The UGA Alumni Association is excited to announce that former Interim Executive Director Meredith Gurley Johnson (BSFCS '00) has been named executive director effective December 1.
In this role, she oversees all alumni engagement activities and services, including student programs, young alumni outreach, regional programs, special events and collaborative projects on campus.
"In her capacity as interim executive director, Meredith has shown the leadership, vision, creativity, spirit and energy necessary to take the university to the next level in our efforts to closely engage our alumni and parents alike,” said Kelly Kerner, vice president for development and alumni relations. “After conducting a national search, it was clear that Meredith is the right leader for this time in our history.”
In 2001, Johnson joined the UGA Alumni Association as its first Atlanta programs coordinator based out of the new Atlanta Alumni Center in Buckhead. In 2006, she was named director of the Atlanta Alumni Center and managed the facility, Atlanta-area programming and special projects relating to alumni in Metro Atlanta. Seven years later, Johnson became associate director of alumni relations, the position she held prior to being named interim executive director.
Prior to joining the UGA Alumni Association, Johnson served as coordinator of annual giving and alumni relations for the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.
Since joining the UGA Alumni Association, she has helped launched various signature programs, including Bulldog 100 and UGA Days. In 2014, Meredith was awarded the Georgia Education Advancement Council’s Award for Excellence in Alumni Relations for her work at UGA.
“It is an honor to be selected as executive director of alumni relations for the University of Georgia. As a graduate of UGA, I have never been more proud of the hard work put forth by the administrators, faculty and students that make this place so special,” said Johnson. “I am thankful for the alumni and friends who support this university, and look forward to energizing my peers and the UGA community as we advance the institution together.”
The UGA Alumni Association looks forward to Johnson's continued leadership!
Click here to read the official press release.
After a childhood of frequent visits to Athens, Cheri Harden Leavy (BSED ’97) couldn’t resist the pull of the Classic City. During college, she transferred to UGA from Ole Miss and has been bleeding red and black ever since. Today, she is the founder of Bulldawg Illustrated, Guide2Athens and The Southern Coterie, three publications that cover the modern South.
UGA Alumni Association Assistant Director of Communications Jamie Lewis (AB '12, AB '12) spoke with Cheri about her experiences at the university that helped shape her career:
You started college at Ole Miss. What are your connections to UGA and what made you return to Georgia?
My father, Mac Harden (BBA ’77), graduated from UGA and his mother grew up in Watkinsville. We spent a lot of time on the family farm in Oconee County when I was growing up, so I have always loved the area and cheered for the Bulldogs. Generations of our family bleed red and black. I loved my time at Ole Miss; my father says I built my resume on classes that were interesting, but didn’t fit a degree (like "Anthropology of the Blues" and "Faulkner Studies"). I transferred to UGA and got serious. I stayed on the Dean’s List until I graduated from the College of Education, where I participated in the pilot year of the Collaborative Inquiry Teacher Education Program. I taught high school for several years, then joined The Brunswick News where I launched a Newspaper in Education program to showcase local student writing.
Along with your husband Vance (AB '94), you’ve started Bulldawg Illustrated, Guide2Athens and The Southern Coterie. Explain a little bit about what those are, the inspiration behind them and how your time at UGA prepared you for an entrepreneurial career.
Vance and I created Bulldawg Illustrated, a print newspaper and website that covers UGA sports and the Bulldog lifestyle. Now in its 12th year covering the South’s beloved tailgating and football, it is still a ton of fun. Six years ago, we created Guide2Athens. The pocket-sized square book and blog captures the people and businesses that make America’s best college town so culturally rich. We have loved getting involved in the Athens community and have had a home here for the last five years. When Athens isn’t beckoning, you can find us at home in St. Simons with our two golden retrievers.
I founded The Southern Coterie with my friend Whitney Long; it is a resource for the entrepreneurial South. Designed to offer a community of passionate business owners the opportunity to connect, collaborate and create, the “Southern C” network is capturing the South’s entrepreneurial renaissance one post at a time. The Southern C Summit brings the online content to life with a unique multi-day conference where attendees network and connect with the best and brightest names in Southern business and branding.
What is your most memorable UGA experience? Favorite UGA sports experience?
Meeting Herschel Walker for the first time at Vince Dooley’s home was pretty surreal. The Leavy Family/Brunswick News Publishing endowed a scholarship and we had brunch at the Dooley’s before the game. Vance, his brother, his brother’s wife and I went on the field that day to be recognized. Since we are all UGA graduates, that whole experience was pretty incredible. Herschel was on our Christmas card that year!
Since graduating, you and Vance have stayed involved with the university. Why do you think it’s important for alumni to stay connected to UGA once they’ve graduated?
Staying involved with the university provides you with an invaluable resource of connections to continue to support your growth personally and professionally. Vance and I enjoy supporting the philanthropic side of UGA. I attended the UGA Studies Abroad Program in Cortona, Italy, and now serve on the Georgia Museum of Art friend’s board. We also support our vibrant athletics programs.
I give back to students that are up-and-coming at the university. We have 15 interns from Grady. They bring me a tremendous amount of joy and I learn from them as much as I hope they do from me. I give them a great deal of responsibility and I have high expectations, but if they work hard, they can count on me after graduation.
I traveled recently to the West Coast and to Memphis, where I spent time with former interns. One even visited on her “engagement tour,” where she was introducing her future groom to family. We felt honored to be a stop on her travels. They turn into amazing friends as they get older and I couldn’t be prouder of their successes. The internships certainly feed the teacher side of me that was fostered while studying at UGA. I may not formally be in education any longer, but I am still using that skill set.
Can you give us a hint of what’s next for you?
Oh my goodness, there is no telling.
Vance and Cheri Leavy with Uga IX
By Elizabeth Elmore (BBA ’08, ABJ ’08)
My first day working for the University of Georgia, I was asked to write a blog post about Robert “IronE” Singleton (AB ’98), an actor on AMC’s hit drama, The Walking Dead. That small assignment, to this day, illustrates why I love my job: you never know what incredible things Bulldogs are doing!
Since that time, I have enjoyed countless opportunities to learn about alumni who are, pardon the colloquialism, rocking out in their respective careers. So when asked to write an arts feature for the November Discover UGA section of the university’s website, I wasn’t surprised when I found myself interviewing a Bulldog in an exciting – perhaps unexpected – career field: scientific illustration.
Diantha LaVine (BFA ’03) is the president of the San Diego Chapter of the UGA Alumni Association. Even before enrolling at UGA, she knew that scientific illustration, using artwork as visual tools of communication solely for the service of education, was her primary career interest. Today, as a biomedical illustrator, she supports clients who are conducting research in academic and commercial capacities.
Perhaps I’m the only one, but I never considered who was behind those cross sections of body parts and blood cells in textbooks. Turns out, there are talented artists who enroll in seemingly unrelated college coursework (phlebotomy and figure drawing?) and are able to exercise both the right and left sides of their brain at the same time. Who knew?
I won’t go into detail about Diantha’s career path or the exceptional scientific illustration program at Georgia, (you can read all that in the full Discover UGA feature, but, I invite you to consider whether there are Bulldogs in your life doing especially interesting things. Email me a lead (email@example.com) and he/she may just end up right here on this blog, in Georgia Magazine or on www.uga.edu.
Thank you to Diantha for opening my eyes to such an interesting career field – and congratulations from the UGA Alumni Association on welcoming a new Bulldog to the family last month! We understand your husband, David (BS ’03), is a doctor; we’ll be interested to see what the newest member of the Class of 2034 will select as a major!
Read more about Diantha here.
Bonnie Gillespie (ABJ ’92, MA ’97) lives her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Pulling from her own audition, production and casting experiences, Gillespie has become the go-to source for advice for young actors looking for success in the entertainment industry.
She has transformed her knowledge and know-how into four books about show business: “Casting Qs: A Collection of Casting Director Interviews,” “Acting Qs: Conversations with Working Actors,” “SMFA: The Ninja Within” and her most successful book “Self-Management for Actors: Getting Down to (Show) Business.” Bonnie facilitates seminars based on this top-selling book and travels internationally -- to demystify the casting process and the business side of pursuing an artistic career -- as a guest instructor at colleges, universities, actors' unions, and private acting studios.
Gillespie provides additional insight in in a weekly column, "The Actors Voice," which runs ay Actors Access and in a podcast, "The Work," which is available on iTunes.
With Bulldogs popping up in movies and television shows, it is no surprise that many Bulldogs are making a name for themselves behind the cameras, too. Alumnus Christopher Todd Wells (AB ’93) is no exception.
As a filmographer specializing in visual effects, Wells has contributed to countless films as visual effects supervisor.
In 1998, Wells was part of the Emmy-winning animation team behind the documentary “Superstructures of the World.” In the years that followed, Wells has continued to be a part of award-winning visual effects teams, working on movies such as “300,” “Toy Story 3,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “The Amazing Spider-Man” and “Avatar.” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects in 2009; “Avatar” won the same award in 2010; and “Toy Story 3” won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2011.
In 2012, Wells was honored at the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences Alumni Awards ceremony. That same year, Wells returned to Athens to participate in a panel about careers in film animation and production.
Keep your eyes peeled for Christopher Wells' name the next time you're watching a movie!
Hulsey’s work, inspired by her grandmother, is self-described as “timeless elegance that is ethereal and moody.” The majority of her designs feature unusual materials, such as pinecones and berries - something that caught the attention of both Pottery Barn and White House staff. Hulsey’s shop was selected to launch Pottery Barn's 2014 summer brand, and her floral designs were displayed at the White House in 2013.
Hulsey enjoys opportunitues to work with fellow UGA alumni. She began her relationship with Pottery Barn after the floral arrangements she designed for friend and fellow Grady graduate Linsay Cheney Rudd’s (ABJ ’08) wedding were noticed by the blog. Hulsey also uses her friends in various photo shoots for Pottery Barn, including one for a driftwood lantern centerpiece tutorial that features Lea Lanier (BSED ’99).
In 2013, Colonial House of Flowers, generously donated flowers to UGA Day in Statesboro. She also gifted each 2014 40 Under 40 honorees with a red rose after the awards ceremony.
Congratulations on your success, Christy! The UGA Alumni Association looks forward to many more years of your beautiful designs.