ATHENS – The University of Georgia continues to open doors for rural students through its ALL Georgia program.
Launched in fall 2018 as an initiative of the President’s Task Force on Student Learning and Success, the ALL Georgia program provides a network of resources and support for incoming and current students from rural Georgia.
The program offers scholarships, academic coaching, networking events, student success workshops and summer programming, including Dawg Camp and the Freshman College Summer Experience.
“ALL Georgia is about building an intentional community that supports students throughout their college experience and beyond,” Graff Wilson, coordinator for the ALL Georgia Scholars program, said.
The Scholars program awards financial aid to six exceptional students each year from counties classified by the U.S. Census Bureau as predominantly rural.
“Without the ALL Georgia Scholarship, UGA wouldn’t have been an option for me,” Garret Herold, a native of White County and third-year student in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, said.
ALL Georgia not only removed financial barriers for Herold, but also gave him a sense of pride.
“Through the program, I feel more empowered by my roots,” he said. “It’s helped me see the aspects of my hometown that have benefited me and made me unique.”
Providing financial aid is just one component of ALL Georgia. Spearheaded by the Division of Academic Enhancement, the program represents a universitywide effort to connect and support students with a focus on embracing rural identity. Campus partners include the Division of Student Affairs, Public Service and Outreach, Office of Student Financial Aid and Undergraduate Admissions, among others.
“It’s our goal to help students gain a deeper understanding of where they come from and who they aspire to be,” DAE Director Chase Hagood said. “We want to make sure students know that this is their university.”
Chris Carroll, a guidance counselor at Vidalia High School, knows first-hand how important community is for students.
“Larger institutions like the University of Georgia can be intimidating for students from rural areas,” Carroll said. “They may feel apprehensive because they don’t know anyone. Programs like ALL Georgia provide that necessary connection for students, especially in their first year.”
Vidalia is a small, agricultural-based city about two hours west of Savannah. It’s also where Madison Britt calls home.
“Before coming to UGA, I went to school with the same 180 people for 13 years,” she said. “Coming to Athens was daunting, but I soon discovered that UGA was a ‘small town’ in itself.”
Britt, now a graduate student in the Mary Frances Early College of Education, earned a bachelor’s degree in history from UGA this past spring. During her fourth year as an undergraduate, she served as a member of the ALL Georgia student executive board.
“ALL Georgia allowed me to meet students with similar backgrounds,” she said. “As a board member, I worked to help build a sense of community for other rural students here at UGA.”
This year, the RISE (Rural Students Igniting Success and Education) Executive Board serves as the student voice in the ALL Georgia program, bringing student perspectives into the conversation on how UGA serves its rural students. The five-student board helps imagine and implement programs and events through collaboration with units across campus.
Kelsey Miller, a fourth-year journalism major, serves on the RISE Executive Board, where she works alongside her peers to strengthen the rural student experience. A native of Bainbridge, Miller said she knows the transition to college can be challenging.
“ALL Georgia gives rural students a chance to really connect and dig into UGA,” Miller said. “It’s helped me gain confidence and made me feel like I really do belong here. Without the program, I don’t know where I’d be.”
Miller, Britt and Herold are three of the approximately 4,000 students served by the ALL Georgia program each year.
“It’s our goal to support these students in a meaningful way,” Wilson said. “We want to make a difference in their lives that then inspires them to make a difference in the lives of people around them.”