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UGA School of Social Work receives $2.6 million to support graduate students in need

Graduate students in the University of Georgia School of Social Work who face financial challenges while earning a degree are receiving help, thanks to the re-establishment of a federally funded scholarship program.

The school was recently awarded $2.6 million by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Service Administration, as part of its Scholarships for Disadvantaged Students program. The funds will be distributed to students in need over the next four years, contingent upon the program's annual review by the federal agency. The award is the largest to be received by the school for the program. The school had previously received four years of funding for the scholarships that ended in June 2016.

The school, which began distributing the grant money in August, will continue to award the scholarships to students who are enrolled full time in the clinical practice concentration of the social work graduate degree program. Scholarship applicants must also demonstrate they come from a disadvantaged background and intend to serve in primary care settings with underserved populations. Award amounts vary and are determined based on the level of demonstrated need for each applicant. Awards may be for up to $30,000 per year and cover at least half the cost of tuition.

"This scholarship should help at least 50 students each year through 2020," said David Okech, director of the social work master's degree program and the scholarship program. "This is a good thing, because there is a great need for clinical social workers in the state of Georgia and in the country as a whole." This year 52 of 63 applicants were awarded the scholarship.

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New UGA institute seeks solutions to major infrastructure challenges

The University of Georgia has created a research institute that will work to help communities rethink, transform and adapt their infrastructure in a time of rapid environmental and social change.

The Institute for Resilient Infrastructure Systems will be administered by the College of Engineering and will include faculty members from more than nine academic units across campus. Faculty in the new institute will explore ways to strengthen traditional "gray" infrastructure systems-such as water and sewage treatment, urban drainage, energy and transportation- and to integrate them with "green" and "blue" infrastructure-green spaces, bodies of water, and ecosystems that perform vital functions such as buffering storms and cleansing water and air.

"The institute will be nationally unique in that it unites engineering with ecology, environmental design and planning, atmospheric science, law and policy, public health, and other disciplines to effectively combine green and gray infrastructure solutions for resilience to weather and climate-related extremes," said Brian Bledsoe, the UGA Athletic Association Professor in Resilient Infrastructure and the institute's inaugural director. "By bringing together UGA's diverse strengths we hope to produce integrative research that can be used by communities, businesses and governments to mitigate risks through improved decision-making and infrastructure design at a variety of scales."

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UGA research sheds light on mechanism that leads to drug-resistant superbugs

Drug-resistant organisms, or so-called "superbugs," are a growing public health threat because "last-resort" therapeutics-employed only when other drugs fail to kill an infection-are failing. A University of Georgia-led research team is the first to examine multiple strains of one of the most dangerous superbugs known to science and a last-resort antibiotic used to treat it. The team's discovery deepens the understanding of how pathogens adapt to protect themselves from antibiotics and will enable researchers to develop therapeutics aimed at evading this mechanism.

M. Stephen Trent, in the College of Veterinary Medicine's Department of Infectious Diseases, and his team found that several strains of the Gram-negative bacterium Acinetobacter baumannii are mutating into drug-resistant bacteria by shedding a layer of their outermost membrane in response to exposure to colistin, also known as polymyxin E, a decades-old antibiotic. The bacterium inactivates production of an essential molecule that colistin is designed to bind to, which then prevents the drug from entering the cell to neutralize the infection-suggesting that the bacterium adapted a novel mechanism to protect itself.

Previous research isolated this behavior to a single strain of A. baumannii, but this study is the first to track multiple strains and determine that colistin-resistance is a response to treatment. Trent and his team chose colistin for the study not only because it represents the end of the line for bacterial infection treatment options, but also to understand how Gram-negative bacteria like A. baumannii survive without that essential cell wall molecule-called lipopolysaccharides, or LPS.

"Bacteria are phenomenally adaptive, and if the antibiotic can't bind to or enter the bacterium, it is not effective," said Trent, the UGA Foundation Distinguished Professor of Infectious Diseases. The theory is, if scientists better understand how bacteria become superbugs, scientists can develop effective antibiotics to combat the bugs' resistant mechanisms.

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Record number of UGA students and alumni offered Fulbright awards for 2016-2017

A record number of 19 University of Georgia students and recent alumni-including six doctoral students and five May graduates-were offered international travel-study grants from the Fulbright U.S. Student Program for the 2016-2017 academic year.

Eighteen accepted the offer, but with the closure of Turkey's program at the end of July, only 15 were able to participate. Of the group, five will be teaching English, nine received academic research grants and one received a creative research grant to focus on playwriting in Canada. Seven are graduates of the UGA Honors Program.

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, the Fulbright U.S. Student Program offers research, study and teaching opportunities to graduate students and recent college graduates in an effort to further mutual understanding between the people of the U.S. and other countries. The program awards approximately 1,900 grants annually in all fields of study in over 140 countries.

"To have Fulbrights offered to 19 UGA students and recent alumni is certainly testament to the caliber of our institution," said Maria de Rocher, assistant director of the Honors Program and chair of the Fulbright selection committee at UGA. "We work with most of the applicants individually, helping them through the process. Their commitment to serving as cultural ambassadors and increasing understanding of the wider world was abundantly clear."

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UGA rededicates historic H.H. Tift Building

The University of Georgia rededicated the newly renovated H.H. Tift Building on the UGA-Tifton campus Sept. 27.

Renovation of the historic Tift Building—the campus's first structure—was completed in May and funded by $5 million in state support. The facility houses the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics as well as administrative offices. The renovated building also contains modern classroom space to provide faculty and students with the latest in learning technology.

Speakers at the rededication ceremony included UGA President Jere W. Morehead, Dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Sam Pardue and UGA student and biological sciences major Lolita Muñoz.

Morehead emphasized the important link between UGA-Tifton and the surrounding communities.

"Today, we celebrate more than the renovation of the historic Tift Building," Morehead said. "We celebrate the unwavering and longstanding bond between UGA-Tifton and the many communities it proudly serves all across South Georgia. Indeed, the strengths and opportunities of this area of the state and the mission of this campus are perfectly aligned."

The Tift Building complements the campus's vital research enterprise, which is recognized worldwide for scientific discoveries related to agricultural commodities such as cotton, peanuts, pecans, turf grass and vegetables.

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UGA launches Georgia Informatics Institutes for Research and Education

The University of Georgia will significantly expand its instruction and research in the critical area of informatics with the formation of the Georgia Informatics Institutes for Research and Education.

The GII will be administered by the College of Engineering and will include faculty members from across campus to create new synergies that enable research advances in fields ranging from data analytics and cybersecurity to public health and agriculture. The GII also is developing an informatics core curriculum that will serve as a foundation for discipline-specific informatics programs.

An interdisciplinary, seven-member faculty planning committee charged in 2015 by Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Pamela Whitten began exploring ways to build upon the university's established strengths in informatics, and their plan established the framework for the proposal to create the GII.

"The ability to extract meaning from large volumes of data is transforming business and our understanding of the world," Whitten said. "By establishing the Georgia Informatics Institutes, our faculty have put the University of Georgia at the forefront of the information revolution."

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Professors named SEC Academic Leadership Development Program Fellows

Four University of Georgia faculty members-Chris Garvin, Janice Hume, Marisa Anne Pagnattaro and J. Marshall Shepherd-have been selected as the university's 2016-2017 SEC Academic Leadership Development Program Fellows.

The fellowship program, which was created by the Southeastern Conference in 2008, includes training, mentoring and networking to advance academic leaders. Participants will engage with senior administrators at UGA and attend two SEC-wide workshops with representatives from throughout the conference.

"This program allows the SEC ALDP Fellows to engage in frank conversations with senior administrators about the variety of issues they face as academic leaders," said Meg Amstutz, associate provost for academic programs and UGA's SEC ALDP liaison. "Through the two workshops, participants are able to network with colleagues across the SEC and discuss the ways in which their campus leaders respond to challenges that arise."

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UGA receives $4 million NSF grant to continue broadening participation in STEM

Funding for a program that has helped triple minority enrollment in STEM fields at the University of Georgia has been renewed for the second time by the National Science Foundation.

UGA initially received funding to implement the Peach State Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation a decade ago, and the program will continue for another five years thanks to a new $4 million NSF grant. The program, led by UGA’s Office of Institutional Diversity, funds undergraduates in STEM majors at UGA, as well as at Fort Valley State University, Georgia State University, Perimeter College, Georgia Institute of Technology, Kennesaw State University and Savannah State University.

“The renewal of Peach State LSAMP funding is evidence of the University of Georgia's success over the last decade, as well as our ongoing efforts, in supporting minority students in the STEM disciplines,” said President Jere W. Morehead. “We are excited to extend the reach of this important program as we prepare our students for the next stage of their academic careers.”

According to the NSF, African-Americans are 12 percent of the U.S. population but received less than 9 percent of science and engineering bachelor’s degrees in 2014. Hispanics received 12 percent of the degrees but comprise 14 percent of the population.

Since the Peach State Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation began in 2006, minority enrollment in STEM fields at UGA has increased from 399 in 2006 to 1,143 in 2015. The number of Bachelor of Science degrees earned by underrepresented minorities in STEM has quadrupled from 56 in 2006 to 214 in 2015. In addition, the overall number of STEM degrees conferred by UGA has risen in recent years from nearly 16 percent of all bachelor's degrees in 2011 to 21 percent in 2015.

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Researcher receives $5.2 million to develop affordable diagnostic test for Chagas disease

An international team of researchers led by infectious disease experts at the University of Georgia has received $5.2 million from the National Institutes of Health to develop a more accurate, affordable diagnostic test for Chagas disease, a parasitic infection that kills more than 50,000 people each year in Central and South America.

Caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi and spread by blood-feeding insects commonly known as “kissing bugs,” Chagas disease is considered by many to be the most neglected of the neglected tropical diseases. While it is endemic to Latin America, Chagas disease is a growing threat in the U.S. and Europe.

Currently, there are only two drug treatments available; however, their usage is limited due to severe adverse reactions and the length of treatment required.

“Fortunately, there are a number of new drug discovery efforts in Chagas disease. But a major limitation is the difficulty in comparing the relative efficacy of current drugs to newly developed ones,” said Rick Tarleton, UGA Athletic Association Distinguished Research Professor of Biological Sciences in the department of cellular biology and Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases. “One simply can't wait for 10 years (as current protocols require) to determine if a new drug is better than the existing ones.”

In Chagas disease, the number of parasites in chronically infected individuals is extremely low, making detection of parasites an unreliable test to determine if an individual is infected. Instead, the researchers have focused on the body’s response to infection by measuring the unique antibodies that the immune system creates in response to exposure to T. cruzi.

Tarleton and his UGA colleagues have already developed a successful multiplex blood test that measures antibodies to multiple T. cruzi proteins. While their test has proven to be useful in the laboratory, it is also expensive.

The primary goal of their current project is to make the test more sensitive by expanding the number of T. cruzi antibodies it can detect. But the researchers are also developing techniques to make the test more affordable so that it can be used in diagnostic centers in endemic countries.

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Noel Fallows named associate provost for international education at UGA

Noel Fallows, an administrator with a proven record of fostering international partnerships in research, instruction and outreach, has been named associate provost for international education at the University of Georgia.

Fallows has been serving as interim associate provost for international education since February and was previously associate dean of international and multidisciplinary programs in UGA's Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

“Throughout his career, Dr. Fallows has forged connections that open doors of discovery and opportunity,” said Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Pamela Whitten. “I am confident that he will build upon UGA's national leadership in providing study abroad opportunities while continuing to create mutually beneficial partnerships that advance research, scholarship and service.”

Fallows, a Distinguished Research Professor of Spanish in the department of Romance languages, joined the UGA faculty in 1992 as an assistant professor. As associate provost for international education, he oversees nearly 200 university-level partnerships in more than 50 countries, as well as 180 study abroad programs and more than 50 international exchange programs with collective enrollments in excess of 2,500 students per year. UGA's Office of International Education also oversees residential study abroad programs in Cortona, Italy; San Luis de Monteverde, Costa Rica; and Oxford, United Kingdom; as well as immigration services for international students and visiting scholars.