Professionals across the state are strengthening regional connections to better improve educational outcomes for students who have experienced foster care and/or homelessness following a University of Georgia conference.

More than 175 individuals registered for the 2024 Embark Georgia Leadership Conference, held Feb. 26-27 at the UGA Center for Continuing Education & Hotel in Athens, Georgia.

Coordinated by the UGA J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, Embark Georgia works to increase college access and retention for students in Georgia who have experienced foster care or homelessness.

This year’s conference marked the first time new Embark Georgia regional coalitions met in-person, following initial meetings online. These seven geographic coalitions allow individuals to connect and collaborate more directly with nearby colleagues to support students in their regions.

“The coalition and particularly meeting at this conference is helping me make tremendous connections with others in southeast Georgia where I serve,” said Ishmael Rouse, an independent living specialist with the Georgia Department of Human Services. “I learned about resources that I previously was unaware of and was able to introduce resources I have that others in my area were not aware of. This conference has been impactful for me, and I am leaving with a renewed sense of purpose.”

Each regional coalition will have separate meetings and areas to share resources unique to that region, while also participating in the statewide Embark Georgia network. Funding to support the creation of these regional coalitions and other aspects of Embark Georgia’s work has been provided by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. The Joseph B. Whitehead Child Well-Being Fund at the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta has also provided funding to support the expansion of Embark Georgia’s work across the state.

“These smaller peer-to-peer communities will help foster more direct relationships and increase capacity to serve these students quickly and more effectively,” said David Meyers, UGA Fanning Institute public service faculty member and Embark Georgia network co-director. “We appreciate the generosity of both the Hilton Foundation and the Joseph B. Whitehead Child Well-Being Fund at the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta and their commitment to helping ensure that every student who wants access to college has it, regardless of their circumstances.”

Moving forward, the regional coalitions will meet on an ongoing basis, either online or in-person, as scheduled quarterly.

Along with the regional coalition meetings, the conference included statewide and national leaders in the areas of higher education, child welfare, and K-12 education sharing research, programmatic best practices and policy updates.

“Knowledge in this field continuously expands and evolves,” said Lori Tiller, UGA Fanning Institute public service faculty and Embark Georgia network co-director. “Providing the latest research and policy information at one event helps everyone best support students who have experienced foster care or homelessness.”

The conference provided an opportunity for both networking and professional development.

“Attending for the first time, it was a wonderful learning experience,” said Michelle Blackburn, social worker for the Habersham County school system. “I gained a lot of knowledge from everyone in all areas of the work.”

Events like this conference help Embark Georgia develop leaders ready to engage in building a stronger Georgia for all.

“Leading effectively includes providing confidence and support for those who need it the most,” said Matt Bishop, director of the UGA Fanning Institute. “In helping professionals develop their own skillset and engage with others, Embark Georgia is helping to develop leaders across the state be ready to support students who have experienced foster care or homelessness.”

For more information on the regional coalitions and Embark Georgia’s work, visit

Writer: Charlie Bauder; 706-542-7039;
Contact: David Meyers; 706-542-5062;