|In Atlanta, Georgia's First Lady Praises Students From Her Country|
|September 23, 2009|
Twenty Georgia State University business students from the country of Georgia had lunch Sept. 18 with Georgian First Lady Sandra Saakashvili, who praised them for their scholarship and reminded them of the role they will play in building the economy of the former Soviet republic.
“We are very impressed by your achievements,” she told the students during lunch at the Commerce Club in downtown Atlanta. “You know how important it is for Georgia to have good managers. This is a key issue for Georgia.”
Many of the students are in a dual-degree program with Georgia State and the Caucasus School of Business in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital. Bijan Fazlollahi, a professor in Georgia State’s Robinson College of Business and director of Robinson’s Center for Business Development in Transitional Economies, helped establish the Caucasus school more than a decade ago and since then has directed many programs there. In 2004, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili named Dr. Fazlollahi an honorary citizen of Georgia.
Ms. Saakashvili taught French at the Caucasus school from 2003 to 2007. The school now has more than 2,000 students and an American-style doctoral program.
“I plan to attend the graduation ceremony in Tbilisi on Oct. 14 where we will award the first Ph.D. to Boris Lezhava,” Dr. Fazlollahi said at the luncheon for Ms. Saakashvili, which he hosted. “The Ph.D. program has extended the capacity of the Caucasus School of Business from a teaching establishment to a teaching and research institution.”
There are currently more than 30 students from the country of Georgia in undergraduate and graduate business programs at Georgia State.
“Robinson has benefited from excellent Georgian students in our classes,” said Dr. Fazlollahi. “They take five classes and they get five A's.”
Givi Buiglishvili, one of the Georgian students who attended the luncheon, said he appreciates Ms. Saakashvili’s visit and understands the expectations his country has for students who attend college in the United States. “We come here to be professional, to get better and then return to Georgia,” said Mr. Buiglishvili.
In an interview with GlobalAtlanta following the luncheon, Ms. Saakashvili said her vision for Georgia over the next 10 years is “to be an integrated member of Europe.”
When asked if Georgia should join the European Union, she replied, “That’s up to the European Union.”
While in Atlanta, Ms. Saakashvilli visited CARE, the Atlanta-based relief agency, and attended a fundraiser at Atlanta City Hall for humanitarian aid to Georgia, including for those displaced in fighting last August between Georgian and Russian troops. Atlanta Hawks center Zaza Pachulia, a Georgian, was on the host committee of the fundraiser. Mr. Pachulia recently purchased Eno, a restaurant in Midtown Atlanta. He plans to offer products from the country of Georgia in the restaurant's wine and cheese shop.
Atlanta has recently been gaining a growing number of connections with the country of Georgia. Atlanta attorney John Hall was recently named Georgia’s honorary consul for the Southeast U.S.
In addition to Georgia State’s programs, Emory University has links to the country of Georgia as well. Emory recently won a $2 million federal grant to develop a nursing program.
The two-year grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development will be used to pay teachers, provide supplies and build classroom space, a simulation lab and a clinical skill laboratory at a hospital in Tbilisi. Doctors and nurses from Emory will travel to Tbilisi over the next two years as they build the program.
Georgia, which has a population of about 4.6 million, gained its independence following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. It has a gross domestic product, the value of all its goods and services, of about $21.6 billion, which ranks it 117th in the world, just below Albania and above Gabon, according to the CIA World Fact Book.
President Saakashvili, in New York to attend the United Nations 64th General Assembly, met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday, Sept. 21.
“The United States supports Georgia, and we want to make that very clear and unequivocal statement here today,” Ms. Clinton told Mr. Saakashvili during a public appearance before their meeting, according to a State Department transcript.
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