Amazing Students

Riley Jenkins

Riley Jenkins
Riley Jenkins takes a break at The Creamery — “a hidden gem on campus” — for a cookie dough ice cream cone. (Photo by Chad Osburn/UGA)

Because UGA has what future dentist Riley Jenkins calls a perfect balance of academics, extracurricular opportunities and fun breaks, she says she’s confident she’s choosing the right path in life thanks to how much she’s learned about herself while being a student at UGA.


Canton, Georgia

High school:

Creekview High School

Family ties to UGA:

I am a first-time Bulldog for my family but surely not the last! My sister and I grew up as fans despite not having any family ties, and hopefully, she will join the Bulldog family shortly after I leave.

Expected graduation:

Spring 2018

Degree objective:

B.S.A. Biological Sciences; B.S.F.C.S. Nutritional Sciences; Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities (CURO) Graduation Distinction

University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:

As I moved into Creswell Hall my freshman year, I had no idea how many wonderful people and unique experiences I would have here at the University of Georgia. When I meet freshmen as a senior, I think to when upperclassmen would tell me my freshman year to soak in all of these memories and “don’t blink” because it will past so quickly. The time truly has flown by, and it is so rewarding to reflect on this amazing journey.

Soon after beginning classes, I joined Dawgs for Diabetes Awareness at UGA. This organization is so near and dear to me, and I have experienced tremendous personal growth since becoming involved. My freshman year in Dawgs for Diabetes Awareness at UGA, our organization was led by Mindy Bartleson, an outstanding UGA alumna and former Amazing Student. She had the novel idea of starting an annual event for high school students with Type 1 diabetes and their families to check out our campus, hear from representatives of our great resources, and learn what the transition from high school is like, from the perspective of people with this chronic, autoimmune disease. This event was the first of its kind and has been recognized by UGA’s SOAR Awards for Most Innovative Initiative and by our parent organization, the College Diabetes Network. As someone with Type 1 diabetes, I was immediately hooked. I jumped at the idea of helping pioneer this event, and I applied to be Dawgs for Diabetes’ freshman liaison. Since, I have co-led the event as vice president and have led the event and chapter the past two years as president.

Much of my volunteering is in the diabetes and disability communities as well. For two summers during my college career, I have had the pleasure of returning to Camp Kudzu as a counselor after having been a camper as a child. Camp Kudzu is a camp in Georgia for children with Type 1 diabetes, and it is held by Camp Twin Lakes, which hosts several camps for serious illnesses, disabilities and other life challenges. This place has my heart, and I hope to be a lifelong supporter of its mission. I also volunteer my time with other organizations such as JDRF through the annual One Walk, and in the winter, I love participating in the annual Shop with a Bulldawg event where UGA students help disadvantaged children in Athens-Clarke County have a joyous holiday. Above all, we aim to build healthy relationships, teach the children about the benefits of education, and give the children of the community a wonderful holiday experience.

In addition to my role in Dawgs for Diabetes, I am the president of Saving Smiles, a student organization dedicated to connecting pre-dental students with volunteer opportunities. As an organization, we fundraise throughout the year for various events including delivering dental hygiene bags to children of the Thomas Lay After-School Program and serve to mentor students within the organization by providing information about applying to dental school. I became a member my sophomore year in college when it was founded, was elected to serve as the fundraising chair my junior year, and have enjoyed serving as president my senior year.

I have thoroughly appreciated being a member of the Pre-dental Society, a student organization that encourages camaraderie among pre-dental students and provides information on applying to dental school, the dental admissions test and community service opportunities. Through this organization, I have taken advantage of shadowing opportunities and have benefited from several mentoring relationships. In addition to PDS, I am a member of the Alpha Epsilon Delta pre-medical honor society.

Most recently, I have joined the speaker’s bureau of the Disability Resource Center. I love serving as a speaker and a panel member at many events and classes throughout the semester to give students, professors and future professors a chance to be informed about the wide variety of disabilities, accommodations and communication with people with disabilities. We always have such valuable dialogue, and I leave the event feeling great about educating others about disabilities and how they play a role in the classroom and everyday life.

Starting my sophomore year continuing for three semesters, I spent a large amount of time in Dr. Kevin McCully’s Non-Invasive Muscle Physiology lab with many bright peers I now call some of my friends. During my time in Dr. McCully’s lab, he brought me and my partner to the Southeast American College of Sports Medicine regional conference and the CURO Symposium to present our work, and we had a blast! In this lab, I won a research assistantship award, a stipend from the Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities in the Honors College. This award applied to my third semester in the lab in which I completed my Honors thesis, “Mitochondrial Capacity and Muscle Endurance in Adults with Type 1 Diabetes.” I also placed in the 2017 CAES Undergraduate Research Symposium with work from my thesis.

Since my time at UGA, I have been the recipient of the Zell Miller Scholarship and several departmental scholarships. In the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, I have been chosen for the Opal Ward Jones Scholarship, Gwendolyn Brooks O’Connell Scholarship and E.G. Dawson Scholarship based on merit and leadership experiences. In the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, I received the Cordelia Anne Ellis Scholarship for two years.

I chose to attend UGA because …

This was an easy choice for me. I knew I wanted to go into health care, and UGA has a great reputation for its education in the sciences and also has a terrific Honors Program. The beauty of a large campus with a perfect balance of academics, extracurricular opportunities and fun breaks from school like football so close to home had me hooked!

My favorite things to do on campus are …

… talk with friends and explore around! Anyone who knows me knows how much I love to have those deep life conversations, so I love catching up with friends around campus at lunch or in between classes. The best is when you run into someone you haven’t seen in a while and catch up on life with them.

Walking around campus and taking in the beauty between classes is such a treat, and it makes me happy to go to this university, even in the heat of August. I grew up with an architect and interior decorator as parents, so I really appreciate the old architecture across campus and how the university blends that style with modern design in the new buildings that seem to always be popping up on campus.

I also love going to the Creamery, a hidden gem on campus, for an occasional cookie dough ice cream cone!

When I have free time, I like …

… to cook! I love experimenting with different recipes and making them my own. I also love going out to eat with friends (Athens is not shy of unique restaurants to explore), but nothing beats a home-cooked meal! I love sharing food with friends and family and would cook for them every day if I could. My friends always comment on the elaborate leftover meals I bring for lunch at school, and I always tell them that it is my stress relief. When I have time, I also love visiting our local movie theater and wish I had more time to paint and sculpt.

The craziest thing I’ve done is …

… travel with a group of friends in Mexico on these tiny, incredibly fast boats out to a mangrove forest. We drove our own boat behind a guide, and I felt like we would be swooped up by the wind and capsized every few minutes. After the seemingly forever-long trek, we finally made it through the mangroves into more open water where we probably snorkeled for all of five minutes because it was so cold.

Photo of Riley Jenkins.

Riley Jenkins says she sees “interactions with others as both a chance to learn and pass on some insight.” (Photo by Chad Osburn/UGA)

My favorite place to study is …

I’m a homebody, so you can usually find me studying with a candle and some music at home. In between classes and during a busy day, I enjoy going to the first floor of the science library and even to the Bulldog Café to study. I love the background noise of the conversations … it helps me focus!

My favorite professor is …

During my freshman orientation, I remember listening to an inspiring presentation by a professor in the entomology department. He told us about several of his past students and all that they had accomplished and even pulled up their Amazing Students pages. Ever since then, I have been a huge fan of Dr. Karl Espelie and a devout follower of the Amazing Students. Dr. Espelie is truly one of a kind. His passion and commitment to helping students navigate their way through a great big university is unrivaled. Dr. Espelie has been the greatest resource and mentor to me at UGA and has taught me in classes, helped me choose classes, prepare my dental school application, and celebrated my victories. Through him, I’ve met so many wonderful professors and students alike that have also acted as mentors to me. Looking back to my freshman orientation, I am so glad I had the nerve to approach him after his presentation.

Dr. Kevin McCully is not only an amazing researcher and professor, but a great mentor and member of the Athens community. I met Dr. McCully through my First-Year Odyssey Seminar “Communicating with People with Disabilities,” and I was lucky enough to join his Non-invasive Muscle Physiology Lab for three semesters and complete my Honors thesis with him. Much of Dr. McCully’s research and my project related to people with disabilities. His passion for supporting the community of people with disabilities is evident in all of his work, both in UGA and outside of school in extracurricular activities, and I admire that. Above all, my work with Dr. McCully has taught me flexibility, how to recover from setbacks, and the importance of collaboration. Dr. McCully’s philosophy as a leader showed me a great deal about finding the balance between giving freedom and maintaining structure, and I aspire to be that kind of leader.

Dr. Andrew Carswell taught my Honors “Family Economic Issues Throughout the Life Course” class, also known as the class that every parent wishes we had back in high school. This class was one of my favorites, as Dr. Carswell taught us about insurance, purchasing a house, the economics of having a family and more. His humor and encouragement when talking about these major life decisions was always appreciated.

Rob Nichols, self-proclaimed “Uncle Rob,” was one of the funniest and most engaging professors I’ve had at UGA. He has this gift of making gross anatomy, a difficult subject with many terms and applications to remember, very relatable and intriguing all while passing on tidbits of life advice.

Dr. Richard Lewis is another of my favorite professors, and I always enjoyed our conversations about health and welcomed any advice he had on my future decisions.

I have had the pleasure of taking classes from many other amazing professors, and I wish I could write about them all. I am truly lucky to have had so many wonderful mentors as professors who have shaped my future.

If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with …

… Chad. Despite how nerdy this may sound, I truly became intrigued by Chad of “Chad’s Videos” that I used for my Dental Admissions Test studying. Chad is well-known in the pre-dental world for being so cheerful and engaging, even while teaching notoriously difficult subjects like Ochem. If I ever go into a career in academics, it will be because of Chad (and amazing professors I’ve had at UGA). I would love to spend the afternoon asking him about teaching and captivating an audience.

If I knew I could not fail, I would …

… build my dream home. I watched my parents do this when I was in middle school and fell in love with the process. There’s so much that goes into building a home, and I would love putting my organization to the test. I’ve also followed in my mom’s footsteps by loving interior decoration and making a place truly my own.

If all else fails, I would also love to go on a trivia game show … and win, or I would open my own ceramics painting studio, one of my favorite things to do when I have time!

If money was not a consideration, I would love to …

… travel the world speaking about Type 1 diabetes and invisible illnesses. My work with the DRC Speaker’s Bureau and volunteering with the College Diabetes Network has made me realize my passion for this area of health care. Through my own experiences as a patient, I realize the importance of advocacy and finding others to relate to and exchange ideas with.

What is your passion and how are you committed to pursuing it?

My time at UGA has made me realize that slowing down and getting to know people is the most important thing. In such a task-centered, fast-paced university and society, it is easy to become engrossed in moving on to the next item on the to-do list, the next class and the next degree. These things are absolutely necessary, but along the way, I have gotten better at taking the time to truly learn about others and have, in turn, learned a great deal about myself. I look at the world with much more appreciation and an even stronger drive than I had before.

As a future dentist, I will take these lessons I’ve learned and apply to them to my work environment and life. When I take in new patients, I will focus not only on their medical needs but their emotional needs and their life outside of my office. I want to be a dentist to help people be proud of themselves and smile with true confidence. My interest in dentistry sparked from my own medical experiences and grew from realizing where my talents lie, as both a science and art “person.”

After my time at UGA, I realized I had even more to give. I love mentoring most of all. I love being both a mentee and mentor, and I see interactions with others as both a chance to learn and pass on some insight. I am confident I am choosing the right path all thanks to how much I’ve learned about myself while being a student at the University of Georgia.

After graduation, I plan to …

… attend the UNC School of Dentistry in the fall as a member of the class of 2022 to become a dentist! I am also planning a wedding and will be married two weeks after graduation. I’m excited to move to Chapel Hill and begin the next phase in my life.

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be …

… the National Championship game against Alabama. It probably sounds dubious because the outcome was not in our favor, but I have never experienced a time where I felt so much energy and so united with my fellow classmates. Being given the opportunity to attend such an event was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I will forever be grateful for. We all experienced the emotional roller coaster together, and despite the outcome, I am so fortunate to have been a part of that game. You could feel the spirit and excitement of the fans throughout the entire event, and I’ve never experienced a game quite like that before. What a feeling it was to be in that environment and share in the joys and reflection of a great season with so many other fans. Going out as a senior like that compares to no other feeling in the world. The attitude of the team was so outstanding and admirable, especially considering our loss. It makes me proud to attend UGA and shows the true spirit of our university. I’ll forever be a Bulldog!