Campus News

Helping hands

Vaida and Clark-h.action
Graduate student Genevieve Vaida (left) updates Rich Clark

New assistantship program benefits graduate students, PSO units, Georgia communities

It’s all about graduate education.

When graduate students work with professionals doing public service and outreach work, the student, the PSO unit and the community receiving the work all benefit.

That’s the spirit of the PSO Graduate Assistantship Program started this year by Steve Wrigley, interim vice president for public service and outreach.

“As part of our strategic planning process last year, we identified providing additional support to graduate students as a priority, primarily for two reasons,” he said. “First, support of graduate education is a priority of the university’s new strategic plan. Second, while PSO units currently provide support to graduate students, we wanted a more formal program that would encourage stronger ties with academic departments, provide graduate students a ‘hands-on’ work environment to conduct research and study in their disciplines, and finally support the students financially as they complete their studies.”

So far, seven students have received funding from the program. They work in PSO units like the Archway Partnership and the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, learning real-life work skills and a sense of civic responsibility.

For Genevieve Vaida, a first-year master’s degree candidate in public administration and policy, the assistantship has led to understanding government programs on a personal level. From her desk in the Vinson Institute, she calls families located in Georgia counties served by Community Based Alternatives for Youth, a federally funded program that aids counties in helping children with mental and emotional illness, to learn about the program’s impact on the families.

As a student focusing on public policy research, Vaida said the job was a perfect fit for her interests.

“I’m a policy major and I intend to do policy research, so this is perfect,” she said. “Research is an important component of what we do. In this country we create policy and say ‘go implement it,’ but sometimes we forget to make sure that it’s working in the way it’s supposed to. But if the government is implementing polices and moving money, we need to make sure that it’s used in the right way.”

The student impact in the Vinson Institute covers the range of its functions, according to Jennifer Frum, the institute’s interim director.

“We are pleased to be able to provide students with applied policy research experience that has real-world and real-time implications. Through the program, students are working side-by-side with Vinson faculty on timely issues affecting the state,” she said. “This work includes developing regular, objective policy reports on environmental issues and relevant environmental legislation in Georgia; assessing services to children with mental health issues; and conducting applied research that will help local governments craft land-use regulations that balance water quality with development.”

Graduate students are drawn to opportunities, especially those that can make a real impact-and have real funding. Programs like this one increase the university’s ability to attract and keep top graduate student talent.

“The program has been fantastic for our department,” said Vicky Wilkins, associate professor of public administration and the program’s graduate coordinator. “We worked to make sure the timing was such that we could use it to recruit and get some current students on assistantships. We had really stellar students that last year I couldn’t get on assistantships, but I was able to get them funded. And, at the same time, it turned out to be what the faculty at the Vinson Institute needed.”

Students from the School of Social Work, the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, the College of Family and Consumer Sciences and the College of Public Health also are participating this year. To qualify for funding, a PSO unit director submits a proposal for establishing a new graduate assistantship in the unit to the vice president. The proposal outlines the purpose of the assistantship, the anticipated impact on the PSO unit’s core mission as well as on the student’s academic experience and the target community or clients served. So far, the Office of the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach has funded all the assistantships. But the program’s first year success may lead to greater opportunities, Wrigley said.

“We would like to raise private funds to help endow the program at least in part and therefore allow us to increase the number of fellowships that are available,” he said.