University of Georgia President Jere W. Morehead delivered his annual State of the University Address on Wednesday, reflecting on all that the university has accomplished in the past decade, while announcing new programs to promote continued success.
“The University of Georgia has embraced a bold, ambitious vision of teaching and learning in the 21st century,” Morehead said. “Together, we imagined an institution where students would flourish amid cutting-edge instruction, robust support and learning opportunities extending to the far corners of the world.”
The university also expanded its reach through support for research and innovation over the last 10 years, with state-of-the-art facilities, strategic hiring initiatives, a new Innovation District, and increased efforts to translate research into tangible products and services. Additionally, UGA garnered national recognition for its public service and outreach efforts.
Morehead’s speech presented a strong vision for the future as well. Among UGA’s priorities will be increased support for students; recruitment and retention of outstanding faculty, staff and graduate students; and new initiatives to grow UGA’s research enterprise and industry partnerships.
Morehead concluded his speech by thanking the UGA community, which has inspired ongoing initiatives and facilitated growth. “I have no doubt: the past decade will long be remembered as one of our best,” Morehead said. “But, in my view, it will be eclipsed by the decade to come.”
For the first time in its history, the University of Georgia surpassed a half-billion dollars in research and development spending in fiscal year 2022. With total expenditures of $545.6 million — representing a jump of more than 10% from the previous year — UGA did not simply exceed the half-billion mark, it rocketed past it.
Fueled by strong increases in sponsored research funding from multiple federal agencies, the one-year jump of $51.7 million is UGA’s largest single-year increase in recent history and the first time since FY2017 that R&D expenditures have grown by more than 10% in a single year.
“I am incredibly proud of this accomplishment and the expansion of UGA’s positive impact that it represents,” said President Jere W. Morehead. “I am especially grateful for the support of our partners in industry and government, the generosity of private donors, and the extraordinary work of our faculty, which made it possible.”
Over the past nine years, UGA’s annual R&D expenditures have increased by nearly 58%. Both before and during that time, the university made strategic investments to expand its research infrastructure and recruit top research faculty with the ability to attract funding from both public and private sources. These efforts have paid off, as the details from FY2022 illustrate.
Ezra Lewis of Atlanta, a second-year Honors undergraduate at the University of Georgia, was one of four students selected for the inaugural cohort of the Landscape Architecture Foundation’s Ignite program. She joins students from the Rhode Island School of Design, University of Washington and University of Pennsylvania.
A multi-year, nationwide program for landscape architecture students who are Black, Indigenous and people of color, LAF Ignite provides an annual scholarship of $10,000, paid summer internships and ongoing mentorship. The inaugural cohort starts its programming this month, and as new cohorts are added, they will gather for virtual meetings and peer-to-peer mentorship.
The scholarship is the Landscape Architecture Foundation’s focused effort “to make the discipline of landscape architecture as diverse as the communities in which landscape architects work.” For the first two years, it is open to Black/African American students and will then open to all students of color.
“To be named to the initial cohort of the LAF Ignite program is truly outstanding, and we are so proud of Ezra,” said Meg Amstutz, dean of the Morehead Honors College. “We can’t wait to see where these opportunities lead for the betterment of communities and the environment.”
A CURO Honors Scholar in the Morehead Honors College, Lewis is majoring in landscape architecture in the College of Environment and Design with a minor in horticulture from the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
Seeds of service were planted during the 2023 Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Breakfast, themed “The Power of the Dream: Growing Together.”
“This special event reinforces our commitment to honoring the legacy of Dr. King and those who continue working to make his dream a reality,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. remains one of the world’s most influential leaders and a champion for justice and equality whose legacy continues to inspire all of us.”
Arthur Tripp, state executive director of the USDA Farm Service Agency in Georgia, gave the keynote address and spoke about the importance of growth. “You see, growth can’t happen until we take time to assess where we are, where we’ve been and where we’re going together,” he said.
“Today we celebrate not only the incredible work that is being done, but also the breadth and diversity of work from our schools to our community organizations to our campus engagement to farms and agricultural communities across the state. Our award winners and speaker this morning are shining examples of the progress we can make when we are willing to do so,” said Michelle Cook, vice provost for diversity and inclusion and strategic university initiatives.
“The entire Georgia family is devastated by the tragic loss of football student-athlete Devin Willock and football staff member Chandler LeCroy. Two other members of the football program were injured in the accident. They are both in stable condition, and we will continue to monitor their status with medical personnel.
“Devin and Chandler were two special people who meant so much to the University of Georgia, our football program and our athletic department. We ask that everyone keep their families in your prayers during this very difficult time.
“The UGA Athletic Association will work with our medical team as well as our mental health and performance personnel to make sure we are providing the best support possible for our staff and student-athletes who are processing this grief. We can provide no further comment at this time but ask that everyone continue to keep those involved in your prayers.”
Statement from President Jere W. Morehead:
“On behalf of the University of Georgia, our entire campus grieves for the loss of two young members of our campus community—student-athlete Devin Willock and football staff member Chandler LeCroy. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families and friends. We also pray for the full recovery of those injured in this tragic accident.”
The University of Georgia has received a $1.5 million pledge from Chick-fil-A Inc. to support the development of a new statewide youth leadership program and an annual youth leadership summit at UGA.
“I am immensely grateful to our friends at Chick-fil-A for their generosity and their commitment to helping the University of Georgia make a positive impact on our home state,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. “Building the leadership capacity of our youth is essential to securing a bright future for Georgia for generations to come.”
The new Youth LEAD Georgia program will provide college and career readiness through leadership development for 30 to 40 rising high school sophomores and juniors each year from across the state. In addition, a youth leadership summit will take place each year on the UGA campus, bringing together high school students who represent all 159 counties in Georgia.
The J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, a unit of UGA Public Service and Outreach, will create and implement both Youth LEAD Georgia and the annual summit.
Four University of Georgia programs will receive federal support as part of the $1.7 trillion funding package signed into law in late December. These funds will support scientific research, engineering projects and outreach programs that benefit citizens living in Georgia and throughout the nation.
UGA will receive $5 million as part of a project titled Expanding Engineering with Nature Installation Capacity, which was submitted by Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Savannah). The funding will help researchers develop and deploy new methods to protect Department of Defense facilities from extreme weather events and changing climate conditions.
Fort Valley State University and UGA will receive $4 million for a program titled Enhancing Georgia’s Poultry Science Workforce through Education, Innovation, and Collaboration, which was submitted by Rep. David Scott (D-Atlanta), Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) and Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.). This funding will support Georgia’s expansive poultry industry through new scholarships and the acquisition of advanced scientific equipment, which will be used to train the next generation of poultry scientists.
UGA’s Connected Resilient Communities program will receive $3 million from a project submitted by Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Marietta). The funding will help Georgia communities connect with UGA resources to create sustainable change through resilient infrastructure, workforce planning, downtown revitalization, cybersecurity analysis and more.
A $100,000 project supporting UGA’s Small Business Development Center was also submitted by Sen. Ossoff. These funds will support training programs for rural communities on how to improve e-commerce and digital marketing capabilities for small businesses.
The University of Georgia has named Richard Dunn and Xernona Thomas as the recipients of the 2023 Footsteps Award. This annual award, given this year on the 62nd anniversary of desegregation at UGA, recognizes UGA graduates who are following in the pioneering footsteps of Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Hamilton Holmes and Mary Frances Early, UGA’s first African American students.
Dunn, now retired, served as the executive director of the Athens-Clarke County High School Completion Initiative, a program that he founded to increase the graduation rates in high schools across the county. The program focuses on helping students reach graduation and explore career and education opportunities. In 2010, he launched a weekly radio show hosted by local high school students titled “Education Matters” as part of his efforts to improve graduation rates in Athens-Clarke County, particularly for students of color.
Thomas spent 31 years working in education as a social worker, assistant principal, principal, chief of staff, and most recently, superintendent of the Clarke County School District where she became the first woman to serve in the role. Thomas sought to reduce exclusionary discipline practices among students of color by identifying inequitable instructional and disciplinary practices and implementing leadership professional learning. She worked to increase language services, encourage parent involvement, develop a district budget to better support district instructional priorities, and opened Clarke County School District’s first charter, Schoolwide Enrichment Model, Foreign Language Acquisition Program and Professional Development School.
Dunn and Thomas will be recognized during the annual Holmes-Hunter Lecture on Feb. 28 in the UGA Chapel. The Honorable Verda M. Colvin, a Georgia Supreme Court justice and UGA School of Law alumna, will present this year’s lecture.
Anna Westerstahl Stenport, dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), has been named the next dean of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Georgia following a national search.
Stenport is a professor of communication and an expert in transnational cinema and media, modern literature and drama, and visual and cultural studies, with a focus on the Arctic and Nordic regions. She will join the UGA faculty as the University of Georgia Athletic Association Professor in Communication Studies in the department of communication studies on April 1, pending approval by the University System of Georgia Board of Regents. Stenport will assume the role of dean of Franklin College on June 1.
Her appointment as dean of UGA’s Franklin College represents a homecoming of sorts. With a scholarship from the Georgia Rotary Student Program, Stenport, a native of Sweden, spent her first year of college as an international student at UGA.
“The University of Georgia is excited to welcome Dr. Stenport back to our campus as the next dean of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences,” said President Jere W. Morehead. “Her success as an academic leader and multidisciplinary scholar and her commitment to student success, innovative teaching and groundbreaking research make her an ideal candidate to lead UGA’s oldest and largest college.”
Kevin Abernethy, an attorney who presently serves as chief of the civil division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Georgia, has been selected as vice president for government relations at the University of Georgia effective Jan. 17, 2023.
Abernethy has considerable experience in both state and federal relations, having served not only as an assistant U.S. attorney but also as chair of the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission (formerly known as the State Ethics Commission). In his present leadership position, Abernethy is responsible for representing the U.S. government in all civil litigation pending in the district. In Abernethy’s previous role with the Ethics Commission, he worked to regulate and ensure that all constitutional, state, county and municipal elections were fair, and that all Georgia state officeholders, lobbyists and vendors complied with Georgia’s Campaign Finance Act.
“Kevin Abernethy has established excellent relationships with state leaders and is a well-respected federal litigator with strong contacts to agencies at both federal and state levels,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. “He also is dedicated to his alma mater, the University of Georgia, where he distinguished himself as Student Government Association president. I am confident that Kevin will represent the university’s interests effectively as he advocates on our behalf regarding critical budgetary and programmatic issues.”
Abernethy earned a degree in political science from UGA and then received his law degree from Georgia State. He was a partner with the law firm of Hall Booth Smith, P.C. in Atlanta and served as vice president/general counsel of Abco Inc. for four years. In addition, he has previously served as deputy legislative counsel to Georgia’s lieutenant governor.