Making connections, meeting other high school students from across the state and experiencing opportunities to help sharpen her leadership skills are some highlights Rome High School junior Mary Burke Smith talks about when asked about her participation in the Youth LEAD Georgia program.

Smith is one of thirty sophomores and juniors from throughout the state participating in the program that aims to help students develop leadership skills and build knowledge about the state through the program at the University of Georgia.

“It’s so awesome and incredible because I’m getting to meet students from different counties from all over Georgia. I’ve talked with students from Valdosta to Dade County and just a lot of different places,” Smith says. “That’s one of the biggest parts for me is to just be able to go and make all these connections.”

All told, the 30 students taking part in the program hail from 29 different counties.

Youth LEAD Georgia, a partnership with UGA’s J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, Chick-fil-A and The Same House organization, is designed to equip youth with the skills and knowledge necessary to be the future leaders of the state.

Smith has already been to two group gatherings and will take part in a bus tour through South Georgia this summer as well as two more large group meetings in the fall.

“It’s so much fun being able to get together with these students and just soak in what we are learning from the experiences and the speakers,” Smith says. “This is an incredible experience learning these life lessons and to be able to be a part of all this.”

Along with the leadership training, the students will participate in experiential learning activities and in-depth dialogue on current issues and challenges facing Georgia. They also will have the opportunity to interact with prominent business and community leaders.