Chatting with CAES

Many University of Georgia alumni look back fondly on their college days, so while reliving the glory days may not be possible, the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Alumni Association found a way to get alumni back to class this year.

CAES Chats, a monthly virtual live seminar, was established this summer to connect graduates with timely and educational content from faculty, staff and students.

The program has covered topics including chocolate, pollinators and how students and faculty have adapted to the educational and operational challenges they’ve faced during the COVID-19 crisis.

For the first of the CAES Chats, in June, food science and technology Professor Emeritus Robert Shewfelt returned to share some sweet science-based facts with alumni. Known for his courses in chocolate science and technology and chocolate chemistry, Shewfelt retired from UGA in 2013 and has since published the book “In Defense of Processed Food: It’s Not Nearly as Bad as You Think” to help the public sort out the science behind what they eat. “Chocolate has more than 1,000 chemical compounds,” he told the online audience, adding that chocolate should be a “sometimes food.”

Sarah M. Cook (MAL — Agricultural Leadership, ’14) said the sessions have been enjoyable and informational for her while being entertaining and educational for her children.

“My 9-year-old son Wyatt has been home for two of them. When he heard Dr. Shewfelt speaking about food science and its ties to chocolate and candy, he got wide-eyed and said, ‘They offer that at UGA?’ I can tell it definitely sparked a new awareness of the college that even I had not been able to convey,” she said.

Both of Cook’s children were entranced with the explanation of the process of selective breeding for better flowers and pollinator support by horticulture Professor Matthew Chappell (PhD — Horticulture, ’07) and graduate student Mary Lewis (BSA — Horticulture, ’17). Extension School and Community Garden Coordinator Becky Griffin (MPPPM — Plant Protection and Pest Management, ’18) followed up with information about the second Great Georgia Pollinator Census and its importance to the state.

“Even though my daughter Georgia is only four, she was able to understand they are making the plants prettier and stronger for the butterflies and bees. They even went out to our garden and did a pollinator count with me on our zinnia patch,” said Cook.

The series also included a talk from Professor Nick Fuhrman, also known as “Ranger Nick,” about how he got his nickname and teaching with animals. Fuhrman actually teaches a course called “Teaching with Animals,” or AGED 2001, in partnership with Extra Special People Inc., a community organization that serves youth with developmental disabilities and their families. During the chat, Fuhrman explained that his course gives undergraduate students the opportunity to teach students with disabilities using animals.

In late October, CAES Chats featured a panel from students and administrators about their experiences during the pandemic, from online learning to figuring out how to handle social and extracurricular activities.

No matter the topic, CAES Chats offers the opportunity for alumni to recapture their connection to UGA and the college.

“I enjoy the enthusiasm of each of the speakers. I love this format and definitely encourage others to tune in,” said Cook. “While none of these presenters were my former professors, I was able to hear the questions of former students to their professors. It was amazing to see that many remembered the students and were able to rekindle that professorial relationship very easily. It’s a testament to the love and dedication these presenters have to both their trade and their students.”

The series will continue with rotating topics from each of the college’s departments throughout the year. To see upcoming CAES Chats or to view the archive, visit