For many students, spring break involves a road trip. For UGA’s Road Dawgs, those trips are a little closer to home—and they mean a little more.
The March mornings began before daybreak for the more than 70 UGA students who gave up their spring breaks and hopped on buses at 6 a.m. to visit high schools in Atlanta, Columbus, and Lumpkin. They were off to share their college experiences and answer questions from the high schoolers. But as the sun rose, so did their excitement for sharing their stories.
“It’s definitely rewarding,” said Road Dawg Alondra Garcia BBA ’18 from Perry. “I wouldn’t spend spring break any other way.”
The mission of Road Dawgs is to inspire high school students across the state to create possibilities for their future through higher education.
Who better to deliver that message than the UGA students who recently faced the same decisions?
“Through our engagement with the student body, one of the things we consistently heard is that our students wanted to do more to recruit the next generation,” said Arthur Tripp AB ’09, assistant to UGA President Jere W. Morehead JD ’80. “This was an idea that was originally developed by our students.”
Road Dawgs, a partnership among the Office of the President, Office of Admissions, and the Office of Institutional Diversity, is in its third year and continues to expand its route across the state. Since the program began, UGA students have visited a total of 26 schools. This year’s trip to Columbus and Lumpkin was the first overnight journey for the Road Dawgs and an important opportunity to reach rural high school students who might not be considering UGA as an option after graduation.
“Stewart County is one of the most highly impoverished areas in the state of Georgia,” said Joseph Gardner, principal of Stewart County High School in
Lumpkin and assistant superintendent of the Stewart County School District. “Exposure is key to our students. Getting them exposed to college and to life after high school—this helps them so much.”
Michelle Sanchez, guidance director at Spencer High School in Columbus, shared the value in having UGA students travel to southwest Georgia.
“Coming into the school and letting them see their peers, I think that gives them more of a connection to the process,” she said. “For these students to give up their spring break to come and inspire and motivate other students, it means a lot to us.”
That is particularly true for recent Spencer High School graduate Ja’von Holmes. He accepted his admission to UGA in the fall to study computer science and joined the Road Dawgs to share his story with his fellow students.
The number of Road Dawg travelers continues to grow. During its first year, 18 UGA students participated, and that number more than tripled this year. Not only do the Road Dawgs help the high school students understand what is ahead, but the experience also helps the UGA students sharpen their public speaking skills and develop lasting friendships.
Each Road Dawgs program begins with UGA students charging into the gym to a cheer, telling high schoolers that “it’s great to be a Georgia Bulldog.” Then, a few Road Dawgs share their own experiences and answer a variety questions from the audience during a panel discussion. After that, the UGA students scatter into the audience for group discussions, which is where the most meaningful conversation takes place because the high school students are free to ask specific, one-on-one questions on everything from applying for scholarships to finding the best coffee shop in Athens. It helps give them a sense of what college life is like.
Just before they leave, Road Dawgs teach the students to “call the Dawgs” before handing out souvenirs of their visit. But more importantly, the Road Dawgs hope they’ve left behind a seed of interest in higher education that will continue to grow.
It was important for students like Garcia, a first-generation college student, and Road Dawg Andrea Zayas BBA ’18 from Peachtree City to share their stories and help high school students understand the importance of working hard and continuing their education.
“I feel like I would have benefited a lot from hearing directly from students and what their experience has been like at UGA,” Zayas said. “What makes me really proud is thinking that maybe I was able to touch one or two future students and get them to start the process of getting to UGA.”