“You’ll have to excuse me,” said Pam Kleiber, assistant director of the Honors Program when someone walks into her office.
She gestures to the workflow on her otherwise tidy desk and explains, “I’m midstream. In fact, I’m always midstream.”
That may be understatement. Since starting in her position in 2000, Kleiber has been a dynamo of activity. She’s helped grow the Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities, and shepherded about 600 students through the transition from college life into the real world.
She also stays engaged with the nonprofit, non-partisan Kettering Foundation, which encourages citizen participation in issues of import across the U.S. and the globe.
“There are always impediments to people fulfilling their dreams, there are always barriers,” she said. “But one of the things I’ve always tried to do has been to try to reduce those barriers.”
Her work received the 2010 President’s Fulfilling the Dream Award at the sixth annual Freedom Breakfast sponsored by the university, the Athens-Clarke County government and school board. It honors individuals from the university and the community who are committed to furthering Martin Luther King Jr.’s goals of equality and justice for all.
For Kleiber, achieving those goals means not only putting King’s ideas into practice, but being sure they’re passed on to others. When she was tapped to lead the CURO Apprentice Program, she began searching for ways to unify the students’ experience and to create a community, where a diverse group of individuals from different fields of study, geographic representation, and ethnic and racial backgrounds could come together.
“It is important to create a community with all of the first- and second-year students engaged in research with UGA faculty researchers. The CURO Apprentices come together for a weekly seminar which I instruct. They explore what it means to do research in different disciplines as well as their own. This keeps them from getting to narrow and specialized too early. They also develop written and presentation skills” she said. “The class allows me to get to know the students and their aspirations. I can act on their behalf and open doors through networking across all fields of study in which they’re involved.”
Kleiber leads her CURO Apprentinces through exercises to create difficult conversations about big-picture issues like immigration reform. The students learn to work together, hear one another’s opinions and develop an understanding of diverse viewpoints.
So far, Kleiber’s approach has proven contagious. Other departments have partnered with CURO to increase the number of students who engage in research as undergraduates and to ensure support. And that same spread-the-idea mentality seeps into student learning.
“The reality is that it’s not just the 30 students a year who benefit,” Kleiber said. “They take it with them, that choice to be a member of a diverse community. That’s where the power is. They have this immersive community experience that they will carry on wherever they go after this.”
She added, “It’s like paying it forward. The students leave here, but they keep in touch. They send things back. That’s fulfilling the dream.”