At first glance, Briana Hayes’ list of accomplishments reads like that of a typical high achiever at UGA.
She is third-year health promotion major with an interest in community health, a Presidential Leadership Scholar, an Honors student, and a member of the Dean William Tate Honor Society. She’s served two-terms as a Student Government Association senator, and she is an accomplished pianist and an avid golfer.
But Hayes can claim one crowning achievement others cannot – Miss University of Georgia 2019 – and since earning that title, Hayes has made it her mission to elevate the importance of service and public health across Georgia.
As Miss UGA, she works to raise awareness and funds for Children’s Miracle Network (CMN) Hospitals. Her most recent campaign – “Kiss a Dawg, Cure a Child” – encourages UGA fans to donate to a CMN Hospital, then post a picture of themselves kissing a dog on social media.
Her platform “Creating Believers: Today’s Youth, Today’s Volunteers” aims to inspire youth in realizing their purpose by providing them with opportunities to become civically engaged. She travels regularly across the state to participate in charity events and visit schools sharing her mission and her passion for volunteering.
Originally from a small town in South Georgia, Hayes’ call to service and, ultimately to the field of public health, begins with her rural roots.
“The truth is that public health is a grave concern in rural communities and one that is often overlooked. This presents a major issue, as health is the cornerstone of an individual’s wholeness and wellbeing,” she said.
Many of Georgia’s public health issues have hit Hayes close to home. Pageant swimsuit competitions had her obsessing over her own weight. Her father was diagnosed as pre-diabetic. Her grandfather, who smoked for many years, died from lung cancer.
Hayes is proud to be pursuing her degree in the College of Public Health and is especially eager to use the knowledge she is gaining to make a positive impact in her community.
“I don’t think health is something that is pushed enough within Southern culture, especially African American Southern culture. My hope is to one day be able to give back to people that I grew up around and help them focus on a healthier lifestyle.”
In the year ahead, Hayes is focused on fostering a new mentorship program she founded for rural students at UGA called RISE – Rural Students Igniting Success in Education – which launched officially in September. Through the program, she wants to give incoming rural students an advantage she didn’t have as a freshman.
“When you are able to connect with people who have a similar background as you, it makes this transition to life at UGA a lot easier,” said Hayes.
– Rebecca Ayer
Originally published in the Fall 2019 issue of UGA College of Public Health magazine.
Posted on December 3, 2019.