Overcoming the Odds

When students enter the University of Georgia, they often have expectations about college.  Classes, football games, and student organizations, as well as all-night study sessions, Spring Break trips, and time spent with friends.  For Andrew Wills (AB ’11, JD ’14), his college experience changed in the blink of an eye, but he did not let that stop him from making the most of his time at UGA.

Wills, the son of two Georgia graduates, enrolled at the University as an intended business major.  After two semesters, the Douglas, Georgia native changed his major to political science, an opportunity that allowed him to discover and grow his passion for law and for lobbying. He specifically credits courses he took under Dr. Susan Haire with sparking his interest in the field of law.

“He had not only read through the materials,” recalls Dr. Haire, “but he had thought about their implications, whether in policy terms or a hypothetical case.”  These analytical skills served Wills well as he gained the respect of his classmates and raised the eyebrows of his professors.

At the start of the Spring semester of his junior year, Wills was on a trip out west with his family to celebrate his birthday.  While skiing down a mountainside in Colorado, he suffered a horrifying accident that caused a brain injury.  The near-tragedy put Wills in a drug-induced coma for a month.

“I was living in Colorado in the hospital basically,” Wills remembers, before he was moved to Atlanta’s Shepherd Center.  While most students are spending the spring of their junior year searching for summer jobs and internships and studying for tests, Wills spent three months recovering from an accident that could have derailed his plans for a successful college experience.

As Wills continued to make hard-earned progress toward a full recovery, he did not allow his accident to affect his aspiration to study abroad in Oxford, England.  How would this twenty-one-year-old, who had spent almost four months in intensive recovery, still make it across the pond for the learning experience of a lifetime?

Andrew in England while participating in the SPIA at Oxford study abroad program.

“I’m sure my family didn’t really care much for the idea of me doing this program,” Wills says with a laugh, remembering that he was still at the Shepherd Center until about a month before the Oxford program was to begin. But SPIA created a path forward, allowing Wills to enjoy an experience that he now considers a significant milestone in his recovery.  “I feel indebted to the SPIA team for making it all possible,” says Wills.

During rehabilitation therapy sessions–sometimes up to ten hours a day–Wills used his trip to Oxford as motivation to pull him through. When the summer term arrived, Wills was out of the Shepherd Center and ready to head to England.  He enjoyed a rewarding experience in Oxford and returned to Athens in the fall for his first semester back on UGA’s campus.

“SPIA actually had a big role in me getting back to normal,” Wills recalls. “People like Dr. Anthony Madonna were super-helpful in making sure I was able to keep up with coursework, able to stay on track.”

Wills’ track did not stop when he walked through the Arch in the spring of 2011.

“Dealing with adversity is not something that most college students have to face—but he did and, in doing so, he demonstrated traits, like perseverance, that predict post-graduate success,” remembers Haire.  She was right.  Wills went on to earn a second Georgia degree, this time a Juris Doctor from the School of Law in 2014.

Andrew on a site visit to a solar and wind energy farm.

Upon graduation, Wills found his passion in energy policy, first working at the Georgia Transmission Corporation alongside the electric cooperatives in Georgia before moving to Washington, DC, where he found a network of Dawgs ready to welcome him to his new home.  “When I came to DC, there was a significant presence [of UGA alumni] that I tried to take advantage of,” Wills remembers.

For over a decade, Wills has been a leader in energy advocacy in our nation’s capital.  He started the federal affairs team at Invenergy, a clean energy company, developing the company’s positions on industry issues such as trade, reliability, tax, and emergency response.  He then moved to the US Department of Energy as the Chief of Staff & Senior Advisor for the Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response (CESER).  Wills served in the Department of Energy for a year and a half, making a huge impact. As the point person for all engagement with Capitol Hill and industry leaders, he helped develop energy security policy, and grew the CESER team to six times its size from when he arrived.

Andrew and his husband, Bruce, on a trip to San Diego.

Wills is now back at Invenergy as Senior Vice President for Federal Affairs.  He continues to make an impact in a field that is of particular interest to SPIA, which houses the Center for International Trade and Security, a hub of research, teaching, and outreach in critical areas of national and international security.

Andrew Wills’ college experience was anything but ordinary, but where most people would see obstacles and obstructions, Wills saw the opportunity to do something extraordinary.

“It is gratifying to see excellent students, like Andrew, who also demonstrated integrity and kindness to others to succeed as he has done.  I am particularly thankful because he is doing important work that benefits all of us—leading energy policy efforts in the public and private sectors,” Haire says, proudly.