History

The University of Georgia’s vigorous public service tradition began almost as soon as the university was established by the Georgia General Assembly as the first state-chartered university in the country in 1785. Scholars from the first graduating class of 1804 immediately created a culture of leadership for the state, and public service became ingrained as one of UGA’s fundamental missions as the university adopted more formal outreach commitments.

The university’s public service and outreach endeavors deepened throughout the 19th century. UGA became a land-grant institution in 1872 under the Morrill Act, national legislation that formalized the university’s mandate to use its personnel and resources to benefit the state’s citizens. The Morrill Act and subsequent companion legislation led directly to outreach programs like the statewide Cooperative Extension Service in 1914, formal governmental training and education through what became the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, and the establishment of the innovative service initiatives managed by the Office of Vice President for Public Service and Outreach.

During the Cooperative Extension Service’s first century, UGA faculty and staff established outreach programs in most of Georgia’s 159 counties. The service mission expanded over the years from agriculture to outreach programs in many diverse fields, such as family and consumer sciences, forestry, and veterinary medicine. The Vinson Institute, which began in 1927 as the Institute of Public Affairs, extended the university’s public service and outreach mission into the field of government, both in Georgia and around the globe through the institute’s International Center. The Georgia Center for Continuing Education, later a nexus of professional development and lifelong learning, was founded in 1957 as one of the first adult learning centers in the nation.

UGA further expanded important public service and outreach resources in the late 20th century, with the State Botanical Garden of Georgia founded in 1968 to disseminate botanical and horticultural knowledge, the Small Business Development Center established in 1977 to provide hands-on consulting and technical assistance to entrepreneurs around the state, and the creation of a leadership training institute in 1982 named after J.W. Fanning, the university’s first vice president for services.

The university’s outreach work encompasses coastal communities and the oceans through the Marine Extension Service and Georgia Sea Grant. The Marine Extension Service, established in 1970, provides research-based information and educational programs for coastal communities and marine industries. Congress created the National Sea Grant Program in 1966 to promote the productive and sustainable use of our coastal and marine resources, and UGA in 1971 founded Georgia Sea Grant to offer the public a wealth of information on marine and aquatic topics.

Extending UGA’s public service tradition to the 21st century, the university launched the innovative Archway Partnership and the Office of Service-Learning in 2005. The Office of Service-Learning enrolls almost a quarter of UGA students in service-learning activities, while the Archway Partnership teams with communities to help address community issues like economic development and strategic planning.

From their historic beginnings, UGA’s public service programs have expanded and diversified to keep pace with economic, social, and cultural changes in the state. Outreach faculty in every school, college, and institute at the university translate UGA expertise for thousands of uses — work that adds millions of dollars each year to the Georgia economy. As a land-grant university, UGA has a formal responsibility to utilize its personnel and resources to improve life in Georgia. As an institution dedicated to public service and outreach, UGA stands poised to extend its tradition of service in the 21st century and beyond.