Professor sees big impact with service projects

Alfie Vick is serious when he recounts his first spoken words-“Do it!” followed by “More do it!” and “Me do it!”

His mother has told him this story throughout his lifetime, and Vick believes it is a fitting anecdote to reflect his lifelong interest in service.

Vick, the Georgia Power Professor of Environmental Ethics at UGA’s College of Environment and Design, recently was named one of three Public Service and Outreach Fellows. The program, created by the Office of the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach in 2011, is designed to help create more service and outreach opportunities for tenured and tenure-track professors.

“I’ve been a hands-on learner from a very young age,” Vick said. “This personal recognition of the value of actually doing something has certainly led me to heavily incorporate service-learning into my teaching at UGA.”

Vick was excited by the opportunity to apply for a PSO Fellowship and was interested in working with the State Botanical Garden, which he actively has been involved with both personally and professionally since he came to UGA.

“I believe the biggest potential impact of working with the botanical garden is solidifying its standing as a world-class facility that continually supports tourism, research and recreation that benefits UGA, the general public and, in turn, the vitality of the state,” Vick said.

Over the course of the semester, Vick has partnered with the garden on a number of efforts. One major initiative involved working with graduate landscape architecture students to develop a design concept for the Mimsie Lanier Center for Native Plant Studies. Each element of the design-including classroom space, demonstration gardens, research plots and outdoor gathering spaces-has been tailored to enhance participant engagement.

Vick also has been a key player in the development of restoration and management plans for the Floodplain and Piedmont Prairie areas at the botanical garden. He hopes to contribute to the design of a Middle Oconee Water Trail that would connect Ben Burton Park to the botanical garden by way of the Middle Oconee River.

“Research, teaching and outreach are all primary objectives of these ecological restoration projects, and they will generate significant engagement opportunities for students, faculty and the surrounding community,” Vick said.

Collaboration with UGA faculty and staff members and students, as well as other community partners, has been important to Vick’s recent efforts. Throughout the process of identifying objectives for each project, many other potential research and project ideas have emerged.

“The biggest benefit of a collaborative process is ongoing dialogue,” Vick said. “This has helped everyone involved to identify potential project partners and stakeholders who may participate in some way, whether through financial support, volunteer labor, technical advice or some other form of outreach.”

With many potential projects on the horizon, Vick is excited to have more opportunities than ever for engaging students in service-learning.

“I see in many of my students a familiar restlessness and detachment when they are expected to learn from only a distant and abstract perspective,” Vick said. “When I take students out of the classroom and engage them in practical learning activities, their eyes light up and their questions are more insightful. I am certain that field experiences and service-learning opportunities are critical components of higher education, and I consider my responsibilities as a PSO Fellow to be a privilege.”