Since 2016, a dedicated group of University of Georgia students has spent part of spring break traveling to high schools around Georgia as the Road Dawgs. The program changes its route every year, and this spring break, the crew traveled to six schools from Atlanta to Savannah to meet with students, talk to them about college life and rally some UGA spirit.
One of the Road Dawgs, Rashawn McKelvey-Fludd, returned for his second spring break this year. He visited his alma mater, The B.E.S.T. Academy, and got to connect with his younger brother, JaQuawn, who is now a high school senior. Like many first-generation high school students, JaQuawn was uncertain which type of college would be the right fit, McKelvey-Fludd said, but thanks to the Road Dawgs, students like JaQuawn are exposed to the possibilities of attending a university like UGA and thriving.
“Most students don’t know the options out there for them,” Mckelvey-Fludd said. “They may only think there’s one route for them after high school.”
At each school, the Road Dawgs introduce themselves chanting: “It’s Great to Be a Georgia Bulldog.” After amping up the crowd and talking about their decisions to attend UGA, the Road Dawgs split off and meet with students in smaller groups to have more personal conversations and answer questions about living on campus, attending classes and being independent in a new city. Then, the Road Dawgs wrap up their visit by teaching the students how to properly “Call the Dawgs” and giving away some UGA swag.
“It’s a great way to connect with schools that may not get a chance to see what UGA is like,” said Marques Dexter, assistant director of student initiatives in the Office of Institutional Diversity and this year’s Road Dawgs organizer. “A little bit of encouragement and confidence can go a long way.”
Dexter said they were intentional in building a strong crew of UGA students. This year’s Road Dawgs are pursuing different majors, are at various stages of their college careers, and come from urban and rural towns from both in- and out-of-state. This helped the crew connect with the hundreds of high school students they met throughout the week.
“Seeing the students at the high schools we visit become excited, not just because we are from UGA, but because [a Road Dawg] is majoring in what they want to, has graduated from their school or understands their experiences—these moments are constant reminders of the Road Dawgs program’s impact,” Dexter said.
Many of the schools the Road Dawgs visit are in small towns and communities, so part of the Road Dawgs program is discussing the ways that students can find community in student organizations at UGA. Stephany Romero-Gomez, who is a first-generation student and the secretary of UGA’s Hispanic Student Association, said that it is important to make sure that the high school students can see themselves fitting in and finding their place at UGA.
“The point is to let them know that going to a university is possible for anyone,” Romero-Gomez said. “It’s amazing seeing their faces light up and knowing they can really be here too. It’s heartwarming.”
Kijana George also returned to her alma mater, Shiloh High School, this year. George said it was her first time back to visit some of her former teachers, and the students asked great questions about the organizations she was involved with at UGA and opportunities in high school which helped her be prepared for college like Shiloh’s International Baccalaureate program. George told students about her transition from Shiloh to UGA and how she found her new community in college.
This year’s Road Dawgs trip also featured a stop at an alumni-owned business, The Taco Stache in Pooler founded by Pranav “P” Patel, a 2008 graduate of the Terry College of Business. Both Patel and the Road Dawgs were excited to meet each other and understood the impact of providing students the opportunity to connect with alumni and support alumni-owned businesses while traveling throughout the state.
Although the Road Dawgs primarily promote UGA as an academic and athletic powerhouse, their goal is to inspire high school students to apply to any college and think broadly about their opportunities. Of course, if they choose UGA, that’s an added bonus. Mason Howard, a first-time Road Dawg, told the students he met to come visit Athens and tour the campus if they are considering UGA.
“I was very indecisive until I did one of the campus tours,” Howard said, “but the minute I came to Athens, I fell in love with it. I can’t explain why. It just felt right.”