Campus News Society & Culture

A decade of giving

UGA parents’ grants program has awarded nearly $5 million to campus organizations over 10 years

This year, the University of Georgia Parents Leadership Council celebrates the 10th anniversary of its grants program, which has given more than $4.6 million to initiatives across campus and enhanced the college experience of countless UGA students.

The PLC is a service-oriented group of highly engaged parents who provide funding to the university through their annual gifts. Once a year, through the PLC Grants Program, the council awards money to campus organizations that have a commitment to enhancing undergraduate student life.

The PLC Grants Program started with about 150 PLC families who awarded nearly $145,000 to 22 organizations. Today, the council has grown to more than 250 families contributing $5,000 or more each year, increasing the program’s impact exponentially. In total, the council has received roughly 540 grant applications and awarded more than $4.6 million. Many of the recipients have received multiple grants through the years, such as the University Health Center’s Counseling and Psychiatric Services and Campus Kitchen.

“To provide the best learning environment possible, we have to do whatever we can to meet the ongoing needs of our students,” said Victor K. Wilson, vice president for student affairs. “These grants and support from parents have and continue to do so much to change lives, and we’re grateful and encourage more parents to get involved in this impactful initiative.”

This year, the PLC is giving more than ever before, pledging $875,000 to 100 organizations, and the best indicators of the program’s impact are the grant recipients themselves.

Carrie Smith is the assistant dean of students and director of Student Care and Outreach, which is supported by the Sunshine Fund. (Photo by Drew Collins)

We immediately had funds that we could award to students so they could believe in us.”

UGA’s Student Care and Outreach works alongside students to provide unique, facilitated mental health guidance that will fit students’ individual needs, and the Sunshine Fund is an important, new extension of that work.

Started in 2020 by Parents Leadership Council members Christie and Scott Krase of Chappaqua, New York, the fund connects students to mental healthcare options, creates tailored mental health programs and mitigates any hardships that negatively contribute to a student’s well-being.

“We’ve had students who have returned from treatment, and we’ve been able to get them set up in a living environment that’s going to allow them to continue on a healthy path,” said Carrie Smith, assistant dean of students and SCO director. “We have students with parents who don’t feel like mental health care is a viable option, so we’re able to provide money directly to a student to pay a care provider when they’re really seeking to help themselves.”

The Sunshine Fund’s first PLC grant, received in 2021, helped the fund get off the ground and gave SCO additional resources necessary to support students.

“More than anything, I think it started an understanding of what the need is here for students to get connected,” said Smith. “And it helped us move into the place we are now where people are talking about the Sunshine Fund as a dedication to student mental health.”

This year, the Sunshine Fund and SCO received $63,000 from the PLC: $40,000 in immediately spendable funds and an additional $23,000 to the Sunshine Fund endowment to provide a sustainable funding source in perpetuity. In the future, the SCO plans to expand their reach to more students so they can help all who need it.

Taylor Talley, chief executive director of Designated Dawgs, advertises her organization’s free ride service for students in downtown Athens. (Submitted photo)

I say this wholeheartedly: We would not be able to run without the PLC grant.”

In 2000, undergraduate students Tim McNary (BBA ’02) and Carl Fleming (BBA ’01) created the student-run ride program WatchDawgs to help ensure students were getting home safely after a night downtown. Two decades later, the program—now known as Designated Dawgs—has given over 90,000 rides to students.

Taylor Talley, a sophomore in the School of Public and International Affairs, is the current chief executive director of the program. As a freshman, she volunteered as a driver and saw the positive effect the organization had on students and their safety.

“Multiple students throughout that semester told me that they felt so much more comfortable in a car with students,” she said. “It was really rewarding, because it shows the work that we do actually matters to our peers and the UGA student body.”

Since 2014, Designated Dawgs has received $166,000 from Parents Leadership Council grants, funding that has been vital to the program. This year, Designated Dawgs received $60,000 from the PLC to invest in renting cars, paying for gas, developing an app and growing the program.

“The PLC was able to come through and award us again which we are very grateful for,” Talley said. “The work that they help us do does not go unnoticed. We always try to thank them in every way possible because we wouldn’t be able to function without them.”

Shannon Jolly is the outgoing campus coordinator for UGA’s Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation. (Photo by Drew Collins)

[That’s] our target: to limit the barriers as much as possible for every student we can impact.”

The Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation is a national organization aimed at helping underrepresented students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics complete their undergraduate degrees and encouraging them to pursue graduate degrees.

Each year, Peach State LSAMP—Georgia’s six-institution LSAMP alliance—invites incoming first-year UGA students who identify as underrepresented to their Summer Bridge Program. The three-week program helps ease new students into college life and their upcoming coursework through mock classes, workshops, lab tours with UGA faculty and more. They also engage with peer mentors and counselors from LSAMP, fostering a sense of community with older students who share similar experiences.

“We create a community—like a family—of students who identify as underrepresented in STEM,” said Shannon Jolly, the outgoing UGA LSAMP campus coordinator. “We mostly try to teach them organizational skills and tips for studying, preparing them for what STEM disciplines are like at UGA.”

LSAMP received a PLC grant this year of nearly $17,000 to support the Summer Bridge Program. The grant will offset the cost of housing, meal plans and transportation for the students, and it will allow the program to support more participants, both in-person and remote. An online hybrid option will allow those who cannot attend the full program to join.

“Every time we reapply to the grant, we’re always asking for additional funding so that we can have a greater impact on those first-year students,” said Jolly. “We’ve made that our target: to limit the barriers as much as possible for every student we can impact.”

Brianna Hutcheson, business team lead for UGA Motorsports, works on a car in the organization’s garage. (Photo by Drew Collins)

As women in engineering, it’s hard to make your voice heard, and UGA Motorsports has helped us with that.”

Every UGA student needs an experiential learning credit to graduate. Brianna Hutcheson, a civil engineering major, and Maisi Corbin, a mechanical engineering major, chose to fulfill this requirement by joining UGA Motorsports.

Housed in the College of Engineering, UGA Motorsports allows engineering students to apply skills learned in class by building race cars from scratch and participating in competitions against other universities in three divisions: Formula SAE, Baja SAE and Endurance ChampCar.

The organization received $6,000 from the Parents Leadership Council this year, which allowed their Baja SAE team to compete for the first time and will help to fund the creation of a Formula Electric Vehicle team, expanding their reach to even more students.

Brianna currently serves as the business lead for the organization, and next year she will be the program director of Baja SAE. Corbin works on the vehicle logistics team for Formula SAE and will be UGA Motorsports’ president for 2022-2023. Beyond the practical experience they’ve gained, both Hutcheson and Corbin believe that UGA Motorsports helped them find their voices in a traditionally male-dominated field.

“Sometimes it’s hard to get people to hear what you’re saying just because you’re a woman in engineering,” Corbin said. “Motorsports has definitely helped me be more assertive for what I want.”

Hutcheson agreed, “I was very quiet my freshman year. When I came in, I was in a shell. I think being a lead and trying to direct all these people really helped me come out of that shell.”

By supporting UGA Motorsports and other experiential learning programs, the Parents Leadership Council helps UGA give students unique, valuable experiences like these that cannot be found in a classroom.

Parents Leadership Council grants have had—and will continue to have—a tremendous impact on the undergraduate experience at UGA. Some programs got their start thanks to the PLC. Others have relied on their funding for years. Some have only just been introduced to the PLC but already have discovered the transformative effect UGA parents can have.

For 10 years, PLC grants have cultivated a richer environment for students on campus, and if the most recent round of recipients and awards are any indication, the program shows no sign of slowing down.