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Microbiome analysis tool will help scientists understand chronic disease and environment

A new computational tool developed by University of Georgia researchers shows promise for further understanding and identifying the complicated makeup of the microbiome.

Microbes, found everywhere—in our environment, on our skin and in human bodies and consisting of bacteria, archaea, fungi, protozoans and viruses—form microbiomes that have both good and harmful implications for human health.

With the creation of this new big data tool, researchers will help identify differences in patterns of microbes that may lead to a better understanding of chronic diseases such as diabetes and obesity.

The research is part of the National Microbiome Initiative and was published in Genome Biology. For more information, click here.

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UGA faculty member named National Academy of Inventors Fellow

The National Academy of Inventors has named a University of Georgia faculty member who is a leading researcher in regenerative medicine to the 2017 class of NAI Fellows.

Steven Stice, Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar and director of the UGA Regenerative Bioscience Center, joins an elite group of 912 innovators representing more than 250 prestigious research universities and governmental and nonprofit research institutions.  Election to NAI Fellow status is a professional distinction accorded to academic inventors who have demonstrated a prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development and the welfare of society. Six UGA faculty members have been named NAI Fellows since the honor was established in 2013, and an additional Fellow joined the faculty last year.

Stice, the D.W. Brooks Distinguished Professor in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, has led industry and academic research teams in the area of pluripotent stem cells for over 25 years. At UGA he has conducted pioneering work in developmental biology and genetics to advance animal and human medicine. His group derived some of the original human pluripotent stem cell lines placed on the first National Institutes of Health human embryonic stem cell registry. Stice was a key member of the team that produced the first cloned rabbit in 1989 and the first cloned transgenic calves in 1998 (George and Charlie), for which he was granted the first U.S. patent in cloning animals. He has produced the first genetically modified pluripotent stem cells derived from pigs and cattle and, more recently, in avian species. His research has led to 16 U.S. patents in stem cells, cloning and regenerative medicine, including the first U.S. patent on animal cloning and therapeutic cloning from adult animal cells.

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UGA advances in national research ranking

The University of Georgia climbed seven spots to No. 54 among all U.S. universities, colleges and research institutions in the latest National Science Foundation Higher Education Research and Development rankings.

In the new rankings, which reflect fiscal year 2016, UGA’s total research expenditures reached $410 million, up from $374 million and a ranking of 61st the year before. UGA also advanced on the basis of federally supported research expenditures, ranking 79th with $144 million, up eight spots from the prior year. Data for fiscal year 2017 show continued growth in research activity, with $458 million in total research and development expenditures-an increase of 12 percent over fiscal year 2016.

The university’s jump in research expenditures follows strategic investments that include Presidential Faculty Hiring Initiatives. The university also has enhanced grant support services for faculty, including integrating and improving operations for Sponsored Projects Administration and establishing the Office for Proposal Enhancement.

“The credit for this tremendous success goes to our outstanding faculty,” said President Jere W. Morehead. Because of their hard work and dedication, this institution is expanding its capacity to help solve the grand challenges of our time. This ranking is yet another signal of UGA's rise in national prominence.

At UGA and other research institutions, federal agencies comprise the single largest source of research funding. HERD is the primary source of information on research and development expenditures at U.S. colleges and universities. The survey is an annual census that collects information on research and development expenditures by field of research and source of funds and also gathers information on types of research and head counts of personnel.

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Two UGA students awarded prestigious Schwarzman Scholarships

The University of Georgia’s Elizabeth Hardister and Gaby Pierre will continue their studies in China next fall as two of 142 students selected internationally as Schwarzman Scholars, a program designed to prepare the next generation of leaders with an understanding of China's role in global trends.

The addition of Hardister and Pierre brings the total number of UGA Schwarzman Scholars to three. The incoming class was narrowed down from a pool of 4,042 international candidates and is comprised of students from 39 countries and 97 universities. This marks the third group of Schwarzman Scholars since the highly competitive program opened to applicants in 2015.

“On behalf of the University of Georgia, I want to congratulate Elizabeth and Gaby on this significant accomplishment,” said President Jere W. Morehead. They are great examples of all that can be achieved with hard work, dedication and a drive to make a difference in the world. The UGA family is proud of them.

The fully funded, yearlong masters program in global affairs is offered at Tsinghua University in Beijing. Students live and learn on the Schwarzman College campus and focus their studies on public policy, economics and business, or international studies. 

Both Hardister and Pierre are Honors students, and both are working to finish their masters degrees at UGA before heading to China. Hardister, from Dunwoody, is completing a bachelors degree in international affairs and a masters in public health with a focus on disaster management. Pierre, from Kingston, Jamaica, is finishing her masters in environmental planning and design. Previously, UGA alumna Torre Lavelle was a Schwarzman Scholar in the inaugural 2016 class.

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UGA connects big data and cybersecurity expertise to Georgia communities

The University of Georgia is extending its cybersecurity expertise across the state through a new initiative that will help businesses and communities identify ways to safeguard against potentially devastating cyberattacks.

Two communities in Georgia-Hart County and Griffin/Spalding County-will pilot the CyberArch program, which connects business and civic leaders with faculty from UGA Public Service and Outreach, the UGA Institute for Cybersecurity and Privacy and the broader Georgia Informatics Institutes for Research and Education at UGA.

“As the state’s most comprehensive research university, the University of Georgia is committed to addressing the grand challenges facing our state,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. With nationally recognized faculty and an extensive statewide network, UGA is uniquely positioned to help individuals, businesses and local governments identify ways to safeguard their critical data and infrastructure.

UGA is one of only two universities in the state to be designated a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Research by the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency. Faculty members in the UGA Institute for Cybersecurity and Privacy, part of the universitys department of computer science, conduct research in network and system security, security for mobile devices and the Internet of Things, and cyber-crime attribution, as well as several other areas related to cybersecurity. The campus-wide Georgia Informatics Institutes is a hub for research and instruction related to big data, and it fosters collaboration among campus units such as the Health Informatics Institute and department of management information systems.

In addition to research and instruction, UGA holds service as a core component of its three-part mission, with units across the state dedicated to addressing community and economic development needs. Hart County and Griffin/Spalding County were chosen as pilot communities for the CyberArch program through their participation in the Universitys Archway Partnership, a nationally recognized, collaborative and intensive program that addresses community-identified needs.

On Dec. 15, UGA faculty, staff and students will hold their initial meeting with business and civic leaders in Hart County to identify community priorities and explore ideas for promoting a culture of data security. A similar meeting is planned for January in Griffin.

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Three UGA faculty named AAAS Fellows

Three University of Georgia faculty members have been named Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, an honor bestowed by their peers for “scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications.”

These three faculty members are among 396 new AAAS Fellows who will be presented with an official certificate and a gold and blue-representing science and engineering, respectively-rosette pin on Feb. 17 at the AAAS Fellows Forum during the 2018 AAAS Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas.

The 2017 AAAS Fellows are all members of UGA's Plant Center.  James H. Leebens-Mack is professor of plant biology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and is noted for distinguished contributions to plant evolution and genomics. Wayne Allen Parrott, a professor of crop and soil sciences in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, is honored for distinguished contributions to the development and implementation of plant transformation technologies and to the discussions of the science and regulatory processes associated with genetically modified organisms. Chung-Jui C.J. Tsai, Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar and Winfred N. Hank Haynes Professor, is honored for pioneering research contributions in forestry biotechnology and genomics. Tsai holds a joint appointment in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources and the department of genetics in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

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Early action applicants bring record academic credentials to UGA

Nearly 15,000 students applied for early action admission to the University of Georgia’s Class of 2022, bringing record academic qualifications to the birthplace of public higher education.

This year more than 8,000 students are being offered early action admission to UGA, and their average GPA of 4.11 reflects their dedication to academic excellence and rigorous coursework such as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses. The average ACT score of students being offered admission through early action is 32, which exceeds last years record of 31. The average SAT score is 1390, which exceeds last years average of 1363. The mid 50th percentile ranges for the ACT and SAT scores of admitted students are 30-32 and 1320-1470, respectively. The average number of AP, IB and dual enrollment courses is nine, with a mid 50th percentile range of seven to 11.

“The academic achievements of these admitted students are remarkable,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. They were selected from our most outstanding pool of applicants for early action ever, attesting to the increasing recognition of the quality and value of a degree from the University of Georgia. We are excited to offer admission to this first group of students in the Class of 2022.

The number of students who apply for early admission to UGA has increased by more than a third over the past five years, and the number of students who apply through the regular decision process has grown substantially, as well. Early action applicants are considered for admission based solely on their grades, the rigor of their high school curriculum relative to what is available at their school and the results of their SAT or ACT scores. Regular decision applications, which are due no later than Jan. 8, are reviewed holistically, with the core academic qualifications supplemented by factors such as a students intellectual and creative pursuits, community involvement and leadership, and recommendations from counselors and teachers.

Students who apply through early action admission but are deferred have their applications reviewed with the regular decision applicant pool, and decisions are typically announced in mid-March.

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Campus Kitchen: Feeding seniors across Athens

Five miles doesnt seem like much. It’s a short car ride for some, and a morning jog for others. But for student volunteers in the University of Georgia Campus Kitchen program, 5 miles from the main campus in Athens takes them to Montine Brightwells doorstep to deliver food. The realization that such a vast community need is so close to campus is a wakeup call for students, according to volunteer Allison Vita.

“You dont expect to drive five minutes out and see people living with so much less,” said Vita, a fourth-year health promotion and behavior major in UGAs College of Public Health.

Every two weeks, Campus Kitchen volunteers travel to Brightwells home to deliver a made-from-scratch meal and bag of groceries. The meal is prepared by UGA students using donated food from grocery stores and farmers markets. Students also harvest fresh produce from the UGArden, the university's student farm.

Brightwell is one of many senior adults struggling with food insecurity. According to the Athens Community Council on Aging, one in every five seniors in Athens is classified as food insecure. This means they lack access to healthy, adequate and affordable food. The lack of access is not just a financial barrier but can also be transportation issues that prevent seniors from going shopping or health problems that limit their dietary options.

In 2010, a study by the ACCA and the foods and nutrition department in UGAs College of Family and Consumer Sciences found that 78 percent of grandparents raising grandchildren were struggling to provide food for their families. This began the partnership with the Campus Kitchen Project, a national organization that partners with high schools and colleges across the country to implement food recovery plans and engage students as volunteers to prepare and deliver meals.

UGA’s Campus Kitchen program is based in the Office of Service-Learning, which is jointly supported by the Offices of the Vice President for Instruction and the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach. Campus Kitchen at UGA is unique because it is the first to focus on senior food insecurity, a community-specific need.

In the 2016-2017 school year, students so far have collected more than 42,000 pounds of food and made more than 13,000 meals from scratch. Of the recovered food, 25,000 pounds has been redistributed as is to the program's clients or donated to other local organizations around Athens.

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Economic developer training at UGA gives Georgia advantage in attracting new industry

It didn’t take long for Larry Brooks to connect the dots during one of his Georgia Certified Economic Developer classes. Brooks, executive director of the Walker County Development Authority, already was looking for a site to locate a new industry when he attended a financing course offered by the University of Georgia's Carl Vinson Institute of Government. In the class he learned he could use money from a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax to purchase land and develop it.

Using the SPLOST money allowed Walker County to develop an industrial park, and as a result, Audia International, a plastics manufacturer, nearly doubled the size of the facility it planned for the county. 

“The program happened to be immediately applicable for what we were doing,” Brooks said. Audia is now looking at putting up another building. That means new investments, new jobs, new opportunities that are being developed for citizens. What the class did was open up my eyes to what could be done with the resources we had in hand.

Brooks is the first graduate of the GCED program, developed by the Vinson Institute and launched in 2016. The goal is to provide economic development professionals in Georgia with the education and tools they need to successfully recruit new industries and jobs. Currently 221 people are enrolled, taking courses on critical topics like attracting and growing businesses, workforce development, and financing economic development and deal structuring. To become certified, participants must take 36 hours of core courses, take 24 hours of specialized courses on industry knowledge and leadership, and complete a capstone portfolio project.

The program made Walker County more competitive, which is crucially important for a county that borders two states-Alabama and Tennessee-that are increasingly aggressive in luring business. Brooks said learning about resources available specifically in Georgia has been huge. From guest speakers to classmates, the classes he took exposed him to a plethora of experts. He used contacts he made with the Georgia Department of Labor to help allay workforce development concerns of one prospective company.

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UGA graduation, retention rates reach all-time high

Measures of student success at the University of Georgia are at all-time highs, and ongoing enhancements to the learning environment aim to lift retention and graduation rates to even higher levels in the coming years.

The retention rate—an indicator of student success and satisfaction that quantifies the percentage of incoming students who return for their sophomore yearnow stands at 96 percent, a record that exceeds the 95 percent average retention rate for UGA’s highly selective aspirational institutions. UGAs 96 percent freshman retention rate also exceeds the 90 percent average for UGAs peer institutions and the 88 percent Southeastern Conference average.

“There is no commitment more important at the University of Georgia than our commitment to student learning and success,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. I want to congratulate our outstanding faculty, staff and students. These impressive metrics ultimately reflect their hard work and dedication to academic excellence.

The most recent data show that UGAs four-year and six-year graduation rates remain at record highs, as well. Sixty-six percent of UGA students earned their degrees within four years. For comparison, the average four-year graduation rates for aspirational, peer and SEC institutions are 68, 52 and 45 percent respectively.

Eighty-five percent of UGA students graduate within six years. For comparison, the average six-year graduation rates for aspirational, peer and SEC institutions are 87, 75 and 71 percent, respectively.