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Presidential recognition for Lin's scholarship work and Thomas' retirement highlight awards

Dr. Anastasia Lin, assistant vice president for research and engagement and an associate professor of English at UNG, was honored with the Presidential Excellence in Engaged Leadership Award.

Students from the University of North Georgia (UNG) are on a major winning streak when it comes to nationally competitive scholarships. Since 2014, they have earned more than $1.2 million from programs like the Critical Language Scholarship, the Boren, the Gilman and the Jack Kent Cooke.

This year they won the university's first-ever Truman, National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program, and American Council on Education Student of the Year awards.

UNG also has been named a top producer of Fulbright students the past two years, and this spring the university produced a record 13 Fulbright semifinalists. Four of them became finalists. The school was also named a top producer of Gilman award winners for 2016-17.

Dr. Anastasia Lin, assistant vice president for research and engagement and an associate professor of English, has led that effort across UNG's campuses. She heads the Nationally Competitive Scholarships (NCS) and Center for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (CURCA) offices that mentor students and help them hone their applications for prestigious scholarships and research opportunities.

For these efforts, Lin received the Presidential Excellence in Engaged Leadership Award, which was presented at one of UNG's annual service awards and retirement events.

"While she will be the first to say that it has been a team effort, she has been the power behind this success," said Kate Maine, UNG chief of staff.

Lin said NCS assistant director Dr. Victoria Hightower, associate professor of history, and students' mentors and other faculty members play a crucial role in the process. She credited UNG President Bonita C. Jacobs' vision in starting the office in 2014, and Lin said three national scholarship winners in the first six months pushed her to grow the office as fast as possible.

"It's always nice when you can be awarded for something you just genuinely enjoy. I think I have the best job on campus," Lin said. "I get to work with our best students and get them to pursue their dreams, things they might not have thought of as possible."

Between two events April 23 in Gainesville and April 25 in Dahlonega, about 175 faculty and staff were honored for their years of service, along with 25 employees retiring this year. Wes Thomas, associate dean of student involvement, was recognized for 40 years of service. Thomas will retire June 30.

Wes Thomas

Wes Thomas, second from right, receives his retirement gift from Dr. Mac McConnell, vice president of business and finance, April 25 at an event with service awards and retirement recognitions.

"Dean Thomas' unwavering loyalty to UNG, his care and advocacy for students, calm disposition while managing complex challenges, enthusiasm for and belief in students, and his consistently high standard of professionalism will be the hallmarks of his lasting legacy at UNG," said Dr. James F. Conneely, UNG vice president for student affairs and enrollment management.

Thomas has worked with orientation, Student Government Association (SGA) and Nighthawks Entertainment during his time at UNG. A common thread in each of those roles has been his support for students.

"Good or bad, I feel like we're here to educate students, and you can't learn without sometimes making mistakes," Thomas said. "And you can't make mistakes if people don't give you enough room to try things."

Thomas said that approach has led to some longtime UNG traditions. Spring Jam grew from some students' idea years ago to have a large outdoor event to end the school year. It was so successful that there's now also a Fall Jam.

Thomas has embraced the chance to help SGA leaders as they allocate about $800,000 of student fee money annually on the Dahlonega Campus. These programs help instill responsibility in students, Thomas said.

"We prepare them very well to go out and make an impact in their jobs and their communities," Thomas said.

Thomas earned his bachelor's degree in psychology from UNG in 1976 and returned two years later as assistant director of Student Center and Auxiliary Services. In between, he earned his master's degree in student personnel services from Northwestern State University in Louisiana. Instead of leaving for a bigger school, Thomas stayed as UNG has grown to almost 20,000 students. Between his time as a student and employee, Thomas has been a part of UNG for nearly a third of its 146-year history.

Anna Brown, UNG director of university events, worked as an assistant for Thomas for part of his final decade at UNG. She said her customer service skills come largely from what she learned from him.

"Wes has always been sought-after for his expertise in student affairs and his vast knowledge of the history of UNG," Brown said. "Employees, students and the community called to ask questions on any number of topics knowing that Wes would have an answer, or if not, he would find it out and call the person back."

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