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Oconeefest strengthens UNG student scholarships

Oconeefest 2016
Bobby Johnson, a student at UNG's Oconee Campus, speaks to guests at Oconeefest about the opportunities she has had during her time as a UNG student as a result of community support and scholarships. Fellow students Maddie Magrino, Jenna Davidson and Lindsey Smith also spoke.

The University of North Georgia (UNG) raised funds for student scholarships and honored Hank Huckaby, retiring chancellor of the University System of Georgia (USG) and an Oconee County resident, during the annual Oconeefest celebration on Oct. 27. The total to date raised by the event now exceeds $47,000.

Oconeefest supports scholarships for Oconee County students attending any of UNG's five campuses – Blue Ridge, Cumming, Dahlonega, Gainesville, and Oconee. This year's guests included Oconee County Chamber of Commerce members, the Rotary Club of Oconee County, parents of students who attend UNG's Oconee Campus, UNG alumni, and donors to the Oconee Scholarship Fund.

"The thing we continually remind our university presidents is that we are in the student business. The best thing I got to do in my job the past 5 and a half years is visit campuses like this to see what we do in person. It takes a lot of folks, and we are able to do this through outstanding faculty," Huckaby said. "We've experienced many highs over these years. Consolidation was one of them; Georgia is by far the national leader in coming to grips with downsizing the number of institutions we had. It's not accomplished without hard work by administrators, faculty and staff, and the work at UNG has gone extremely well. I hope this community realizes that to have the name 'University of North Georgia' is a real plus, because it already has a storied history in this state in regards to higher education."

Huckaby has been a UNG supporter and has attended Oconeefest since its inception in 2014. In May2011, the Board of Regents selected Huckaby as the USG's 12th chancellor. He oversaw 29 public colleges and universities with an $8.1 billion annual budget and more than 47,000 faculty and staff fulfilling the teaching, research and public service mission to approximately 318,164 students.

UNG President Bonita Jacobs has made increasing scholarship support for students one of her top priorities as president. During the 2015-16 academic year, UNG raised more than $1 million for student scholarships.

"Scholarships are so important to me, because I see students every day for whom a scholarship will make a difference in whether they can continue their education," Jacobs said. "Oconee County has such a wonderful community that is filled with many heroes who have shown outstanding support for student scholarships. Our Oconee Campus enrollment is at 2,400 students now, and these are excellent students who perform extremely well and are graduating from the finest schools in Georgia."

Scholarships stemming from Oconeefest may be used for tuition, study abroad experiences, and other scholarly opportunities. The funds raised this year will become available for students in spring 2017 and can be applied for through UNG's Financial Aid Office.

"We now have more than 500 students native to Oconee County who are attending our university," said Jerry Sullivan, interim CEO of UNG's Oconee Campus. "We provide many sources of support to our students, and the generosity of our donors and community is what allows us to do this."

Peach State Federal Credit Union was the presenting sponsor for Oconeefest for the third year.

Community members attending the event also had the opportunity to hear firsthand from faculty and students of the Oconee Campus, who talked about how community support has impacted their time there.

"When I think back to my college days, all roads lead back to this campus," said Aaron Paul, who attended the Oconee Campus from 2008-10, and served as president of the Student Government Association. "I learned leadership here, and benefited from an unmatched level of support from the faculty and community. Thank you for that."

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