David Meyers, Public Service Assistant at UGA’s J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development and adjunct faculty at the School of Social Work, values every opportunity he gets to serve the local community and beyond. He is involved in numerous service initiatives and believes that all UGA Public Service and Outreach (PSO) units contribute to building better communities throughout the state.

Where did you earn your degrees, and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I received my bachelor’s degree in social work from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and received my master’s in social work from UGA.

My primary area of work is in youth leadership development, and I also work with other faculty in our nonprofit leadership development group. I am adjunct faculty in the School of Social Work and taught two undergraduate classes last year; I am slated to teach two again this year. I am a member of Fanning’s senior programmatic team and am also the building manager for the Fanning building.

When did you come to UGA, and what brought you here?
I was hired in January 2010, so I have been at UGA for almost four years now. I was hired to run a program called EMBRACE, which strives to increase foster parent retention in select Metro Atlanta counties. I quickly came to realize that UGA is a great place to support underrepresented youth in achieving a postsecondary degree.

What is the best part about your job?
The best part about Fanning is working with my colleagues. We are a relatively small unit, and when someone brings a project, we usually develop a team and figure out how to get the job done. Each project is a little bit different.

Describe your current research or service projects.
A few of my current projects include

  • The development of a statewide network to support increased college access for “disconnected youth”—these are primarily youth who are going to age out of foster care without a permanent family, homeless youth or unaccompanied youth.
  • We are in the very early stages, but I am working with some of my Fanning colleagues and other departments on campus to build a local network of support as well as to increase access and persistence toward a degree.
  • This summer at Fanning we will host five groups of high school students in residential precollegiate programs. I am primarily responsible for two of those programs and will support the others.

What does service mean to you?
Quite simply, service means giving back and being part of the community. I am a service-oriented person and value the opportunities I have to work with people from all across the community. I have served on several boards, including Athens Little League for the last six years. I am also a member of the SPLOST oversight committee. As a result of this type of involvement, I have developed new friendships and working relationships with people I never would have had the opportunity to meet otherwise.

What do you feel is UGA’s role as a land- and sea-grant university?
I believe that the university has a unique responsibility to connect resources with the community, and I see this playing out in many ways every day. Whether it is tenure-track faculty working with our local school district to develop teacher evaluation measures or public service faculty and extension agents bringing resources to the community, it is our job to make the state a better place to live.

What does it mean to you to work at a land- and sea-grant university, both personally and professionally?
As a native Athenian, I am particularly proud to work at UGA. My father taught in the art department for many years and, as someone interested in practical programming rather than research, I never thought that there was a job for me at the university. I was thrilled when I discovered that public service opportunities at UGA existed less than a mile from my front door. As long as we at UGA work to make sure that we are delivering programs and services that address real-world needs, our communities are stronger for it.

Why is public service an important aspect of higher education?
Our university is such a resource-rich place. If we didn’t figure out ways to use those resources to help improve our community and state, we would be missing such a huge opportunity. I think all of the PSO units serve to make our communities better places to live.

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?
Students who attend a land-grant university will have greater opportunities for involvement in the service of the state. I know that when I was an undergraduate, I was not as “plugged in” as I could have been with service opportunities—and that was my loss. Here at UGA, the breadth of opportunities for student engagement is huge, and we have to make a concerted effort to get students connected in meaningful ways.

What are some of the service-learning and public service opportunities for students that you are involved with?
The best example of a service project that I am involved in is probably the Near Peer program. In this project, supported with funds from the College Access Challenge Grant, college students enroll in a university class for academic credit. They then become mentors to high school students who are in foster care in the counties around Athens. The goal of the program is to inspire the high school students to consider postsecondary education following high school and to equip them with information that could help them get there. In practice, the class helps the college student mentors to have a better understanding of the realities of life in foster care and the challenges that these high school students face. The mentors and mentees get together face to face at least five times and also connect in other ways throughout the semester. The cap to the program is a campus visit that allows the high school students to learn about college life, even if for just one day. It has been very rewarding to see the change in both the college students and the high school students, and the class is scheduled again in spring 2014 in the School of Social Work.

What is the value or benefit of students engaging in service-learning and public service?
Students who participate in service-learning and public service have the opportunity to practice real-world skills in a supportive environment. This makes the students better prepared to be successful on the job after graduation and gives them a real-world glimpse of more than just this campus.