UGA names Student Employee of the Year award winners

Dana Theoc, a third-year psychology major from Jamaica, is UGA’s 2024 Undergraduate Student Employee of the Year thanks to her work with Ella Filston, waste reduction coordinator with the UGA Office of Sustainability.

“Among our large intern cohort, Dana stands out as an effective communicator and outstanding leader,” said Filston. “While advancing sustainability on and off campus, Dana leads with kindness and an inclusive work ethic.”

Theoc is a passionate, hard-working and brilliant student who has served as the zero waste intern at the UGA Office of Sustainability for the past year and a half. During this time, she has independently led multiple programs and continues to represent the office at many public events and activities, both on and off campus. Theoc’s critical thinking skills are evidenced in the processes she has developed for the UGA Swap Shop, Water Bottle Reuse Program and Zero Waste Infrastructure Program. She has built effective long-term partnerships with UGA Libraries, Dining Services, Facilities Management Division, University Housing and others to effectively and creatively advance waste reduction at UGA.

Dana will graduate in May 2025 with big hopes for her future. For now, she continues doing critical work with the community, like partnering with the Athens-Clarke County Lyndon House Arts Center as a guest curator this semester. In this capacity, she has hosted “Rescue: Waste and Redemption,” an art exhibit featuring hard-to-recycle materials while balancing her on-campus work and rigorous course load.

Garrison Taylor, a master’s level student studying landscape architecture from Atlanta, was selected as the 2024 Graduate Student Employee of the Year thanks to her work with Danny Bivins, senior public service associate for strategic operations and planning assistance at the Carl Vinson Institute of Government.

“Since joining our team in May 2022, Garrison has continually impressed peers, supervisors and clients across the state with her creative problem solving and unwavering dedication to our community clients,” Bivins said. “Her design assistance has brought creative solutions to projects in Cornelia, Lumpkin, Baxley, Ringgold and many more, representing millions of dollars in economic development in underserved rural communities and small towns across Georgia.”

In this role, Taylor has provided vital design support for projects across Georgia. For example, she helped to unify a complex plan with multiple partners and six participating counties for the River Valley Community Compatible Development Plan by developing a series of illustrations depicting local wildlife, landmarks and other features unique to each partner community. Taylor’s design concepts and research provided the basis for a successful grant proposal developed in partnership with the local regional commission, Lumpkin and Stewart counties. Garrison’s work directly supported a more than $2 million grant to fund streetscape improvements and park development in Lumpkin County. In an underserved rural community with a 31.9% poverty rate, these funds represent a transformational opportunity to improve public health and generate economic development.

Taylor plans to graduate in May 2024 and has a bright future ahead of her. Until then, she continues her vital design support for different communities across Georgia as she prepares to finish her studies and begin her next chapter after graduation.

A team of six student workers from the UGA Veterinary Teaching Hospital received the 2024 Student Employee of the Year Team Award:

  • Megan Partyka, master’s student, comparative biomedical science
  • Kelsey Trumpp, master’s student, comparative biomedical science
  • Laura Burns, master’s student, comparative biomedical science
  • Alison Jeffrey, master’s student, comparative biomedical science
  • Stephen Santangelo, post-first professional certificate
  • Nicole Sallaberry, doctoral student, comparative biomedical science

The team was recognized for its amazing work throughout the Athens and Atlanta communities.

“As clinicians, they regularly work 60-70 hours a week in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital caring for client-owned exotic pets, injured wildlife and the community zoo animals at Bear Hollow Zoo and Sandy Creek Nature Center,” said Stephen Divers, professor and head of the Zoological Medicine Service at the UGA Veterinary Teaching Hospital. “This team is on-call and available 24/7, 365 days a year, and our local communities have come to rely on them.”

In addition to hospital duties, this graduate team has also been actively involved in conservation projects, like conservation for the Galapagos tortoise, and continuing education events, like exotic animal endoscopy training and outpatient conferences for veterinarians worldwide. Collectively, the team brings in over $500,000 annually in hospital revenue, and in the past three years have helped secure an additional $224,246 in extra-mural funding for various research projects. This has resulted in six research abstracts/journal papers in the past two years, with six additional papers in preparation.

“It has been a joy to see these team members help and support each other on a daily basis, whether it’s stepping in to assist with research or covering an emergency shift,” Divers said. “They have become a family of like-minded professionals and are a credit, not only to themselves, but also to our hospital, college and university. I could not be prouder of them.”

The runners-up for Student Employee of the Year — Hannah Brown, UGA CyberArch intern from Loganville, nominated by Mark Lupo, and Joey Tinghitella, graduate assistant for Family Programs & Special Initiatives from Tamarac, Florida, nominated by Nic Laconico — were also honored at the luncheon.

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