Ten years after her graduation ceremony, Georgia Miller Mjartan recently poked her head into the nooks and crannies of the UALR Student Government Association offices in the Donaghey Student Center, smiling and laughing at the memories her visit to campus was evoking.
“This was my world,” she said, walking through the second floor concourse. “I literally lived here for four years.”
Mjartan – a Donaghey Scholar and UALR’s 2002 Whitbeck Scholar who led the class at commencement in a silver robe signifying her rank as first in her class – was president of the Student Government Association, editor of the literary magazine, and first runner up for homecoming queen. She also competed for a Rhodes Scholarship and became UALR’s first George Mitchell Scholar. She packed enough accomplishment in her four undergraduate years for four students.
“The key is to learn, quickly learn, and discover what’s out there, what’s happening on campus,” she advises incoming students. “There is something happening on campus that will spark your interest, capture your creativity, and will motivate you to keep coming back, and will get you plugged in. The key is to know what all those opportunities are so you can seize the right one for you.”
After her Mitchell study at the University of Ulster, Georgia won a Fannie Mae Foundation Fellowship to study at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
Today, she is the executive director of Our House, Little Rock’s shelter for homeless families to help them get back on their feet. The nonprofit organization, which provides job training and placement, child care, and summer camps to more than 1,000 people every year, has a $1 million annual budget and a staff of 37.
Mjartan was just 25 years old and serving on Our House’s board of directors when she decided to resign her seat on the board. She left her job as a business communications consultant, and took over the challenge to become Our House director. It was 2005, tough times when the organization couldn’t pay its utility bills and had to stop construction of a new emergency shelter because it didn’t have funds to pay the contractors.
“She started raising money – for operations, for construction, for new programs – and lined up other resources, including some $400,000 worth of professional services and in-kind giving,” an article in Arkansas Business said in announcing her as the Nonprofit Executive of the Year in 2011. The award came in the midst of Mjartan’s successful $400,000 capital campaign for a new family housing initiative.
Georgia credits skills she learned from UALR extracurricular activities for her success managing resources for Our House.
“I didn’t have the money for the UALR Homecoming competition, so I went to one of the shops across the street from campus and talked them into loaning me a dress in exchange for a mention in the program,” she said. “That’s what I do now every day in my job.”
She and her husband, Dominick, who is also a Donaghey Scholar, frequently volunteer their time to give back to their alma mater through their association with the UALR Alumni Association and the Office of Recruitment.
She stresses to incoming students that their experiences outside class can do as much for their education as experiences in class.
“I think these experiences were a trial for me and were a proving ground that equipped me to do the same kinds of things but on a bigger and broader and deeper level out in the world,” she said. “And that’s what college should be. That’s what your college experience should give you.”