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Share on Facebook Tweet this Blog Share on LinkedIn Google+ 08.26.2015

Alumna Spotlight: Ailsa Von Dobeneck (BS ’07)

Ailsa Von Dobeneck (BS ’07) has built a career on communications and world travel. She’s traveled to locations such as London, Singapore, and Washington, D.C. for her developing government and international relations career. Most recently, however, Ailsa traveled to Los Angeles to display her passion for cooking on the Fox's MasterChef. 

UGA staff member Erin Miller recently spoke with Ailsa regarding her experience on appearing on MasterChef sixth season, her global travels and memories of UGA. 

What motivated you to pursue cooking as a passion? Have you always spent a lot of time in the kitchen?

You know how there are some people that live to eat and some that eat to live? I am the former, through and through. After graduating, I took a semester off before I pursued a master's degree at King’s College in London and decided to spend the time learning to cook. After all, if you love to eat, it is great to know your way around a kitchen. I enrolled in the advanced beginner’s class at the Le Cordon Bleu in London and learned the basics. I have been experimenting ever since and enjoy traveling in search of new and exciting flavors. My career took me to Singapore, where I worked in shipping, and I was able to travel extensively throughout the region. I now work in government affairs in Washington, D.C. I spend my free time looking through old White House cookbooks at the Library of Congress. It is amazing the kind of gems you find in there. Next month, I will be starting a weekly column on presidential recipes in my blog, The Curious Tastebud, which will run through to the election next year.

On your MasterChef contestant page, you described yourself as a “unicorn” because no other contestant possessed your unique set of skills.  What are some of the unique skills that you acquired at UGA? 

I think UGA was the place where I truly started to learn about myself. I discovered what I’m great at, good at and need to work on. I think the skill that I focused on developing first was time-management. Like in the kitchen, you need to be prepared to pace yourself and use your time wisely at UGA. As an out-of-state student, my experience at UGA encouraged me to put myself out there: to introduce myself to people and take risks.


What is a positive MasterChef experience that you’d like to share?

I had so many positive experiences on the show. One of the highlights was getting to prepare a filet for Gordon Ramsay in his own restaurant, Gordon Ramsay Steak, in Las Vegas. I had never been to Vegas and the razzle dazzle of the whole experience was really special. Though my filet didn’t get me to the next round, I was proud of my dish. I also really enjoyed meeting the other talented contestants. One of my favorite fellow contestants went to LSU, so we had some great football banter. Go Dawgs!

You’re an extensive world traveler.  What countries have you visited and would recommend based on their cuisine?

I’ve been lucky with my travel options, as both of my parents are from Europe and I lived in Asia for a time. I am completely in love with Vietnamese cuisine and would recommend a trip to Ho Chi Minh City for anyone who enjoys street food and isn’t afraid to try bold flavors. Italy will always be close to my heart when it comes to edibles. My family spent a lot of time in Venice when I was a kid, where I learned the joy of a big bowl of pasta. For those who aren’t as adventurous, the Italian menu will give you familiar classics made with the best ingredients possible. Gelato anyone?

When you’re at home, what are some of the dishes you like to prepare?

My absolute favorite part of cooking is seeing people enjoy what I have made. I host dinner parties at my house and focus on making dishes you can prepare ahead of time so you have time with your guests. There is nothing worse than an absent hostess. Risotto is a favorite; it is refined and can come in a host of different varieties. I make a gorgeous manchego risotto with chorizo, red peppers and arugula. 

What is your favorite memory of UGA? Are there any places in Athens that you remember?

With enough amazing memories to last a lifetime, I am struggling to pick a “favorite.” Watching the Dawgs win Between the Hedges was always amazing. We won the SEC championship my freshman year against LSU in Atlanta. I remember being over the moon that I had chosen the “best university ever.”

Athens also has so many places that stick out in my mind. The Pi Beta Phi house on Milledge brings back a lot of fun memories, from getting ready for formals to decorating the front porch for every holiday imaginable. If we are talking foodie memories, I still dream about the grits from Last Resort. Hugh Acheson from Five and Ten is a real talent and always dished out the tastiest Southern dishes every season. I ran to the bookstore when Acheson's book, A New Turn in the South, was published. 

Is there anything else regarding your career that you’d like to share?

In both my careers (government relations and cooking), my education at UGA has held in me in amazing stead. My time in Athens gave me access to some of the best and brightest professors and allowed me to really channel my energy in positive ways. It is amazing the amount of UGA alumni I have met across the world. It seems Georgia alumni are all connected by a lifelong love of learning and I am really proud to forever be a Bulldog.

To learn more about Ailsa and to see examples of her culinary work, please visit her blog.

Share on Facebook Tweet this Blog Share on LinkedIn Google+ 07.27.2015

UGA Majorette is No. 1 College Twirler

While Nicole Jensen ’15 has lit up Sanford Stadium with her flaming batons and show-stopping gymnastics moves as a UGA feature twirler on game days, she is also making her mark on the national stage. She has garnered attention for UGA and continued the legacy of national champions after winning the highly coveted title of Miss College Majorette of America. This is the highest award given to a college twirler at the National Baton Twirling Championships, held each year in South Bend, Indiana.

Nicole has been a UGA feature twirler for the past four years. This is highly sought after position among top twirlers in the nation. Nicole, a senior marketing major from Iowa City, Iowa, was selected through an intense audition process and has enjoyed every minute of her time twirling between the hedges at UGA. 

Nicole is no stranger to success. She was on the USA World Team, where she was a silver medalist, and has traveled and performed in Peru as an ambassador. She has won hundreds of awards and titles in her twirling career, including the Collegiate Women’s Solo National Champion in 2012. 

Representing UGA as the reigning top college twirler, Nicole has been touring the country this spring and summer, performing at events and competitions as an ambassador of her sport. This past weekend by performing at Notre Dame in the National Baton Twirling Championships, Nicole performed her final duties as College Miss Majorette of America. Make sure to check out Nicole, in her final season, and the rest of the UGA Majorettes at every home football game this fall! 

UGA mascot Hairy Dawg joined Nicole for her final performance at Notre Dame

Share on Facebook Tweet this Blog Share on LinkedIn Google+ 06.22.2015

Alumna Spotlight: Jennifer Bellamy (ABJ '08)

Alumna Jennifer Bellamy (ABJ '08) is one of the newest members of the 11Alive Atlanta team. A native Atlantan, Jennifer graduated from UGA with a degree in broadcast news and a minor in Spanish. Her career began in Macon, Georgia, where she worked for 13WMAZ as a reporter, producer, and fill-in anchor. She then joined News19 in Columbia, South Carolina, as a general assignment and political reporter. Jennifer was later promoted to weekend anchor.

Earlier this year, Jennifer was recognized by the 2015 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards for Outstanding Local Television Investigative Reporting as a part of the News19 team. She also received a South Carolina Broadcasters Association STAR award for her coverage of South Carolina’s Department of Social Services. 

11Alive is home to many Georgia alumni and the UGA Alumni Association is thrilled to see another graduate join its ranks. Congratulations, Jennifer! 

Share on Facebook Tweet this Blog Share on LinkedIn Google+ 04.23.2015

Meet the UGA alumna behind the Georgia Trail Summit: Tracie Sanchez (AB '88, MPA '11)

The Georgia Trail Summit is excited to announce the schedule for its second annual event, which will take place in Athens, Georgia, June 4-6 at The Graduate. Continue reading to learn more about Georgia Trail Summit's founder, Double Dawg Tracie Sanchez (AB '88, MPA '11), and the inspiration behind this organization. 

I’ve been riding bikes, hiking mountains and paddling rivers all my life. Being on a trail makes for wonderful escapes, new adventures and challenges, new friends, staying healthy and connecting with nature. And great photo memories.

Earning my Masters of Public Administration at UGA late in life allowed me to focus on which public policy I wanted to champion. Being part of the effort to build a world-class network of connected trails in every corner of Georgia is a cause I believe in deeply.

The first thing I did as an undergrad in 1985 was sell my car and become a bicycle commuter to campus. I still had that bike 24 years later when I returned to UGA for my masters’ in public administration. I caught trail fever in Athens biking the greenway, helping the Firefly Trail incorporate as a non-profit, and collaborating on a graduate project in Hartwell that led to inventorying regional greenspaces with UGA landscape architecture students.

Clearly, alternative transportation solutions involving active living are my passion. Eight years at UGA as a program coordinator for the Leonard Leadership Scholars and one-on-one chats with mentor Earl Leonard taught me a thing or two about leading an effort. So with a background in graphic design, leadership development, a public policy degree, and spare time during the job search, I reached out to all the trail hounds I knew in Georgia, and began to build a network.

Research in 2011 revealed there are 82 trail and greenway projects proposed or underway in Georgia. I was familiar with many of them from my own explorations and serving as a mobility manager for a regional commission. I learned of others while attending Smart Growth conferences, Transportation Camp, the Georgia Bike Summit and transit and mobility workshops. But something was missing. No one knew about anyone else’s project; no one seemed to be sharing lessons learned. Why wasn’t there an easy opportunity to convene Georgia’s entire community of trail experts in one place? 

The Department of Natural Resources admitted they didn’t have staff capacity to update a 15-year-old comprehensive trail plan. With so much to learn from each other, I felt compelled to connect the dots…and the people.


The solution came when attending the National Bike Summit in DC. While visiting Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s development director, Kelly Pack, she inspired me with great advice, “Round everyone up and hold a Georgia Trail Summit.”  I pitched the idea that spring and have been recruiting and collaborating with trail, greenway and blueway partners ever since. The time was right and I visualized myself as the champion for the effort. UGA taught me how and now I'm on a roll.

Today, I lead a dedicated team of volunteer trailblazers planning the second annual Georgia Trail Summit. So far, we’ve raised $20,000 with 35 sponsors, including UGA College of Public Health, UGA Office of Sustainability, UGA Warnell School of Forestry, Athens-Clarke County Leisure Services Department, Athens-Clarke County Mayor’s Office and Athens Convention & Visitors Bureau. More importantly, we're connecting people.

The Georgia Trail Summit has seen a drastic increase in presenters since its creation. You all know Athens is an ideal, walkable city with hotels right on the Greenway and other nearby trails for biking, hiking and paddling, which will be featured during 10 mobile workshops.

I remain committed to my vision for Georgia’s trail movement to grow into an established and influential organization helping non-profits, governments and communities focus on connectivity, conservation and comprehensive planning. 

UGA alumni are personally invited to attend this timely conversation on the future of Georgia’s trails June 4, 5 and 6 in Athens at the Graduate Hotel. For a closer look, stroll on over to

Share on Facebook Tweet this Blog Share on LinkedIn Google+ 04.03.2015

Alumna Spotlight: Christina Sass (AB ’02)

Since graduating from UGA, Christina Sass (AB ’02) has led a successful career in the for-profit and nonprofit world. Her passion for empowering others inspired her to co-found Andela, a global talent accelerator that produces world-class remote developers and connects them with top employers. Andela finds the brightest young people in Africa and gives them the training and mentorship to thrive as full-time, remote developers for companies around the world.

The UGA Alumni Association’s strategic communications intern, Emilie Clarke ’15, had the opportunity to catch up with this outstanding alumna:

Tell me a little bit about Andela. Where do you see the company in five years?

Andela began as a pilot of a model that I’ve been dreaming about finding for years — a scalable way for brilliant young people living in places where economic opportunities are scarce to receive training and employment that leads to lifelong careers without debt and without leaving home.  

At Andela, we find and train these young people - starting in Lagos, Nigeria - to be world-class remote web developers. We are unlocking the world’s untapped human potential and creating a talent pipeline for global industries, most of which struggle to find tech talent. With more than 10,000 applications coming in from across Africa to participate in the program and with 100 percent client retention so far, I'd say we are onto something!  

Walking into the Andela office in Lagos, Nigeria and seeing 70 people (25 percent young women) who have a new career path and who feel like a family because of Andela -- that is my proudest career accomplishment.

In five years, we plan to scale, scale, scale. I foresee us having centers in Kenya, Ghana, South Africa and others across Nigeria. I foresee companies viewing us as the go-to place for world-class software developers. They can feel great about hiring through Andela because of the social impact. 


Christina Sass (AB '02) at an Andela exposé

How did your time at UGA help you achieve your goals? Did you have a favorite professor or class?

I met a group of friends in Myers Hall that are still some of my closest friends in the world. We all spent the millennium New Year’s Eve together and have spent every single New Years together since 1999. You read that right - 15 years of dear friends who meet annually to watch UGA bowl games and to ring in the New Year together. Individuals from that group are now teaching literature at top high schools. They are teaching media and communications at UNC and philosophy at Purdue. They are city planning for Los Angeles. They are professional musicians who got their start in Athens. They are dear friends who have shaped me personally and professionally since we were all at UGA. 

My favorite professors were Dr. Loris Magnani in Astronomy and Physics and Dr. Edward Halper in Ancient Philosophy. Both are still st UGA. If you are a student, stop what you are doing and sign up for their classes immediately. Dr. Magnani's classes left me in awe of the universe. Dr. Halper made Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, and Maimonides come alive and showed how their work can guide our everyday lives.  Personally, his own life exemplified how unity and purpose in one's thinking and one's action shape a life well-lived. 

You are being honored by the New York Business Journal for its Women of Influence Award. Who are some influential figures in your life? Where do you draw inspiration?

My father, Jurgen Peter Sass, is the greatest inspiration in my life. He left post-war Germany at twenty-two with only a suitcase and $200 and built a meaningful life. He instilled in my brother and me, the way that only a German can, that education would be the greatest determining factor of the quality and richness of our lives. We had Aristotle and FDR quotes on our fridge. We debated literature and politics over long dinners. We traveled and studied the geography and history of new places as a family. He fueled my endless curiosity about the world and gave me the initial courage and street smarts to travel everywhere! 

I have also had the privilege to meet and work with vibrant young people across the globe who fight to get an education. From my first campers at the YMCA in Athens to my current Fellows at Andela who are teaching me to code, young people who hustle and succeed against all odds inspire me every day. At Andela we call this #allheartallhustle.  

What advice would you give to future graduates or young alumni looking to create global impact?

Find the overlap between what you are passionate about and what the world needs most. Start with the Millenium Development Goals or focus on job creation in areas of highest unemployment. Doing what feels good is not enough. Don't side-step the hard work of researching what really works: what is scalable and sustainable, what is safe for local communities, and what is aligned with what local communities need and want. Do the research and then go apprentice with those who are doing it best. Listen when you are out in the field. Have hundreds of cups of tea and just listen. Never stop asking yourself if this is truly the best (most efficient, most effective) way to solve the problem you are trying to solve. And no matter where you go - even to the farthest corners of the earth- never stop loving the Georgia Bulldogs. 

The UGA community is proud to call Christina a member of the Bulldog family.

Visit Andela's website to learn more.