One of the first things Jane McPherson did when she got into the classroom at the beginning of the semester was have her Master of Social Work students circle their hometown on a large map. Having just returned from the 2015 New Faculty Tour, she has an appreciation for critical issues facing the state and how UGA can play a role in helping address them.
“As I taught this week, I looked at my students through the lens of their legislators and family members, seeing each one as an individual whom I must prepare to harness Georgia’s specific opportunities and also confront the challenges,” said McPherson, an assistant professor in the School of Social Work. “We will return to that map as the semester goes forward, making our lessons specific to the challenges of those Georgia towns.”
For most of the 38 participants, the New Faculty Tour was an introduction to Georgia, its people, geography, history and culture. Many had barely arrived in Athens before boarding the bus for the five-day trip, which stretched from Athens, through Gainesville and Dahlonega, Atlanta, Senoia, Warner Robins, Tifton, Waycross, Savannah and Sandersville.
Along the way, they were introduced to the economic engines that help Georgians prosper. Agriculture remains the state’s leading industry. Helping that industry are the researchers in Tifton, who are breeding more disease-resistant peanuts and helping farmers more efficiently water their fields by using pivoting sprinkler systems that rotate across crops for better irrigation.
“I never knew how one of those irrigation pivots worked,” said Peter O’Connell, an assistant professor of classics and communication studies in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. “I think that was the most interesting thing we saw here.”
The new faculty also got a tour of the set for AMC’s The Walking Dead television series, which is filmed in Senoia, just south of Atlanta. Scott Tigchelaar, president of Raleigh Studios, which produces the show, said the small town of Senoia has grown from five downtown businesses to 50 since the Walking Dead arrived five years ago. One of those businesses is a Walking Dead store and museum, where tourists-1,500 to 2,000 a week from all over the world, Tigchelaar said-buy Daryl bobblehead dolls, gummy candies shaped like body parts and Walking Dead daily trivia calendars.
“This town has come back to life,” Tigchelaar said. “It’s a nice little success story for Georgia.”
The faculty also visited Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins and Gulfstream Aerospace in Savannah, which employs almost 11,000 people.
For Brian Orland, the Rado Family Foundation/UGA Professor in GeoDesign in the College of Environment and Design, the tour was a chance to identify ways he can use his work to benefit the state.
“The visits to CSX, Gulfstream, Skidaway Island and the (Georgia Ports Authority) gave me unparalleled insight into the key issues facing the region and the changes that the landscape is called upon to absorb,” Orland said. “It would have been impossible for me to get inside these key facilities in such a short time as an individual faculty member.”