by Colton Campbell

Football made Will Bearden look at the University of West Georgia. Being able to get his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in four years made him attend.

Will Bearden The 19-year-old sophomore is a member of the fourth cohort of the Southwire Sustainable Business Honors Program (SSBHP) in UWG’s Richards College of Business. The initiative allows ambitious students to earn both undergraduate and graduate degrees — and a sustainability certificate — in four years, the conventional amount of time it takes to earn a bachelor’s degree.

“I heard about the possibility that I could get my master’s degree in four years, and there was no turning back,” Bearden said. “I was dead-set on attending the University of Georgia, but I heard about this program and realized I could have a greater effect on a smaller campus like UWG.”

In the year-and-a-half Bearden has attended classes at UWG, he’s found that to be true.

“I’ve been able to do a lot more than I would’ve been able to do at a larger university, and a lot of that is thanks to the SSBHP,” Bearden said. “It’s a rigorous, fast program, but it’s more manageable in a way because I have the end goal in mind and all of my classmates are on the same track.”

Bearden, a Monroe, Ga., native, said he appreciates the real-life applications the classwork in SSBHP classes have.

“We worked with the Southwire high-school program 12 for Life and revamped that program’s attendance policy for its students,” Bearden said. “We presented that to a group of administrators at 12 for Life, and they put the plan into action. Since then, they’ve seen a dramatic increase in students. It’s stuff like that — the work that makes a real difference in the real world — that I love doing.”

A quarterback for the UWG Wolves football team, Bearden has found it to be “challenging but rewarding” to balance academics and athletics, maintaining a stellar GPA in his sophomore year.

“I treat football like it’s a part-time job I have in addition to school, and that makes it easier to adapt and make things work when the two responsibilities overlap,” Bearden said. “I’m glad that I have the chance to do both. I’ve found there’s no point in sacrificing football when both the sport and being a better student are so important to my life.”

Beyond the balancing act of athletics and academics, Bearden also finds time to give back.

When he was a senior at Archer High School in Lawrenceville, Bearden started a student leadership program in which seniors built relationships with underclassmen.

“As a senior, I had some classes with freshmen, and I wanted to create an environment in which the social dynamic between freshmen and seniors was not a big deal,” Bearden said. “I wanted the underclassmen to stop being intimidated by the seniors and work with mentoring them so they aren’t afraid of coming to school.”

Since graduating, Bearden has checked in on that program he started more than two years ago, returning to Gwinnett County to speak to new seniors about the importance of the initiative. He’s found out participation in the program has grown almost tenfold.

Will Bearden Bearden said he’s glad to have chosen UWG over a larger university because of the amount of opportunities he’s received since coming to campus in August 2016.

“The professors and mentors I’ve had since I started at UWG have provided not only a lot of knowledge but also a great deal of support and guidance along the way,” Bearden said. “I doubt I could have been part of a presentation for a multi-billion dollar corporation at any of the larger universities I thought about attending.”

He doesn’t take the opportunities for granted, either.

“I wouldn’t have made these relationships and connections at a larger school, either,” Bearden said. “I’m glad to know I’m not just a number here.”

Bearden plans to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in management in May 2019 and receive his master’s degree in business administration in May 2020. After that, he doesn’t have any concrete plans.

“I’m just going to see where life takes me,” Bearden said. “I’m only 19 years old, so I don’t really want to start planning out the rest of my life right now. I want to do something that will contribute to people’s lives in a meaningful way. No matter what I’m doing, as long as I can make that happen, I’ll consider myself a success.”

Posted on March 13, 2018