Feeding the Hungry: UWG Alumnus, USDA Leader Gives Back in Appreciation for Alma Mater
Sometimes the most interesting journeys in life aren’t planned. For University of West Georgia alumnus Terry Gunnell ’85, following his instincts and working hard have given him a life he would never have imagined.
Currently a deputy regional administrator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Gunnell has journeyed far in his career, and he attributes much of his great success to the strong foundation he received as a student at UWG.
“UWG nurtured me throughout my educational experience, and then gave me the confidence to branch out and move forward,” he said. “It introduced me to some thoughtful and challenging people, and I was educated by great faculty members who really cared about the fact that I was sitting in class everyday. They recognized what my learning level was, and they helped move me to a higher level.”
To ensure others have the means to be successful, Gunnell has given back to UWG in numerous ways. In addition to a generous legacy gift toward a social science-related scholarship and endowment, Gunnell and his sisters started the Ila Mae Gunnell Scholarship for Tanner Health System School of Nursing students on behalf of their mother, who worked for Tanner Health System.
“Supporting the institution has been so rewarding for me and my family,” he said. “The amount of joy we’ve gotten from thank-you letters from students is wonderful. Knowing they receive benefits from a scholarship in our mother’s name really has value. That's what made me decide to do a planned gift to the university in my will, because UWG is worth supporting.”
Born and raised near UWG, Gunnell took classes at the university during high school, graduating with a political science degree in 1985. During his time at UWG, he worked full-time off-campus and served as an orientation leader.
Following roles in higher education, and in response to several of his friends becoming ill during the AIDS crisis of the early 1990s, Gunnell changed career paths, serving in various capacities with the National AIDS Fund, AmeriCorps, and Feeding Texas.
“Throughout my career until that point, I had been more focused on community development and general service and volunteerism, but the more I got interested in nutrition security, the more I realized how that is everything,” Gunnell said. “Through that work, I started working more and more with people in the USDA.”
In 2017, Gunnell took a position with the western regional office of the USDA, working with a focus on food and nutrition services in San Francisco, California. The USDA has 26 different component agencies, but the single one Gunnell represents, Food Nutrition and Consumer Services, accounts for almost 80 percent of the total budget.
Gunnell oversees the administration of all of the USDA supported food and nutrition programs in the western states and the Pacific trust territories. One such program is Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which helps provide nutrition benefits to supplement the food budget of needy families so they can purchase healthy food and move towards self-sufficiency.
The best part about his position, Gunnell said, is helping to take care of those most vulnerable. One example of how Gunnell works to feed the hungry is identifying rural farms that can generate sales to local schools so that the kids are eating fresh produce grown right in their neighborhoods.
“We are helping to be sure that hungry kids are no longer hungry,” he said. “That’s everything to us.”
For more information about how you can make an impact by supporting UWG through an endowment, scholarship or annual giving, please visit the UWG Give West page.