RISE meeting Sept. 9, 2019

At the innaugural meeting of RISE — Rural students Igniting Success and Education — on Sept. 9, 2019, Hunter Smith (left) (hgs75835@uga.edu), a law student from Jesup, Georgia, explains his personal experience as a University of Georgia student from a rural town. Briana Hayes (right) (jayme.hayes@uga.edu), a Public Health major from Baxley, Georgia, is RISE’s president and founder.

As nearly 50 students met on Monday for the inaugural meeting of RISE — Rural Students Igniting Success and Education — icebreaking questions strayed from the typical “interesting facts about yourself.”

Questions such as “How many stoplights are in your hometown?” and “Does your hometown have a population smaller than the University of Georgia?” were offered up as the club’s first topics of discussion. 

The club was created by legislation passed by the Student Government Association last week. Briana Hayes, RISE president and former SGA member, founded the club as a network to connect rural students. 

“My transition from Baxley [Georgia] to UGA was tough,” Hayes said. “At one point, I even considered dropping out of the University of Georgia.” 

A professor reached out to Hayes and connected her with other students who knew how it felt to come from a small town to a massive state university. Hayes ultimately stayed at the university, but she knew her experience was not unique to her. 

Her experience was echoed by Hunter Smith, a current law student and 2018 graduate of the university. Smith, who has aspirations to one day represent rural Georgians as a politician at the state level, spoke to the group about his experience as a student from a rural area. 

“I am just amazed, honestly, with the incredible planning and incredible mission this organization is going to provide,” Smith said after the meeting. “I really wish that I had something like this when I came through undergrad.” 

From what he’s experienced, Smith believes students from rural communities have less confidence than their peers. A resident assistant for three years as an undergrad, he tried to personally help rural students he met, but said establishing an organization dedicated to connecting rural students has the potential for a huge positive impact. 

That shared experience pushed Hayes to explore the possibility of creating a new student group. Hayes said she knew she was not the only rural student who felt the way she and Smith had.

“I knew that there are other students who felt like I did, but didn’t have that point of contact,” Hayes said. “I wanted to start an organization where rural students could get together and know that they have a community here.”

Even after the first meeting, nearly half of the attendees stayed late and struck up conversations. While the issue of finding community among over 35,000 students is not gone, Hayes hopes RISE will positively affect current and future students from rural areas.  

“When the class of 2024 gets here, this organization will already be established, where they can come and have a community,” Hayes said.

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