Campus News Georgia Impact

Gift to UGA leadership institute named for former gymnastics coach

A $500,000 gift to the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development at UGA will create the Suzanne Yoculan Leebern Fund to support students through the Embark program.

The gift, made by UGA alumnus and University System of Georgia Board of Regents member Don ­Leebern Jr., specifically will provide support for UGA students who have been orphaned, placed in foster care, are under court protection or legal guardianship or who are identified as homeless.

“Students in these situations have faced significant obstacles in their lives and, impressively, have attained the academic credentials to attend the University of Georgia,” said Suzanne Yoculan Leebern. “We wanted them to have somewhere to turn for help.”

Funds can be used for orientation expenses, meal plans, travel, housing, furnishings, books, supplies, social opportunities, campus mentoring, emergencies/crises or any other expense deemed appropriate by the director of the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, a unit of the Office of Public Service and Outreach.

“Don and Suzanne are both ­longtime friends of the university, and I am pleased they are helping us to increase funding and leadership development opportunities for this deserving group of students,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. “Their generous gift will help the university to ensure that talented students from all backgrounds have the support they need to succeed at UGA and beyond.”

Embark, a program within the Fanning Institute, provides leadership training throughout the state for students who are homeless or who have been in foster care and have no immediate support system.

These students face significant challenges when pursuing a postsecondary education due to diminished access to financial resources, instability while in high school and significantly reduced social capital. Students who are able to enroll in a postsecondary educational institution have earned the credentials against great odds and represent the future leaders of Georgia.

The vision of Embark is that any person who has experienced foster care or homelessness will have ample academic, financial, social and emotional support to access, navigate and complete a postsecondary education.