Cara Winston Simmons never envisioned herself as a Bulldog.
Growing up in Quitman, the tiny county seat of Brooks County way down in Georgia’s red clay country bordering the Florida line, she saw herself in Atlanta or maybe out of the state.
One trip to Athens on a cold, rainy weekend in the fall of her senior year of high school changed it all.
“It was probably one of the most miserable days you could imagine, but the people and their experience at UGA sold me that day,” she said. “The more they talked, the more I knew this was the place I wanted to be. I applied the next week and luckily was accepted.”
Simmons, director of the FACS Student Success and Advising Center, has been here ever since, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in history in 2003, a master’s of education in 2007 and will soon earn her doctorate in college student affairs administration through the UGA College of Education.
Athens is also where she met and married her husband, Andre, where her two little girls, Olivia and Amelia, were born, and where she has worked in various roles on campus since her days as a wide-eyed undergrad.
“I think Athens is a good representation of who I am,” she said. “It’s just a unique place with that small-town feel but you also have access to these bigger city happenings.”
Simmons was hired as the director in August 2014. Simmons and the SSAC staff – Jennifer Eberhart, Kelly King and Kassie Suggs – provide a range of services for prospective and current students, including recruitment, advising, career development and coordinating experiential learning and leadership opportunities, among others.
It’s that holistic approach to learning that attracts Simmons to the job.
“To me, our office is unique in that the student affairs component and the academic affairs component have a perfect relationship here,” she said. “Sometimes we try to separate those experiences, but for students, college is college. We shouldn’t compartmentalize students’ experiences because that’s not how they’re going through their time at UGA.”
One of Simmons’ major initiatives in her first year was the launching of a program for first-year and transfer students called “The Bridge.” Students new to FACS attended these four-part sessions to hear first-hand from FACS faculty and alumni in an informal, small-group setting.
The program gave students a peek into the inner workings of FACS and introduced them to the seemingly endless opportunities available to them as future graduates.
“That first year can be a really big time of transition,” Simmons said. “We want our office and college to be a place where students know they will be supported throughout their entire career and that it’s OK to make mistakes; there’s going to be someone here to help you and you’ll always have someone you can turn to if you’re struggling with something or if you want to share an accomplishment, too.”
It’s Simmons’ unrelenting optimism and enthusiasm that FACS senior Ivy Odom said makes her an ideal fit for the college.
“The number one thing I can count on her to ask is ‘What can I do for you?’ ” Odom said. “Or ‘Is there anything you need from me?’ She’s very reliable and so personable.”
Talking to Simmons, her love for what she does is evident. She routinely mentions the “FACS family” and talks of the college and her colleagues with an almost gleeful reverence.
“It’s just the sincere love that people have for being in this college,” she said. “People sincerely love being here, and I love that about FACS. It’s a privilege for me to be able to work with them every day.”