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Fourth annual Oconeefest raises more than $10,000 for area student scholarships

Oconeefest wrap-up
William Wheeler, SGA president on the Oconee Campus, addresses attendees at the fourth annual Oconeefest on Thursday, Oct. 19.

The cool autumn evening provided a pleasant backdrop in Watkinsville, Georgia as the University of North Georgia's (UNG) Oconee Campus hosted its signature event Thursday, Oct. 19.

The fourth annual Oconeefest fundraiser raised more than $10,000 for scholarships to support Oconee-area students.

The annual event raises scholarship funds for Oconee County students attending any of UNG's five campuses. Scholarships may be used for tuition, study abroad, undergraduate research, and other expenses and opportunities.

Oconee is the largest feeder county to UNG's Oconee Campus. More than 600 students from Oconee County are enrolled at UNG's five campuses, so funds raised by Oconeefest through sponsorships and donations are critical in supporting local students.

The gala began with a reception on the campus' front lawn with more than 100 guests and local dignitaries mingling amid sponsor-run information tables and two students sketching caricatures of attendees. Attendees lined up at the food, beverage and dessert tents, then dined on white cloth-covered banquet tables.

 This year an additional fundraising opportunity was added to Oconeefest — a silent auction featuring donated items. Among the items, which were displayed throughout the evening, were a one-night stay at a local bed and breakfast, a basket featuring locally produced products, and gift cards from area businesses.

 Dr. Cyndee Perdue Moore, executive director of the Oconee Campus, opened the program by thanking attendees for their support. She expressed her gratitude for the welcome she initially received when she joined UNG in May.

 "I look out tonight and I see so many friends who were strangers six months ago," Moore said. "It's gratifying to live in a place were higher education plays such a large role in the community."

UNG President Bonita C. Jacobs, attending an awards ceremony honoring her as one of the Atlanta Business Chronicle's 2017 Women Who Mean Business, sent a prerecorded greeting, thanking guests for their continued support of UNG and their contributions that allow area students to realize their dream of a college education.

Ryan Hawk, vice president for business development at Peach State Federal Credit Union, thanked UNG for its partnership in the community.

"Education is what built our credit union," Hawk said. "Many of our employees attend UNG. We help move students along in their financial lives through our services. We're thankful for UNG allowing Peach State to be part of the campus."

Two Oconee students shared their experiences with attendees. Lindsey Smith, an Honors Program student and adult learner from Watkinsville, talked about being selected for the Fulbright Summer Institute this past summer, which allowed her to attend a three-week program at the University of Dundee in Scotland.

William Wheeler, Student Government Association (SGA) president on the Oconee Campus, talked about how a study-abroad experience broadened his understanding of how people overseas view Americans.

"Some of them were scared of our politicians and others were confused by our political process," said Wheeler, a political science major. "It was an once-in-a-lifetime experience. Most of the people I met were very friendly and interested to meet an American."

The junior from nearby Athens, Georgia said there is an upside to attending college at a smaller campus.

"The teacher-to-student class ratio is lower, so you get to interact more with your professors than you would at a larger campus," Wheeler said. "I think the campus size has helped me stay focused while remaining very active. You can be really successful here, if you take advantage of the opportunities at a smaller campus."

Other speakers included faculty members Dr. Laura Ng, Dr. Rosaria Meek, and Dr. Michael Kemling, and Dr. Tom Ormond, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at UNG. Cindy Farley, director of Oconee Cultural Arts Foundation, also addressed the gathering following recognition of her work in fostering the partnership that exists between UNG’s art department and her organization.

The presenting sponsor for Oconeefest was Peach State Federal Credit Union; platinum sponsors were River Mill/The Standard and the Rotary Club of Oconee County; gold sponsors were AmeriPride, Oconee State Bank, and Athens Ridge; and silver sponsors included Athens First Bank, BankSouth, Nebraska Book Company, UNG Real Estate Foundation, and Williams & Associates.

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