Janet Rechtman, senior fellow at the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, believes that serving one’s community means making an unconditional gift of self and resources toward the betterment of others. In service-learning, she sees a means by which to contribute to public service — and to improve both sides of the employer/employee dichotomy — by better preparing students and non-students alike for the work force and other real-world challenges.

Where did you earn your degrees?
I have a bachelor of arts with high honors in English from Emory University, a master’s in Victorian studies from York University/University of Toronto, and a Ph.D. in leadership and change from Antioch University.

When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
I just celebrated my fifth anniversary as a member of the UGA public service and outreach faculty. I came to UGA after being a business owner. In my first job after grad school, I worked as a media and marketing strategist for ad agencies. My first entrepreneurial venture was a marketing consulting firm, followed by a business that focused on internal marketing and employee communications. Following that I operated a consultancy that provided technical assistance and strategic planning for nonprofit organizations.

What is the best part about your job?
I have a passion for community so this job lets me do work that I love — helping people build a leadership identity and improve their effectiveness as leaders in community and nonprofit organizations. I most like working with servant leaders who, as Robert Greenleaf said, feel called to serve and then choose to lead.

Describe your current research or service projects.
At Fanning we work on teams, so I am doing a variety of projects in a variety of roles. One particularly exciting project is for an initiative led by the Georgia Food Bank Association in partnership with Arby’s restaurants and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Their goal is to build capacity for and increase utilization of after school and summer feeding programs for children and youth in Georgia. We are evaluators on that project. We are also assisting Communities in Schools of Georgia, the Oral History Association, and the JUSTGeorgia Collaborative in evaluation and strategic planning. We also have an exciting collaborative with the Carl Vinson Institute of Government to provide technical assistance to Georgia’s Area Agencies on Aging regarding improved sustainability.

What does service mean to you?
In community, it means making an unconditional gift of self and resources towards the betterment of others. As UGA PSO faculty, it means having “the Bulldog” at my side, so that I can bring a wide range of resources to the people and organizations I serve.

What does it mean to you to work at a land- and sea-grant university, both personally and professionally?
UGA is a prime educational resource and should be an engine of equity that enriches the state by making knowledge and learning resources available to all Georgians. I am glad to be part of this uniquely American movement that responds to community needs.

Why is public service an important aspect of higher education?
As a leadership developer, I always ask “Leadership for what?” I think the same question applies to higher education: “Higher education for what?” Public service is a readily accessible “what” that helps students put what they learn into practice.

What are some of the service-learning and public service opportunities for students that you are involved with?
At Fanning, students have an opportunity to work directly with clients under faculty supervision, providing real-time contributions to real-world projects. They can learn about the theory and practice of leadership development for nonprofits, community and youth.

What is the value or benefit of students engaging in service-learning and public service?
As a business owner, I was always surprised at how little direct experience university graduates brought to their first jobs. Through service-learning and public service, we help students enter the work force with more information and experience about their future work environment. And on top of that, we facilitate mutually beneficial university-community partnerships.