Stephen J. Ramos, assistant professor in the College of Environment and Design, is not content with big ideas alone. With a diverse background in design and cultural studies, Ramos asserts that practical experience and engagement are essential to public service and outreach.

Where did you earn your degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I completed my doctoral degree at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design; a joint master’s degree in Community and Regional Planning and Latin American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin; and an undergraduate degree in English and Spanish at Gettysburg College. I am an assistant professor in the College of Environment and Design (CED). I teach Urban Planning and Design courses.

When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
My wife and I both began working with UGA in July 2011. I accepted a position with the College of Environment and Design, and my wife began her doctoral program in the College of Education.

What is the best part about your job?
The best part of the job is that it affords me the opportunity to realize different interests and ambitions in diverse contexts. For example, this year, I curated an exhibit for the CED Circle Gallery titled “Discrete Aperture: The Work of Nils Folke Anderson.” It gave me the chance to work with Nils, Melissa Tufts, who is the director of the Circle Gallery, and Lynn Boland, the Pierre Daura Curator of European Art at the Georgia Museum of Art. We also worked with some great students, including Russell Oliver from the CED planning program and a group of MFA sculpture students.

Describe your current research or service projects.
My research explores geographic and political issues concerning trade infrastructure. Right now I am looking at how the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project will impact land use and transportation in the coastal region.

What does service mean to you?
Service-learning within the context of our planning and design curriculum recognizes that there are different learning types and contexts. The studio and the classroom have to travel; they grow with outside light. Practical experience must always inform the classroom and the studio, and service-learning creates opportunities to gain that kind of experience. Service-learning, in an academic context, offers the possibilities of transgressing social boundaries and learning collectively.

What do you feel is UGA’s role as a land- and sea-grant university?
UGA’s commitment to outreach through its land- and sea-grant programs is a pledge to both communities and students that learning should be collaborative and engaged. Georgia’s geographic and cultural diversity offer great environments for this.

What does it mean to you to work at a land- and sea-grant university, both personally and professionally?
It is a broad commitment to the state’s resources, connecting the humanities, the arts and the sciences to teach and research the best possible stewardship of those resources. For planning and design, of course, this is absolutely consonant with our mission.

Personally, the people and resources of the Georgia Sea Grant program have been wonderful supporters of my research, for which I’m very grateful.

Why is public service an important aspect of higher education?
It can be an important aspect of higher education because of the link between knowledge and transformation. Public service provides opportunities with transformative potential, but no guarantee. Because it is rarely a curriculum requirement, one hopes that students approach these opportunities with more interest and enthusiasm and that this is conveyed in their work.

What are the benefits offered to students attending a land-grant university as opposed to the experience they would get at a non-land-grant university?
I think the benefits come in the actual learning and funding opportunities provided through Public Service and Outreach, but equally important is the political commitment to outreach as part of the education curriculum. To have this as a core commitment of the state’s flagship educational institution should have far-reaching positive repercussions and mark students’ experiences here.

What are some of the service-learning and public service opportunities for students that you are involved with?
I taught a short studio course at the UGA Costa Rica campus with Director Quint Newcomer and Chrissy Marlowe of the Carl Vinson Institute of Government. CED graduate and undergraduate students from planning and landscape architecture collaborated with their peers from the Nanjing Forestry University in China. Interdisciplinary groups worked together and proposed five designs for a community center landscape in the town of San Luis. The triangulation of cultures in one of the most biodiverse parts of the world was powerful.

In addition, our Ideas of Community course is involved with a service project with the Dawsonville Arts Council. They have their yearly “Spring Fling,” and our students worked on a walkability landscape demonstration, a children’s art mural, and a cakewalk on May 4.

What is the value or benefit of students engaging in service-learning and public service?
Service-learning and public service offer the opportunity for students to learn about and engage in civics, and through this, to better develop their public, adult responsibilities in society.