Georgia, also known as UGA, is a big, complicated, public university with all the red tape and logistical challenge that any institution of more than twenty-seven thousand students is bound to have. That said, it is also truly distinctive, not only in the range of academic opportunities it offers, and it is a wide range indeed, or in the remarkable facilities it has built, but also in the texture of tradition and daily life.
“How ’bout them Dawgs!” This question/endorsement refers to Georgia’s exceptionally talented football team. All of UGA’s teams (Georgia Bulldogs) have the same mascot, “Uga”, an English bulldog of distinguished lineage; Uga makes an appearance at every football game, dressed in a Georgia red jersey with a varsity “G” emblazoned on his chest. He’s worn a tuxedo to the Heisman Trophy awards dinner and often wears green on Saint Patrick’s Day, but Georgia’s dog has come to symbolize the gritty toughness of Georgia’s teams and the down-to-earth, self-deprecating humor of a first-rate university in a first-rate college town only about an hour away from Atlanta, a first-rate city.
The great Big-Ten college towns, Ann Arbor or Madison, are loaded with colorful tradition and celebration of college life. The University of Georgia is important, of course, and the city’s largest employer, but it is a remarkable music scene that has made Athens a celebrated destination. There are festivals devoted to country music, bluegrass, and rock music, all of which pay tribute to what the music industry has called, “The Liverpool of the South”. Contemporary groups in the 80’s such as R.E.M., the B-52s sprang from a well-established music scene in the city, followed by other popular groups, such as Widespread Panic and Danger Mouse.
I include a colorful description of Athens because Georgia is a bit different from the other southern universities with which it might be associated. Yes, sports matter here as they do at the rest of the colleges belonging to the Southeastern Conference (SEC), generally considered the most uniformly talented football conference in the nation. The annual tilt against the University of Florida, known to Georgians as “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party:, and the equally significant rivalry game versus Georgia Tech, “Clean, Old Fashioned Hate” are both important moments in the collegiate year. There are a number of other activities and qualities, however, that set Georgia apart from the rest; it isn’t easy to describe the “attitude” of a campus, but even the casual visitor will get the Georgia Vibe within minutes of walking through its celebrated arches.
In the first place, the University of Georgia is old. Most people are surprised to find that the historic North Campus looks and feels like the campus of an Ivy League college. UGA was established in 1785, before Georgetown or UNC and was patterned after the campus at Yale. Stately buildings in the Federal and Ante-Bellum classical styles flank a beautifully landscaped central green, and the entire North Campus has been designated an arboretum by the State of Georgia. The venerated Arch at the edge of the Old Campus welcomes walkers coming from downtown Athens. Since the university occupies almost eight hundred acres, the Old Campus is but a small part of this complex university. Most people speak of the North and the South campus, but the area between the two, the Central Campus, is the home of the college’s Student Center and bookstore, as well as the football stadium, Sanford Stadium. There is also an East Campus that has developed as the university had need of more academic and instructional space, and most students will be housed in high-rise housing on West Campus.
I can’t begin to identify all of the programs available to an undergraduate at UGA; after all, the university offers more than a hundred and seventy majors and programs through its seventeen separate schools and colleges. Suffice it to say that Georgia has anything you might want to study and more than adequate resources for its instruction. I do want to highlight some of the extraordinary academic opportunities, however, but please understand that these are but a fraction of what is to be found in exciting Athens, Georgia.
One of the reasons Georgia has become one of the preeminent southern universities is that the state established Hope (Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally) Scholarships funded by the state’s lotteries. The scholarships are merit based and assist about nine hundred thousand students a year to the tune of about three billion dollars per year. The impact of the scholarships was felt primarily by UGA and Georgia Tech, two ambitious programs that compete with other excellent colleges and universities across the nation. The merit “bump” given to outstanding students meant that some of the best who might have gone elsewhere remained in Georgia.
Merit scholarships aside, UGA has some pretty nifty options for undergraduates. The Honors College is an exceptionally challenging and rigorous program, open to the most highly qualified entering students. The Franklin Residential College is patterned after the colleges of Oxford University in England, bringing students and resident faculty together for study and conversation. Should that seem pleasant, UGA’s students may also apply to the university’s program in Oxford, England. There, students live in the city and attend classes for the semester or for the year.
Other study abroad programs are also impressive. The university actually owns two other centers abroad. One, in Cortona, Italy, offers immersion into Italian language, culture, and history; the other, a campus of more than one hundred acres in the San Luis de Monteverde Mountains of Costa Rica offers a series of courses by season, making use of the natural environment as a classroom. For example, in the fall, students learn about the biology and economy of coffee, Tropical Biology, and as part of the school of Environmental Design and Landscape Architecture study farm and hotel management in Costa Rica. Later in the year, courses are offered in Avian Biology, Nutrition Education in Latin America, and Outdoor Recreation and Geology.
Back home in Athens, other notable programs distinguish this university from many others. The university maintains the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, thirteen separate libraries including one that is entirely electronic, an institute of Oceanography, a magnificent observatory, an institute in Artificial Intelligence, the UGA Institute of Bioinormatics, the Coastal Plain Arboretum, the UGA Bioenergy Research Systems Institute, and the Georgia Museum of Natural History.
As might be expected, facilities are modern and extensive in every area of student life, including one of the largest recreation centers in the world. The Ramsey Center includes two gymnasiums, three swimming pools, an indoor track, a climbing wall, eight full-sized basketball courts, and numerous courts of every other sort. The Tate Student Center is a virtual student service city, replete with restaurants, cafes, lounges, gaming centers, and theaters. Many of the university’s lingering traditions have to do with sports and football in particular. One, “The Dawg Walk”, assembles students outside the Tate Center to form a human tunnel that runs to Sanford Stadium, home of the Georgia Dawgs, allowing the football team to march to the accompaniment of the Redcoat Marching Band.
UGA is a southern school with many of the enthusiasms that the other southern universities experience. Football is king, and sports in general are widely enjoyed and supported. Intramural sports and club sports are equally popular, and the university is known for its active and fit student body. About twenty-five percent of UGA’s undergrads will pledge the fraternity or sorority system and the university is proud of its long-standing history of fraternal life. There are also honorary societies ad Georgia and a few secret societies as well. The seven hundred cubs and activities on campus seem to absorb the attention of most students, and for those not given to on-campus activities, the city of Athens and its music scene beckons.
A university of this size contain all sorts of people, so identifying a “typical” student is unlikely. Lots of kids travel abroad, play sports, are active in student leadership, work in the college’s radio or tv station, sing, dance, act, paint, study. One recent graduate, however, embodies the kinds of diversity of experience an active student might find at UGA. Colton Fowlkes majored in Biology and Psychology with a minor in Religion. His claim to fame came in his portrayal of the Bulldogs’ sideline ascot, “Hairy Dawg”, a more rambunctious canine than the well-behaved Uga. His work in the mascot suit was both strenuous and gratifying; it is “Hairy Dawg” who tumbles wildly when the Georgia team scores or wins. Colton also found time to work with UGA Miracle, a charity that raises funds for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Colton’s story is not unique; many undergraduates at Georgia are given the opportunity to take on significant positions of leadership.
Like its counterparts at Berkeley or Michigan, the University of Georgia is an exceptional educational opportunity and one of the “best buys” in terms of total cost. Perhaps the most impressive statistic of all is that more than ninety percent of students entering as freshmen return for the subsequent years. That rate of retention is ridiculously high for a large public university. This is one happy campus!