Since joining UGA, Anna Karls, a faculty member in the microbiology department of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, has worked to establish unique outreach and engagement opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students.
In recognition of these efforts, Karls has been named the 2015 recipient of the Engaged Scholar Award, presented annually by the Office of the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach. Initiated in 2008, this award recognizes a full-time, tenured faculty member for significant contributions in public service, outreach and community engagement.
“It is now recognized that community engagement is key to the success of higher education institutions, major corporations, health enterprises, small businesses and more,” Karls said. “With this in mind, I feel it is extremely important to provide professional development for my graduate and undergraduate students in the area of community engagement through research, teaching and service and outreach opportunities.”
Though Karls has been involved in outreach projects since coming to UGA in 2000, it wasn’t until 2009 that she started her own projects, which include establishing a partnership between UGA and the first and second USA Science and Engineering Festivals and providing science demonstrations at the Clarke County Young Scientist Fair and local elementary and middle schools.
In addition to these initiatives, Karls knew she wanted to do more to connect outreach with teaching and mentoring students. So in 2010 when she heard about the new Public Service and Outreach Faculty Fellowships, she decided to apply.
“I wanted to learn more about best practices in community engagement and in connecting that engagement with my teaching,” Karls said.
During her fellowship, Karls worked with the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development to create an interdisciplinary graduate service-learning course on approaches to community engagement. She also worked with the Office of Service-Learning and the Graduate School to develop the Graduate Portfolio in Community Engagement program. Both the graduate course and portfolio program provide professional development for graduate students and prepare them for careers in academia and industry where they will need to engage with the community.
Karls also was named a 2012-13 Service-Learning Fellow, and she used that opportunity to begin organizing Experience UGA biology field trips for all Clarke County ninth-graders. Experience UGA is a partnership between the UGA Office of Service-Learning and the Clarke County School District designed to introduce K-12 students to opportunities in higher education. To support this initiative, she developed a service-learning component in her pathogenic biology course that requires undergraduate students to design and implement a research venue for the ninth-grade field trips.
“I believe service-learning classes are crucial in developing and enhancing students’ understanding of course material,” Karls said. “Microbiology impacts nearly every aspect of our lives. By having them work on projects that address issues impacting the community, it helps demonstrate the relevance of their studies, guides them to consider a range of nontraditional careers and gives them experience in solving real-world problems.”