin in fall 2021.

Gifts and pledges totaling $500,000 from UGA Foundation trustee and CAES alumnus Keith Kelly and his wife, Pam Kelly, and CAES alumnus Robert Varnedoe will endow two CAES Rural Scholars Scholarship Funds and create two non-endowed CAES Rural Scholars Scholarship Funds, which will provide renewable yearly scholarships for a cohort of four to six students every fall.

The annual academic scholarship of $7,000 per year will assist in recruiting the most qualified students from rural communities in the state of Georgia who have excelled academically, have shown strong leadership abilities and community service, and seek a degree at CAES.

“The Rural Scholars Program will offer students from rural areas of Georgia a first-class undergraduate experience at UGA. Modeled after the university’s most prestigious fellowships and scholarships, the Rural Scholars Program is designed to give exceptional students from rural communities unique learning opportunities inside and outside the classroom,” said Josef Broder, associate dean for academic affairs at CAES.

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Pre-seed program encourages interdisciplinary research

Last year, when Man Kit Lei’s working group on families, communities and health received a grant through the University of Georgia’s new Teaming for Interdisciplinary Research (TIR) Pre-Seed Program, he knew the funding would help the group bridge some boundaries.

Lei’s team pulled together researchers from genetics, psychology, communications, family research and sociology to learn about the different ways each discipline approaches health research. Initially, the group members had encountered communication barriers. “Genetics has its own language. Public health has its own language,” said Lei, assistant professor of sociology.

Overcoming initial roadblocks to interdisciplinary research is one of the goals of the pre-seed program, which on Oct. 1 will begin accepting proposals for a second round of funding. Like last year, the idea is to encourage applications by keeping the process simple—a short abstract and image that represents the project are all that’s required—and keeping the funding focus broad.

Sponsored by the Office of Research in partnership with the Office of the Provost, the TIR Pre-Seed Program provides early-stage funding for these teams. The program launched last fall, and the inaugural cohort already has an impressive list of accomplishments, including multiple grant proposals and publications.

The window for TIR Pre-Seed application submission will open Oct. 1 and close Nov. 16.

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Walcott named vice provost for graduate education

Ron Walcott has been named the University of Georgia’s inaugural vice provost for graduate education and dean of the Graduate School. In this role, he will work with schools and colleges across campus to enhance the recruitment, support and success of graduate students.

Walcott is a professor in the department of plant pathology and has served as interim dean of the Graduate School since September 2019. His appointment as vice provost for graduate education and dean of the graduate school is effective Oct. 1.

“Dr. Walcott has been an exemplary faculty member and thoughtful campus leader for more than 20 years at UGA,” said President Jere W. Morehead. “He has done outstanding work, during a challenging time, as interim dean of the Graduate School. His expanded role as the vice provost for graduate education and dean of the Graduate School will provide him with new leadership opportunities to make an even greater impact on the institution.”

Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost S. Jack Hu noted that he elevated the position to the vice provost level in recognition of the cross-cutting nature of graduate education and the increasingly important role advanced skills and knowledge play in society.

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Football coach and wife commit $1 million to UGA

University of Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart and his wife, Mary Beth, will donate $1 million to their alma mater to support the UGA Athletic Association’s new social justice program, create scholarships for senior student-athletes whose final seasons were impacted by COVID-19, and contribute to the expansion of the UGA football program.

“Mary Beth and I are where we are because of the University of Georgia, so we feel a duty to give back to the university that opened so many doors for us, brought us together and brought us home,” said Kirby Smart. “The current moment presents unique challenges for all of us, whether that’s dealing with the ramifications of this pandemic or acknowledging and addressing racial inequality. We hope this gift can fuel positive change in both areas.”

“Coach Smart and Mary Beth, from their student-athlete days to today, have been exemplary Georgia Bulldogs, and this gift is yet another demonstration of their strong commitment to UGA,” said J. Reid Parker Director of Athletics Greg McGarity. “Their commitments will enhance the athletic and life-skills training our football student-athletes receive, maintain our high standards for diversity and inclusion, and ensure that senior student-athletes derailed by COVID-19 face no financial barriers to return and finish their Bulldog athletic careers.”

“It is tremendously heartening to see former UGA student-athletes like Coach Smart and Mary Beth supporting today’s student-athletes,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. “UGA prides itself on providing our students a world-class educational experience, and that experience extends beyond the classroom. The Smart family’s gift will help to address several important extracurricular concerns that are vital to the success of our student-athletes.”

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UGA reaffirmed as Innovation and Economic Prosperity university

The University of Georgia has been reaffirmed as an Innovation and Economic Prosperity University by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU).

The Innovation and Economic Prosperity (IEP) designation recognizes institutions that demonstrate a substantive, sustainable and institution-wide commitment to and strategy for regional economic engagement, growth and economic opportunity. UGA was one of only 16 universities in the country to receive the initial designation in 2013.

“This recognition by APLU is a symbol of the University of Georgia’s national leadership among land-grant institutions,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. “I commend our faculty, staff and students for their hard work and commitment to strengthening the state of Georgia through innovation and economic development.”

“UGA was one of the very first institutions to earn this distinction and remains one of only 66 to be recognized as IEP designees,” said Shalin Jyotishi, program director for APLU’s IEP Universities. “Its successful completion of the five-year interim process affirms UGA’s substantive commitment to promoting regional economic and community development.”

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White receives NSF Early CAREER grant

Michael White, an assistant professor in the department of genetics in the University of Georgia Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, has been awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Program.

The five-year CAREER awards grants, among the NSF’s most prestigious, support junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholar and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.

White’s research focuses on understanding how sex chromosomes repair themselves during meiosis. His lab uses the three-spine stickleback fish as a model to study X and Y chromosome repair and explore the evolutionary forces that shape sex chromosomes at the earliest stages of development. The technique combines classical genetics, molecular genetics and bioinformatic approaches to understand key processes in the formation of sex chromosomes, including the regulation of meiotic recombination and the genetics of sex determination.

CAREER grants allow young faculty members to solidify their research programs and progress toward scholarly publishing. The program includes an educational component, for which White is recruiting local secondary education teachers to develop lesson plans for the classroom focused on sex chromosome biology. They will recruit undergraduate researchers to the regional southeastern evolutionary genetics conference.

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UGA rises to #15 among nation's best public universities ranked by U.S. News & World Report

The University of Georgia has advanced to No. 15 in U.S. News & World Report’s 2021 ranking of the best public universities in the nation. This marks the fifth consecutive year that UGA has placed in the Top 20, climbing from the No. 16 position last year.

“This outstanding news is yet another clear sign that the University of Georgia is strengthening its position among the very best public research universities in America,” said President Jere W. Morehead. “The consistency of our national ranking is a testament to the commitment of our talented faculty, staff and students; to the generosity and support of our loyal alumni and friends; and to the effectiveness of our vision and strategy to reach new heights of academic excellence.”

UGA is one of two institutions—along with the Georgia Institute of Technology—to make the top 20 from the state of Georgia. Georgia is one of only four states (including California, Virginia and Florida) to have more than one institution in the top 20. In addition, UGA and the University of Florida remain the only two institutions from the Southeastern Conference to be in the top 20.

The University of Georgia shares the No. 15 ranking with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is ranked behind two other institutions tied at No. 13, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Texas at Austin. UGA is just ahead of Ohio State University and Purdue University, which are tied at No. 17.

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UGA nears $500M in R&D expenditures in record-breaking year

The University of Georgia once again posted new highs in research and development expenditures, nearly topping the $500 million mark and exceeding last year’s R&D total by almost 4%, illustrating the rapidly growing research enterprise at UGA.

Fueled by new advancements in infectious diseases, plant sciences, behavioral research, animal health, informatics and many other disciplines, UGA posted $495 million in R&D expenditures in fiscal year 2020, which ended June 30. For six of the past seven years, the university has reported annual increases in R&D, which has grown by 41% during that time.

UGA has focused strategically on growing its research enterprise through faculty hiring initiatives, capital projects dedicated to research (such as the ongoing effort to modernize and expand Science Hill, including the I-STEM Research Building currently under construction), and enhanced administrative support to faculty seeking external research funding.

“Growing research and innovation is central to the mission of this university, and the future of the research enterprise at UGA has never been brighter,” said President Jere W. Morehead. “I am pleased that our strategic investments are paying off, and I look forward to the many life-saving and world-changing advancements that will result.”

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UGA Foundation allocates additional $500K to address pandemic

After unanimous approval by the University of Georgia Foundation’s executive and finance committees, the Board of Trustees will allocate $500,000 in discretionary funds to assist UGA President Jere W. Morehead with addressing ongoing challenges caused by the pandemic.

UGA Foundation Chairman John H. Crawford IV issued a statement in support of UGA’s commitment to return to campus for the fall semester and the institution’s continuing efforts to meet student needs.

“The University of Georgia Foundation strongly supports the University System of Georgia and the University of Georgia’s decision to fully reopen UGA’s campus and offer a variety of instructional opportunities to our outstanding students,” Crawford said. “The entire Board of Trustees is grateful for President Morehead’s superb leadership in developing a plan to keep the University as safe as possible. The board is committed to supporting UGA in any way it can to promote a successful semester.”

President Morehead and the UGA Foundation previously committed a total of $900,000 toward student emergency funds, which benefit students who are experiencing critical and unexpected financial difficulties. The additional funds provided by the UGA Foundation will enhance the University’s ability to continue to respond to emerging needs.

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UGA receives national diversity award for seventh consecutive year

Many of the University of Georgia’s efforts to foster diversity and inclusion have been in place for years, while other initiatives and programs announced in recent months reflect an intention to accelerate the university’s progress.

This strong foundation coupled with a commitment to building on past successes has earned UGA the INSIGHT Into Diversity Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award. The HEED Award is the only national recognition honoring colleges and universities that exhibit outstanding efforts and success in the area of diversity and inclusion, and 2020 marks the seventh consecutive year UGA has received it.

“I am proud the University of Georgia is being recognized once again for our commitment to diversity and inclusion,” said President Jere W. Morehead. “Embracing these values remains critical to reaching the heights of excellence we all desire for our great University. I look forward to the additional progress that will be made in the coming year through our new initiatives.”

The university’s latest initiatives underscore the fact that diversity, and the understanding of and respect for cultural differences, are inscribed in the university’s mission statement. Diversity and inclusion goals and plans are embedded in the institution’s 2025 Strategic Plan, which was approved last year.