Gifts from UGA Alumni Create CAES Rural Scholars Program

Maria M. Lameiras

Friday, September 25th, 2020

A new scholarship program funded by University of Georgia alumni and benefitting qualified students from rural areas of Georgia who seek to earn degrees from UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES) is now recruiting students for its first cohort to begin in fall 2021.

Gifts and pledges totaling $500,000 from UGA Foundation trustee and CAES alumnus Keith Kelly and his wife, Pam Kelly, and CAES alumnus Robert Varnedoe will endow two CAES Rural Scholars Scholarship Funds and create two non-endowed CAES Rural Scholars Scholarship Funds, which will provide renewable yearly scholarships for a cohort of four to six students every fall.

The annual academic scholarship of $7,000 per year will assist in recruiting the most qualified students from rural communities in the state of Georgia who have excelled academically, have shown strong leadership abilities and community service, and seek a degree at CAES.

“The Rural Scholars Program will offer students from rural areas of Georgia a first-class undergraduate experience at UGA. Modeled after the university’s most prestigious fellowships and scholarships, the Rural Scholars Program is designed to give exceptional students from rural communities unique learning opportunities inside and outside the classroom,” said Josef Broder, associate dean for academic affairs at CAES.

Building on the success of similar UGA merit scholarship programs, the Rural Scholars Program will provide support for participating students through the cohort model, staff support and co-curricular programming. Scholars may have the opportunity to participate in additional activities to enhance the college experience, such as the Freshman College Summer Experience and experiential learning opportunities, supported by grants, that allow students to learn outside the classroom.  

“I am grateful to these generous alumni, who are opening doors for students from rural areas of our state,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. “The CAES Rural Scholars Program will help students achieve their educational and professional goals while supporting Georgia’s No. 1 industry.”

Kelly, who earned his bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics from CAES in 1980, was inspired to support a scholarship program at CAES for rural students because he has observed and deeply understands the challenges rural families and students face when planning for the future.

“Part of our goal is to get young people to understand the need to go back to their communities and start something that will benefit those communities,” Kelly said. “We are excited about our students who are participating in entrepreneurship competitions, like FABricate, that allow them to formulate business plans they want to pursue. The opportunities within the agricultural industry are very diverse.”

While students from rural areas may be equally qualified, they may not have access to some of the resources available to students in larger school districts. With this in mind, Kelly committed himself to providing qualified rural students with a pathway to exceptional educational experiences, and the CAES Rural Scholars Program began to take shape.

He enlisted the participation of friend and 1983 CAES graduate Robert Varnedoe to endow the first scholarship funds. Varnedoe, who earned a bachelor’s degree in animal science, grew up in Barney, a town of about 150 people in south Georgia’s Brooks County.

“Personally, I feel a strong desire to help students in agriculture. I think that it is still a great opportunity for young people to continue in a field that is near and dear to my heart and that is changing with the times,” said Varnedoe, CEO of Lee Container. “We don’t focus enough of our resources on rural areas, and I am proud to be able to offer more opportunities for rural students to succeed. These students are the future of agriculture and agribusinesses in our state and beyond, and this will provide them with a strong education to carry them and the industry forward.”

Information on the scholarship and an application timeline is available at To support the CAES Rural Scholarship Program, click here.