Parent leaders foresee rewards in a more diverse College of Engineering

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This story was written by Charles McNair.

The University of Georgia’s College of Engineering may be just nine years old, but its supporters see generations into the future.

“We don’t yet have the luxury of a long history and a large alumni base,” says Jan Blaine, senior director of development for the college. “We greatly depend on outside resources to help us meet our mission and provide the best experiences and opportunities, professionally and academically, for our students.”

Among those important outside resources are generous UGA parents, whose contributions to the Parents Fund directly enhance the undergraduate student experience on campus. Donations to the Parents Fund support grants that are administered to student and campus organizations annually by the Parents Leadership Council (PLC), a group of highly engaged parents who are eager to be involved on campus and make a direct impact on undergraduate student life.

In 2021, the PLC Grants Program awarded the College of Engineering a $62,500 grant to address a key developmental aspiration: supporting academic success, especially among diverse student populations.

“The College of Engineering scores higher than average on all the national diversity data points,” says Kim Brown, the college’s stewardship coordinator. “But we’re not resting on our laurels.”

Blaine stresses, “Engineering is one of the most challenging disciplines in the world. When you have the ability in a tough curriculum to be around like-minded people and people with a shared cultural experience, it’s a valuable grounding.”

Without the hundreds of donors to the Parents Fund, this transformational support would not be possible. The College of Engineering has 10 initiatives, three of which focus on diversity and inclusion, that received parent-funded grant support in 2021.

Two of the most passionate parent-advocates for the engineering support were PLC members Kris and Jeff Herlyn, whose son Drew is studying mechanical engineering at UGA. As out-of-state parents (Connecticut is home), the Herlyns were excited to find a group of parents that could connect them more solidly to UGA. The couple enthusiastically champion the college’s diversity efforts.

“It’s not a surprise that engineering has not historically been a diverse profession,” says Jeff. “But as global industry leaders, it is important that engineers come from and represent the populations that their innovations will benefit.”

Kris adds, “With diversity comes different perspectives and skill sets. The increase of women and people of color in all STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields will not only serve them well, but also result in better creative and financial outcomes.”

The Herlyns’ passion inspired Shannon and Mark Farrington of Franklin, Tennessee, to contribute an additional $13,500 to the College of Engineering. In doing so, the Farringtons hope to bridge gaps in funding to enhance UGA’s world-class engineering school.

The Herlyns say the UGA parent community has given them a rich college experience to share at the same time their son is succeeding on campus.

“The PLC has been a terrific way to connect with other parents and learn more about the place where our children have chosen to become the adult professionals they hope to be,” says Kris. “It’s been such a pleasure.”