Students in the inaugural Youth LEAD Georgia class, run by the University of Georgia, saw their state in a whole new light this summer.

The youth participated in a bus tour across south Georgia as part of Youth LEAD Georgia, a program housed at UGA’s J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development. This innovative program was made possible by a $1.5 million contribution from Chick-fil-A, Inc. and an additional charitable investment by The Same House.

Starting and ending in Macon, the June 4-7 tour also made stops in Savannah, Waycross, Tifton, Albany and Warner Robins.

“The tour gave me a chance to bond with my classmates as friends and fellow young leaders,” said Tierney Walton of Valdosta. “Also, I learned a lot about Georgia and also learned more about possible career opportunities in our state through the tour.”

young people in canoes traveling through swamp

Students tour the Okefenokee Swamp via canoe on the bus tour (Photo: Cat Elrod/UGA Fanning Institute)

Along the four-day tour, the class visited the Port of Savannah, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany, UGA Tifton campus, and Warner Robins Air Force Base to learn more about many of Georgia’s major industrial sectors. In addition, trips to UGA Marine Extension on Skidaway Island and the Okefenokee Swamp highlighted the state’s natural resources and a trip to Albany State University continued to offer the students a chance to visit other postsecondary education institutions.

Spending four days together traveling through south Georgia also allowed the students to continue building on the leadership skills they explored during their first two sessions earlier this year at UGA and in Cartersville.

Along with the leadership training, the 29 students—representing 28 Georgia counties—are participating in experiential learning activities, discussing current issues and challenges facing Georgia, and engaging with community and business leaders.

teenage girl using virtual reality headset in conference room sitting down

Students learned about healthcare using virtual reality tools at Phoebe Putney Hospital in Albany. (Photo: Cat Elrod/UGA Fanning Institute)

“By working with these students to develop the skills needed to lead others and address issues while also helping them better understand our state, we are equipping Georgia’s next generation of leaders,” said Lauren Healey, Fanning Institute interim associate director and public service faculty. “We appreciate Chick-fil-A and The Same House for investing in this important program and partnering with UGA.”

The inaugural class will meet twice more this year, gathering next in Columbus in September and then graduating in Atlanta in November. Meanwhile, nominations and applications for the 2025 program, which kicks off in January, are open now.

“The program has been a great experience so far,” said Owen Osborne of Newnan. “It has been interesting to not just learn about leadership in a classroom but to get out, meet people and learn how they have developed their leadership skills and used them in their communities.”

Adults can nominate any rising 10th and 11th grade student in Georgia for the program. Nominated students will then receive an invitation to apply. Nominations for the 2025 program will close Sept. 1, with nominated students having until Sept. 30 to complete their application. UGA will announce the 2025 class in mid-November.

To nominate a student for Youth LEAD Georgia or learn more, click here.

Writer: Charlie Bauder; 706-542-7039;
Contact: Lauren Healey; 706-542-7350;