Undergraduate students know that teaching and research are key missions of the University of Georgia. After all, that’s what they do almost every day in class. Yet many may not grasp the third tenet of the university’s mission: outreach and service. The UGA Public Service and Outreach Student Scholars program was founded over a decade ago to offer undergraduate students a way to engage with that crucial part of UGA’s mission.
Then-interim PSO Vice President Steve Wrigley implemented the program in 2011 when he saw the value in putting PSO’s expertise and resources in the hands of students.
“I just felt like it was a wonderful way to give undergraduate students the opportunity to be exposed to the great work Public Service and Outreach does, and to get some professional work experience, particularly in settings they may not otherwise be exposed to,” said Wrigley, who served as chancellor of the University System of Georgia after leaving UGA.
The yearlong PSO Student Scholars program has had an impact on hundreds of UGA students. This year there were 22 student participants—more than twice the number of participants (10) than the one-semester pilot program in spring 2011.
Students spend the fall semester in leadership development and learning about the mission and work of each PSO unit. In the spring, they complete an internship with one of the units. Students come away from the program with a deeper understanding of how PSO carries out UGA’s land-grant and sea-grant missions to serve the citizens of Georgia.
“What I’ve seen over time is the level of awareness that students have about the kinds of issues that Public Service and Outreach tackles has increased,” said Wrigley.
Katie Zarada, a native of Savannah, Georgia, changed her major from pre-med to ecology when she became interested in using an environmental lens to help serve the public. To help further that goal, she joined the 2013-14 cohort and worked as an intern with the State Botanical Garden of Georgia. Zarada then took a summer internship with UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant as an assistant educator.
Those experiences reinforced her pursuit of public service. She’s now an environmental consultant who works on natural resource damage assessment—a role that allows her to utilize her ecology expertise to serve the public.
“Being a PSO Student Scholar, working with outreach, having a public focus and doing volunteer work has driven me to the work that I’m doing now and making sure that I’m using my ecological work in a way that is beneficial for other people,” said Zarada, who lives in Boston.
As PSO continues to expand UGA’s resources into more and more communities, UGA graduates with an understanding of public service and outreach can play a valuable role in the efforts to improve the lives of Georgians.
“The PSO Student Scholars program goes to the heart of the public service mission of the University of Georgia,” said PSO Vice President Jennifer Frum. “The program provides students with opportunities to grow personally, academically and professionally while they develop a deeper understanding of the role public service plays in Georgia. Their experiences help build a community of student scholars who will take public service into Georgia communities and beyond.”
Cam Shepherd, a native of Waynesboro, Georgia, was a member of the 2018-19 cohort and worked as an intern for the UGA Small Business Development Center—an experience that further shaped his desire to work in public service.
“I don’t think you can truly understand all of the benefits that the Public Service and Outreach unit brings to the state of Georgia until you’re immersed in it because it is so complex,” said Shepherd. “I’m still learning new ways that PSO is benefiting Georgians and our constituents.”
Shepherd now serves as the legislative director for U.S. Congressman Rick Allen (R-Augusta). The knowledge gained as a Student Scholar helps him tap into UGA’s resources in his current role.
Paul Matthews, the associate director of the UGA Office of Service-Learning, served as the program coordinator from its launch in 2011 until 2022. He said the program can be life-altering for students, many of whom change their major to align with their experiences as a Student Scholar.
“They have the educational value of what PSO can bring to their worldview and to their understanding of what’s possible in terms of careers and the community impacts they can make,” said Matthews.
The Student Scholars program is supported by the Office of the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach and administered through the UGA Office of Service-Learning. To learn more about the program, go to https://outreach.uga.edu/programs/pso-student-scholars/.