Campus News

UGA celebrates successful academic year

Spring 2021 undergraduate Commencement. (Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA)

Faculty, staff and students showed 'tremendous resilience' through historic year

The University of Georgia celebrated a number of important accomplishments during the 2020-2021 academic year despite the unique challenges posed by the COVID-19 global pandemic.

“I am deeply grateful to our faculty, staff and students for showing tremendous resilience throughout this difficult year,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. “Because of them, the university was able not only to continue its vital mission of teaching, research and service but also to advance a number of strategic initiatives and build on our record of academic excellence.”

Here, we look back at some of the highlights from this historic year.

Academic excellence

In September, U.S. News & World Report announced that UGA had climbed to No. 15 in its 2021 ranking of the nation’s best public universities, marking the fifth consecutive year that UGA has ranked in the top 20. Much of this success is due to the university’s extraordinary faculty.

This year, three university faculty members — Mary Ann Moran, Gregory H. Robinson and J. Marshall Shepherd — were elected to the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest honors a scientist can earn. In total, 14 current or former UGA faculty members have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Shepherd was also elected to the National Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The university also appointed two new Georgia Research Alliance eminent scholars. Robin Buell, a renowned plant genomics expert, will join UGA as a professor of crop and soil sciences, and her appointment is co-supported by a contribution from Georgia Seed Development. Anumantha Kanthasamy, who conducts research on Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders, was appointed as the first John H. “Johnny” Isakson Chair and GRA Eminent Scholar in Parkinson’s Research. Both researchers will join UGA in fall 2021.

GRA Eminent Scholars are acknowledged leaders in areas of science that are strategically important to the state of Georgia. These new additions come at a time when research and development numbers are at an all-time high for the university, topping $495 million in FY20, a 41% increase since 2013.

“The University of Georgia’s growth in research and development is a testament to our extraordinary faculty, who have helped increase the reputation of our university both nationally and internationally,” said S. Jack Hu, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. “These faculty contribute to our instructional mission by bringing state-of-the-art knowledge to the classrooms and to graduate student mentoring.”

In addition to UGA’s world-class faculty and robust research enterprise, one of the most important factors contributing to the university’s success is the quality of its students.

This academic year, UGA students were selected for a number of prestigious scholarships, including the Rhodes Scholarship, Gates Cambridge Scholarship, Churchill Scholarship and Schwarzman Scholarship.

The university reached its highest ever four-year completion rate and tied the previous high for its six-year completion rate. UGA also received a record number of applications for admission to the incoming first-year class.

“As the university continues to elevate its academic offerings and support, our students are achieving even higher levels of success, and demand for a UGA education is greater than ever,” said Rahul Shrivastav, vice president for instruction. “Our faculty and staff have shown an unrelenting dedication to supporting students throughout the pandemic, and the university’s investments in enhancing the learning environment, pedagogy and student-focused services will continue paying dividends for our students well into the future.”

In July 2020, President Morehead convened a Task Force on Race, Ethnicity, and Community to enhance UGA’s learning environment and foster a more diverse and inclusive campus culture. The university is enacting 16 recommendations from the task force and has adopted a five-year plan to advance diversity and inclusive excellence. The university commemorated the 60th anniversary of the campus’ desegregation throughout the spring semester.

This year, a total of 7,530 students — 6,165 undergraduates and 1,365 graduate students — celebrated their graduation in the university’s spring Commencement ceremonies held on Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium.

According to the latest data, 91% of UGA graduates are employed or attending graduate school within six months of graduation, well above the national average.

Research and innovation

In April, UGA faculty members were awarded a multi-year contract from the National Institutes of Health worth up to $92 million, making it the second largest research contract in the institution’s history.

The funds will establish the Center for Influenza Disease and Emergence Research, or CIDER, to be directed by S. Mark Tompkins, professor of infectious diseases in UGA’s College of Veterinary Medicine, and deputy director Pejman Rohani, Regents’ Professor and UGA Athletic Association Professor in Ecology and Infectious Diseases in the Odum School of Ecology and College of Veterinary Medicine.

The contract marks UGA’s second major NIH award for influenza research in less than two years. These two awards represent a potential NIH investment of more than $220 million in UGA’s flu research, which unites scientists from a wide range of disciplines across the university.

The university was once again ranked No. 1 in the nation on AUTM’s list of U.S. colleges and universities for the number of products developed by industry partners based on UGA research discoveries — the seventh straight year that UGA has placed among the top five schools in the country.

AUTM, formerly known as the Association of University Technology Managers, conducts an annual survey of intellectual property licensing and startup activities by university and research centers.

Many of the products that make it to market are developed or perfected in UGA startup companies. Funding for UGA startups has increased by 60%, fueled by strategic investments in the university’s Innovation District.

This year, the university completed renovations on the Innovation Hub thanks to a $3.5 million commitment from the Delta Air Lines Foundation. The building, located on Spring Street in downtown Athens, is the institution’s new home for faculty startup ventures and industry engagement.

Construction is also nearing completion on the first phase of the university’s new Interdisciplinary Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (I-STEM) research complex, which will expand laboratories for chemistry, engineering and other material sciences.

“The dramatic expansion of externally funded research activities coupled with strategic investments in STEM teaching and research will help us better serve the citizens of Georgia and people throughout the world,” said David Lee, vice president for research. “From the construction of the new I-STEM complex to the expansion of the Innovation District, these investments will allow our faculty to take discoveries made in the laboratory to the market quickly and efficiently.”

Public service and outreach

Throughout the past year, UGA’s Public Service and Outreach units helped small businesses, nonprofits, schools, local governments, economic developers, and others across the state cope with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

From March 2020 through May 2021, the Small Business Development Center, in conjunction with government partners, held more than 500 webinars to assist nearly 6,000 small businesses and nonprofits in obtaining $247 million in federal relief funds.

The Carl Vinson Institute of Government moved many of its popular education programs online and launched a series of webinars designed to help Georgia communities plan their recovery from the pandemic. The Vinson Institute also collaborated with the Georgia Broadband Deployment Initiative to address gaps in internet coverage throughout the state — more important than ever as education, business and health care moved online.

The J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development used the shift to teleworking and virtual learning as an opportunity to expand its reach through online resource guides, video webinars and podcasts. The annual Community Leadership Conference, held for the first time in a virtual setting, drew a record number of participants.

The State Botanical Garden of Georgia provided a haven for Georgians seeking ways to stay active while limiting exposure to COVID-19. A new entrance and improvements to the half dozen miles of nature trails made the garden more accessible than ever to families and to visitors with limited mobility.

“This year provided ample evidence of the University of Georgia’s value as a land-grant and sea-grant institution,” said Jennifer L. Frum, vice president for public service and outreach. “I am proud of the great lengths to which our faculty, staff and students went to help individuals, communities, and organizations across our state not only survive, but thrive, amid the unprecedented circumstances we faced.”

In recognition of the University of Georgia’s institution-wide commitment to and strategy for regional economic engagement, growth and opportunity, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities reaffirmed UGA as an Innovation and Economic Prosperity University.


Private support for the university’s missions of teaching, research, and service remained robust amid the pandemic. Supporters gave generously to establish a new endowed chair for Parkinson’s research, to support emergency funds to help undergraduate and graduate students cope with unexpected financial strain, and to create even more new need-based scholarships for students. The current number of Georgia Commitment Scholarships now stands at 561 — all established since 2017.

Additionally, the UGA Foundation and its emeriti trustees launched a $10 million campaign to elevate the Honors Program to an Honors College by creating an endowment to enhance academic programming, undergraduate research, study abroad and internship opportunities for Honors students. The naming of the Jere W. Morehead Honors College was approved by the University System of Georgia Board of Regents in May. The campaign has raised more than $8 million to date, including gifts from over 100 current and emeriti trustees.