Amazing Students

Sam Tingle

Photo of Sam Tingle
Sam Tingle is working toward degrees in geography and entertainment and media studies. (Photo by Chad Osburn/UGA)

As a Foundation Fellow, Sam Tingle has been able to learn around the world — from the South Pacific to Malaysia to the Greek Island of Lesvos — but has still been able to immerse himself in academics and activities right here on campus.


Knoxville, TN

High school:

Alcoa High School

Current employment:

I am currently working with NASA doing research through a NASA DEVELOP node here at UGA. This semester, I am working on a team that is using imagery from NASA satellites to assess threats to river water quality and mangrove health in the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica.

Family ties to UGA:

I grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee, as part of a Volunteer family with no UGA affiliation. Look how far I’ve come.

Expected graduation:

Fall 2018

Degree objective:

B.A. Geography, M.S. Geography

Other degrees:

Entertainment and Media Studies

University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:

In the spring of my sophomore year, I studied abroad through the South Pacific and investigated sustainable development in the sociopolitical and environmental contexts of Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia and Fiji. Through expert instruction, independent research and fieldwork, I was able to take concepts that I learned on UGA’s campus and challenge them against a living reality of climate change and globalization. These three months proved to be a period of greater acquaintance with not only the fields of ecology, anthropology and geography, but also with some of the most wonderful and goony people I’ve met at UGA.

Following the program, I was awarded the Freeman Asia grant to study web development in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I spent the next nine weeks learning to code for eight hours a day, devouring Malaysian cuisine, and binging on South Korean TV with the world’s best AirBnB roommates. By the end of the course, our class was building clones of Facebook and Twitter and had obtained mastery of multiple coding languages.

On a bit of a whim, I left Kuala Lumpur and headed to Rishikesh, India, where I dove into the practice of hatha and ashtanga yoga and trained to become certified as a yoga instructor. I lived in the foothills of the Himalayas for a month, waking up at 5 a.m. six days a week to study the vast knowledge base of yoga and hone my personal practice. The summer culminated in Nepal where I worked at an orphanage in the Chitwan District. Traveling through this stunning country just one year after the devastating 2015 Ghorka earthquake prompted my curiosity into how geography can be applied to disaster management and international development.

Upon returning to Athens, this curiosity led me to begin studying Geographic Information Systems. With continued support from the Foundation Fellowship, I was able to examine uses of spatial data for disaster management at the University of Twente in the Netherlands and receive training in using remote sensing for humanitarian programs at Harvard University’s Humanitarian Initiative. I further developed these skills in professional settings through an internship making maps from crowd sourced data with the United States Agency for International Development and through an internship with the United Nations Development Programme. At the U.N. headquarters in New York, I worked with the UNDP’s Crisis Response Unit to develop the Global Crisis Risk Dashboard — a tool that will be used to better understand political and natural disaster risk by UNDP offices in 170 countries and territories around the world.

Outside of geography, I am also majoring in entertainment and media studies and have found a home in the opportunities that Grady College has to offer. From being a Grady Ambassador to taking classes in the New Media Institute to judging on the Peabody Student Honor Board, Grady College has allowed me to explore how media shapes our interactions with the world around us.

Although my path here at UGA has been quite roundabout, the support I have received to delve deep into my interests has been unwavering. The Foundation Fellowship and UGA’s commitment to providing an education unrestricted by discipline or continental boundary has fostered an unbelievable period of personal and academic growth. And for that I am forever thankful.

I chose to attend UGA because …

… of the unparalleled freedom to explore what I want to do for the rest of my life. With the academic flexibility of a university that generously accepts AP and dual enrollment credit and with the financial support of the Foundation Fellowship, I knew that I would be able to take risks with my education, travel the world, and somehow end up on the other side with a degree (or two) from a very well-respected institution. Also, because of Cali n Tito’s.

My favorite things to do on campus are …

… leave and go study abroad. Just kidding! But honestly, the study abroad programs of the university are some of the best in the nation and have been a very enriching component of my undergraduate experience. On campus, I love to bike on sidewalks, go to the Georgia Museum of Art, wait in line at the Tate Chick-fil-A, chat with friends, read people’s texting conversations on Orbit, or go rock climbing at Ramsey.

When I have free time, I like …

I have tried to fill my free time exploring what UGA has to offer and engaging with the surrounding Athens community. One semester, a friend and I tried to learn how to box at a local gym. Another semester, I tried my darnedest to learn violin by taking classes at the UGA Community Music School. These efforts ended with a couple of busted lips and a very sad recital featuring an uninspired rendition of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”

The craziest thing I’ve done is …

The best, craziest and toughest thing I have ever done was work at a refugee community center on the Greek Island of Lesvos last summer. Located only 8 kilometers by sea from Turkey, Lesvos is an entry point for thousands of refugees seeking asylum in the European Union. I spent the month working with a fantastic team motivated to help in any way possible. Some of the work included construction, organizing educational activities, and making a map of food donors. The individuals that I met and befriended on the island have played a defining role in how I conceptualize the human impact of disasters and have fundamentally altered the way that I see the world and my purpose in it. Any expression I can make of my love for these people is a painfully inept understatement.

My shortlist of crazy things include:

— Ostrich riding in Malaysia. You steer by covering one of their eyes with your hand so that they turn in the opposite direction. Vroom vroom.

— Kunjal Kriya

— Holding hands with Lupita Nyong’o as I helped her off stage at the Peabody Awards ceremony last May. We don’t really want to be public about things, but you can save the date for this upcoming June.

— While hiking alone, I got lost for four hours in the Accursed Mountains of Albania. Darn those mountains!

— Winning the “Hamilton” lottery. Dying from shock. Then coming back to life to experience one of the best nights of my life.

My favorite place to study is …

… on campus in empty classrooms. There are a couple in the Geography and Psychology buildings that are particularly good because they lack any distracting windows.

My favorite professor is …

There have been so many instructors that have contributed to my education, and I am grateful for all of them. Dr. Hilda Kurtz is brilliant and has played a defining role in fostering my love for the field of geography thanks to her “Urban Geography” class. Dr. Jerry Shannon has been an incredible advisor and has challenged me to think about GIS as a tool for community development. I have learned so much from Dr. Jeff Jones, the executive director of the Peabody Awards. It continues to amaze me that he has the time in his busy schedule to teach the Peabody Student Honor Board, but I am so thankful he does. Simon Ling, one of my professors in New Zealand and Australia, has been one of my most inspiring academic and personal role models.

Also, without the unending support and guidance from the Honors Program staff, namely Emily Myers, Jessica Hunt, Maria de Rocher and Dr. David Williams, my college journey would not have been nearly as exciting and rewarding as it thankfully has been.

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

… the mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers of some of the fantastic individuals I met on Lesvos.

If I knew I could not fail, I would …

… learn how to speak every language. I cannot even begin to imagine how much deeper and more vibrant my experiences abroad would have been if I was fluent in the local language. I have so many questions and things I want to learn from the world’s cultures, but English and enthusiastic hand gestures can only get me so far.

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

… still be on meal plan.

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

I am passionate about exploring how spatial data, GIS and remote sensing partnered with innovations in crowd-sourcing, mobile technology and big data analysis can be used to improve the current framework of disaster management and humanitarian aid. I am committed to pursuing this passion through a career in the intersection of the humanitarian and tech sectors.

After graduation, I plan to …

First, walk through the arch. Then, gain more experience in international development and crisis response through field work and graduate studies.

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be …

Thanks to a great group of friends, the past four years have been filled with many unforgettable moments fostering dogs, breaking legs, winning chili cookoffs, scuba diving and discovering abroad. I have immense love for the people of UGA that fill my life with laughter and “friendly” insults.

I will never forget my first night on campus, jumping into Herty Fountain with a group of newfound friends. I will never forget the moment when instant connections became lasting friendships full of unproductive late nights, crazy last-minute trips, and lots of laughs at Snelling.

(Originally published Feb. 18, 2018)