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NMI hosts planning workshop for UGA to become third site for Center for Bioplastics and Biocomposites

Demonstrating UGA’s broad expertise in polymer science, biochemical engineering, textiles and plant science, faculty members representing the New Materials Institute recently presented a range of project ideas as part of the NMI’s pitch to become a site for the Center for Bioplastics and Biocomposites, known as CB2.

If approved this fall, the NMI will become the center’s third site, joining Iowa State University and Washington State University, which formed CB2 three years ago as an Industry-University Cooperative Research Center, a program run by the National Science Foundation. The 10 project pitches were presented at a site planning meeting attended by industry representatives from 20 companies, the NSF and CB2.

The NMI team will use the feedback from this planning ­meeting to shape its full NSF proposal, which will also require letters of commitment from industry partners. The IUCRC program benefits industry and academia in several key ways. Industry members gain access to cutting-edge research, shared intellectual property, ongoing training and continuing education, and the ability to leverage investment opportunities. Universities benefit from knowing exactly what industry expects from a project through direct mentorship, which leads to long-term relationships with industry partners, future intellectual property and the direct exposure of students to potential employers.

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Students raise more than $1M for Children's Healthcare

More than 3,000 students representing more than 50 student organizations gathered in the Tate Student Center Grand Hall Sunday morning to celebrate raising $1,261,077.18 for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. This is the third year in a row that UGA Miracle, the University of Georgia’s largest student-run philanthropy, has achieved a seven-figure fundraising total.

Beginning at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 17, and lasting until the same time Sunday, the entire student center was filled with students, faculty and staff for UGA Miracle’s annual Dance Marathon. Throughout the night, participants danced, listened to live music and took pictures with Hairy Dawg. Nearly 50 “Miracle children,” the Children’s Healthcare patients who interact with UGA Miracle’s student members during the year, and their families attended the event, and 24 of them took the stage one at a time throughout the night to share their inspirational stories. Activities for the children and their families included arts and crafts, sharing of personal stories, participating in a scavenger hunt and a lot of dancing. The event also featured a “Standing Challenge,” where participants do not sit for the entirety of the event to honor the many children who cannot stand and may never be able to stand again.

Every dollar raised up to $1 million supports the Comprehensive Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit at Children’s Healthcare to fund state of the art equipment and facilities, including the UGA Miracle Gym. Beginning last year, every dollar raised above $1 million supports the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center to fund groundbreaking pediatric research.

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City leaders gain critical knowledge through UGA partnership

More than 250 first-time mayors and city council members from Georgia cities gathered in Athens last week for the two-day Newly Elected Officials Institute, held every February to teach new leaders the basics of effective governance. Instructed by faculty from the UGA Carl Vinson Institute of Government and instructors from the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA), new officeholders gain a practical understanding of municipal government administration and policy-making—critical knowledge to help them become more effective public servants.

“This practical training, specifically designed for newly elected officials, helps municipal leaders understand and effectively address the kinds of issues they face every day,” said Laura Meadows, director of the Institute of Government. “By partnering with GMA, which brings in-depth knowledge of all Georgia’s municipalities, we can tailor the information to each community the officials represent.”

Mandated by state law in 1990, the Georgia General Assembly directed the Institute of Government and GMA to introduce new officeholders to the legal, financial and ethical responsibilities of city officials. Besides exploring their roles and responsibilities, first-term officials study government finance and budgeting, planning and zoning, ethics, and staff relations to fulfill the six-hour training minimum set by law.

“Training local leaders is one of the many efforts the University of Georgia is undertaking to strengthen communities across the state,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. “I am pleased that our public service faculty are sharing their expertise with the citizens of Georgia in this important way.”

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Hunter-Gault brings past to the present at namesake lecture

Charlayne Hunter-Gault passed the proverbial baton to the next generation during the annual Holmes-Hunter Lecture held Feb. 15 at the Chapel.

“It’s truly time for every citizen, no matter your age, to get woke,” she said. “And that means helping keep our democracy safe, and it means doing the hard work of digging for good information with a variety of sources.”

Hunter-Gault spoke to the standing-room-only crowd, which included students from Cedar Shoals High School, Clarke Central High School, Classic City High School, Barrow Elementary, and KIPP Atlanta Collegiate High School and Peachtree Ridge High School in Gwinnett County, about lessons she learned from her past.

“I want to share a little of my life with you today in the hope that you will be inspired, or further inspired, to make sure that your armor is fitted and polished so that you can help bind wounds and defeat the kind of divisions that are tearing at the fabric of our nation,” she said.

The lecture is named for Hunter-Gault and her classmate, Hamilton Holmes, who were the first African-American students to attend UGA. They arrived on campus in 1961 after civil rights leaders in Atlanta successfully challenged the segregation policy at the state’s universities. In 2001, the academic building where Hunter-Gault and Holmes registered was renamed the Holmes-Hunter Academic Building in their honor, marking the 40th anniversary of the desegregation of the university.

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UGA names building for Sanford and Barbara Orkin

The next building to become part of the University of Georgia Terry College of Business will be named for Sanford and Barbara Orkin of Atlanta. The University System of Georgia Board of Regents has approved naming one of the two buildings currently under construction in the third and final phase of the Business Learning Community for the Orkins in recognition of their longstanding support of UGA, including a $5 million gift to the Terry College of Business.

“Sanford and Barbara Orkin’s tremendous generosity will leave an enduring legacy at the University of Georgia,” said President Jere W. Morehead. “Their latest gift, which will further enhance the learning environment on our campus, demonstrates their unyielding commitment to supporting the endeavors of our students, faculty and staff.”

The building to be named Sanford and Barbara Orkin Hall—located at the corner of Baxter and Hull streets—will include a large auditorium, undergraduate classrooms, a behavioral lab, a computer lab for marketing research, interview suites and faculty and administrative offices.

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Stem-cell based stroke treatment repairs brain tissue

A team of researchers at the University of Georgia’s Regenerative Bioscience Center and ArunA Biomedical, a UGA startup company, have developed a new treatment for stroke that reduces brain damage and accelerates the brain’s natural healing tendencies in animal models. They published their findings in the journal Translational Stroke Research.

The research team led by UGA professor Steven Stice and Nasrul Hoda of Augusta University created a treatment called AB126 using extracellular vesicles (EV), fluid-filled structures known as exosomes, which are generated from human neural stem cells.

Fully able to cloak itself within the bloodstream, this type of regenerative EV therapy appears to be the most promising in overcoming the limitations of many cell therapies­—with the ability for exosomes to carry and deliver multiple doses—as well as the ability to store and administer treatment. Small in size, the tiny tubular shape of an exosome allows EV therapy to cross barriers that cells cannot.

“This is truly exciting evidence, because exosomes provide a stealth-like characteristic, invisible even to the body’s own defenses,” said Stice, Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar and D.W. Brooks Distinguished Professor in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “When packaged with therapeutics, these treatments can actually change cell progression and improve functional recovery.”

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Indoor Athletic Facility named for Billy and Porter Payne

The University System of Georgia Board of Regents Tuesday approved the naming of the University of Georgia’s Indoor Athletic Facility in honor of former UGA all-star football player Billy Payne and his father, the late Porter Payne. The official name of the facility will be the William Porter Payne and Porter Otis Payne Indoor Athletic Facility.  The naming opportunity is the result of gifts totaling $10 million secured from friends of Billy and Porter Payne.

“Billy Payne and his late father Porter hold a very special place in the storied history and tradition of the University of Georgia,” said President Jere W. Morehead. “It is a great honor to have their names forever tied to one of the most prominent athletic programs in the country.”

Former CEO of the Atlanta Olympic Games and chairman of Augusta National, Payne graduated from UGA in 1969 with a degree in political science, and he earned his law degree from Georgia Law in 1973. Both he and his father lettered in football at UGA, Billy from 1966-68 and Porter from 1946-49.

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UGA Extension, Mercer University partner to recruit future doctors for rural Georgia

Fewer and fewer new doctors are choosing to stay in Georgia to practice medicine. In an effort to encourage students to study medicine and become doctors in the Peach State’s rural communities, Jean Sumner, dean of the Mercer University School of Medicine, turned to Georgia 4-H, a youth development program run by University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.

“4-H is a leadership organization, and physicians are some of the most influential people in their communities,” Sumner said. “4-H is full of the best and the brightest of young people. It gives them a chance to excel, have a mentor and connect with something that is greater than them.”

Sumner, along with Southeast District 4-H Program Development Coordinator Lee Anna Deal, Effingham County 4-H Agent Abby Smith and Bleckley County 4-H Agent Brandi McGonagill, created a program called “Setting Your Sights on Medical School.” The program’s goal is to expose 4-H’ers from medically underserved, rural Georgia to the idea that medical school is an option for them, Smith said. Members of 4-H must apply to the program, and accepted students travel to Macon for an inside look at medical school through sessions led by Mercer faculty and students. There are about 30 4-H members in each session of the program. They rotate through different stations to learn about basic physiology, patient interaction, rural medicine, telemedicine, medical research and more.

“Hands-on learning experiences like this are just the type of programming 4-H’ers get excited about being a part of,” Deal said. “We hope to impact these young people in a positive way to help them reach their future goals. Our mission in Georgia 4-H is to offer opportunities like this for young people to acquire knowledge and develop life skills to help them become self-directing, productive and contributing citizens.”

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Gene improves plant growth and conversion to biofuels

A research team led by the University of Georgia has discovered that manipulation of the same gene in poplar trees and switchgrass produced plants that grow better and are more efficiently converted to biofuels. In a paper published in February 2018 in Nature Biotechnology, the researchers report that reducing the activity of a specific gene called GAUT4 leads to lower levels of pectin, a component of plant cell walls responsible for their resistance to deconstruction.

“It’s expensive to produce biofuels,” said lead author Debra Mohnen, a member of UGA’s Complex Carbohydrate Research Center and professor of biochemistry and molecular biology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. “It takes a lot of energy to break open plant biomass, with a pretreatment process involving chemicals, high temperatures and enzymes that break complex polymers into smaller sugars that can be turned into fuels. Even relatively modest increases in the efficiency of deconstruction can be important on an industrial scale.”

Mohnen and a team of researchers at six institutions found that reducing the expression of GAUT4 in poplar and switchgrass led to a 70 percent reduction in pectin content and produced a 15 percent increase in sugar release. Unexpectedly, it also led to an increase in the growth of both plant species, an added benefit. The increase in plant yield and sugar release—demonstrated in both greenhouse and field trials for switchgrass—bodes well for creating biofuels, an important alternative to fossil fuels. Switchgrass and poplar previously were identified by the U.S. Department of Energy as two biofuel feedstocks that can be grown on land that would not profitably support food crops.

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University group will develop grand challenges program and team-based learning initiative

The University of Georgia is moving forward with two recommendations made by the Task Force on Student Learning and Success: a university-wide grand challenges initiative and a pilot program to emphasize team-based learning.

President Jere W. Morehead has charged a committee with developing a grand challenges initiative to encourage students and faculty to collaborate around big ideas aligned with the institution’s areas of academic strength. The committee will explore the creation of a year-long series of events—potentially including campus speakers, research competitions, service-learning activities and other engagement opportunities—around selected grand challenge topics. The committee is chaired by Jennifer Frum, vice president for public service and outreach.

A pilot program to teach students to work in teams to solve real-world problems will be introduced through the Honors Program this fall. David S. Williams, associate provost and director of the Honors Program, will introduce the program. Team-based learning has been shown to foster critical competencies, such as critical thinking, problem-solving and collaboration skills—which are essential for success in today’s evolving global economy.

“I am pleased to see these two recommendations moving forward to enhance the learning environment for our students,” said Morehead. “I am grateful to Dr. Frum, Dr. Williams and everyone involved in leading these important efforts.”