The course began as a study of insurer operations and policy, but ended as a lesson in servant leadership, and giving back to communities most in need.
“It still has me in awe,” said Paria Esmaeelzadeh, who graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in risk management and insurance. “I’m so thankful to have been a part of this final memory at UGA.”
Esmaeelzadeh and fellow Terry College of Business students in RMIN 5570, encouraged by adjunct professor Cecil Cooke, started a class project which included a community service component. They decided on a challenge fundraiser for local food banks, with all 45 students reaching out to personal and professional networks to contribute to the campaign. Cooke (BBA ’75), a risk management and insurance industry veteran who recently retired as a managing director at Aon Risk Services in Atlanta, agreed to match dollar for dollar whatever they raised.
The result: $21,800 was raised, the equivalent of providing 84,000 meals.
“I'm proud and honored to have been a part of such a great and impactful project that has done a lot of good,” said Lee Collier, who also graduated in May with a risk management and insurance degree. “The project’s success was bigger than any of us could have imagined.”
“I can only say that I believe it was a true win-win-win-win-win, for the students, the faculty, the RMI program, our industry partners and, most importantly, the broader community,” said Rob Hoyt, the Dudley L. Moore Jr. Chair of Insurance and head of the Insurance, Legal Studies and Real Estate Department.
The class added another element to its project, helping one another focus on the positives of their UGA career — versus what was lost when the campus closed — while also providing industry mentors in an uncertain job market. With Cooke’s assistance, students who wanted a mentor found one, and he made a point to help any senior who had a job offer rescinded or were still interviewing when everything shutdown.
“All in all it’s an incredible outcome, and the students learned how to live the servant leadership model during a real-time crisis,” Cooke said.
Esmaeelzadeh and Collier joined Kirsten Nichols and Michael Determan as the class’s team leaders to spearhead the project. Keeping in steady contact while sheltering at home across the country, they moved into action once remote learning began in late March.
“We were able to organize this effort virtually by meeting as a leadership team to prepare exactly what to say to our classmates as well as how to get the message to them,” said Nichols, another spring graduate in risk management and insurance. “We collaborated with Cecil via Zoom to ask if he would make an announcement on our class eLC page and attach a detailed description of the servant leadership project. We added all students to a class GroupMe and facilitated questions they had as well as reminding them how great an opportunity this was.”
“Even though we may have been physically apart from each other, the power of technology and our passion for the project’s purpose allowed us to organize this campaign without seeing the distance as an obstacle,” said Esmaeelzadeh. “It was more like a small speed bump in the road to our ultimate goal.”
For one student in the class, it was a much-needed lifeline during a difficult time.
Juley Bishop lost both her parents in the past six months, “then COVID-19 happened, campus is closed and graduation canceled,” she wrote in a letter to Cooke.
“Everything in life has been turned upside down, with an uncertain outlook. Then Cecil steps up and puts together an amazing group of students to lead our class down the path of servant leadership. Everyone is pitching in with the food bank, running errands for shut-ins, and making masks. Our entire class is forming a network and checking on one another. Cecil turned the attention from self-pity to selflessness by reaching out and helping others.”