David Bryant, the assistant director of Georgia Sea Grant, serves out of sense of duty. He oversees the reporting and funding for the unit’s grant awards, and he believes that this rigorous process maximizes real-world impact. The challenges and rewards of his work are ultimately in service to his state and community, and the resulting cultural connection gives him a strong sense of fulfillment.
Where did you earn your degrees, and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I received my bachelor’s from Furman University and my master’s from UGA, both degrees in English literature. I’m the assistant director of Georgia Sea Grant. At any one time, I manage the reporting and funding aspects of the 20 or so grants that we award.
When did you come to UGA, and what brought you here?
When I completed my master’s in 1985, I was hired by UGA’s Georgia Center for Continuing Education to write the script for a documentary about the bicentennial of the university. As that job was winding up, the Georgia Center was in the process of starting WUGA Radio, bringing NPR to Athens. They were looking for someone to produce cultural stories, arts and literature interviews, etc. I was in the right place at the right time to step into that job, which I enjoyed very much and held for 12 years before taking a communications position here at Georgia Sea Grant.
What is the best part about your job?
We fund both science and social science projects directed toward natural resource and societal issues in coastal Georgia. I need to stay current on the activities, accomplishments and needs of the projects we fund. That means I travel to some of the most beautiful places on the coast, take occasional trips with researchers down rivers or into the marsh, and have great conversations with very smart people who tell me about work they’re excited about. For an old English major, it’s a terrific education in the natural and social sciences.
Why do you serve?
As a UGA PSO faculty member, it’s my job to serve. My position calls for me to ensure that the federal and state money we spend has real-world impact. In the last 15 or so years, both federal and state governments have significantly increased demands that grant recipients document how their work serves citizens. While this is sometimes difficult to do even for the most effective projects, there is no doubt that focusing on outcomes has increased the societal impact of our projects over the last decade.
What does it mean to you to work at a land- and sea-grant university, both personally and professionally?
For me, it means that I’m more connected to the people of the state. Before we do anything, Georgia Sea Grant and UGA’s Marine Extension Service work together to gather input from our coastal constituents—which include business, NGOs, fishermen, seafood processing industries, local governments and ordinary citizens—to discover what they see as the regions’ most pressing needs. As we address those needs, we monitor our progress through periodic contact with the citizens we serve. Personally and professionally, this means that I feel a real cultural connection to life in coastal Georgia, and that makes my work all the more fulfilling.
What are the benefits of attending a land-grant university for students, as opposed to the experience they would get at a non-land-grant university?
Because a land and sea grant university is engaged with the state, students have opportunities to gain real-world experience as a part of their education. All of Sea Grant’s projects employ students in research and outreach. For example, a current project works with St. Marys, Georgia, to help the city anticipate and adapt to potential sea level rise and the risk of storm surges from hurricanes. A graduate student from UGA’s College of Environment and Design is involved in discovering what effects of sea level rise St. Marys’ citizens are already experiencing and what they anticipate in the future. This work includes meeting with city planners and engineers—very relevant experience for an environmental design student.