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University of Georgia students are playing critical roles in helping one southeast Georgia county plan for its growth.

Students from the College of Engineering and the Terry College of Business are working with the Archway Partnership, a unit of the UGA Office of Public Service and Outreach, to identify potential routes for a new road to relieve traffic congestion, and to attract potential businesses to locate along the corridor. Candler County, which includes Metter, is one of eight Georgia counties in the Archway Partnership, which connects communities with resources at UGA and other institutions.

"One of the key priority areas for the Candler County Archway Partnership is Economic Development. So, this project which addresses access to a newly built school complex and a desire for more commercial developments fits well within the scope of work for this community," said Angel Jackson, an operations coordinator with the Archway Partnership.

Last fall, engineering students collected data on the geography and existing infrastructure on the land adjacent to Interstate 16 and began to work on the design for the selected route. Students from the Full-Time MBA Program, who are working as graduate assistants with the Archway Partnership, looked at commercial development options. With help from the UGA Small Business Development Center (SBDC), also a unit of public service and outreach, they made recommendations for commercial chains that could benefit the community economically.

“We approached our work from a marketing perspective, looking at different metrics to find chains that would be interested in a town like Metter,” said Christopher Maher, a second-year MBA student from Philadelphia, who worked alongside Matt Maskiewicz, a first-year MBA student from Ocala, Fla. “The SBDC analysis helped by showing the number of different businesses in the area versus what the community should have based on the demographic data, identifying specific areas the community could address to grow economically.”

This spring, the engineering students are continuing to work on the design of the road, drafting utility and storm water management plans and conducting a construction cost analysis. They also will incorporate the commercial business recommendations into the plan.

“This project ties together all the engineering principles I’ve studied at UGA,” said Katie Dean, a senior engineering major from Alpharetta. “It has put us in the mindset of learning, communicating and dynamic problem-solving, putting in perspective what we know how to do and what we need to learn how to do.”

For Dean and the other engineering students on the project, this fulfills the college requirement that they complete a capstone project before graduation. It also helps them apply the academic lessons from the classroom to actual projects.

“Giving our students practical experience in their fields, beyond just the theory, is vital to their education,” said Jason Christian, an assistant professor in the College of Engineering. “This project gave them an opportunity to make real presentations to Candler County officials and develop their communication skills with clients, which is essential to being an effective engineer.”

“The fact that this is a real-life project for these students is priceless to us,” said Jamie Riggs, president and executive director of the Metter-Candler Chamber of Commerce. “Not only are we getting services we would not be able to afford otherwise, but we are also building important relationships with these future experts in their fields.”