On July 2, 1862, beneath the unfinished U.S. Capitol Dome and with the Seven Days Battles raging just miles away in Richmond, Va., the 37th Congress passed into legislation the Morrill Land Grant Colleges Act. The act donated 30,000 acres of public lands to each state for each senator or representative the state had in congress. The land was to be used for the creation of "at least one college in every state upon a sure and perpetual foundation, accessible to all, but especially to the sons of toil...."
UGA's service mission is the tangible expression of the grand idea that the Morrill Act codified in 1862 and that the Georgia General Assembly had already articulated in 1784 when it endowed UGA as the nation's first state-chartered university.
"The Charter establishing the University of Georgia and the signing of the Morrill Act posited the radical position that higher education was a public good, not a private privilege, and that institutions of higher learning were to connect their expertise with the needs of the people," UGA President Michael F. Adams said in his remarks to the Georgia General Assembly on March 14 during the passage of a resolution recognizing the significance of the Morrill Act and commemorating its passage.
"There was a recognition in the 1870s at UGA and other land-grant institutions that people needed access to the work that was being done on campuses. That was the genesis of what later became known as the extension service," said Scott Angle, dean of UGA's College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "We have always done this in the areas of agriculture, family and consumer sciences, forestry, and veterinary medicine. Now we are seeing other colleges at UGA reaching out to all the citizens of Georgia."
Jennifer Frum, who was named UGA's fifth vice president for public service and outreach in February, believes strongly that the key to continuing to serve Georgia effectively is to work across boundaries with instruction and research to engage academic faculty in helping Georgia not only address challenges, but flourish.
Eight PSO units have responsibilities for public service, whether enhancing the ability of governments to better serve their constituents, working to improve marine industries, creating and expanding service-learning opportunities for students, supporting efforts to create and sustain Georgia's businesses and communities, or disseminating botanical knowledge.
"I also believe that PSO has an important place in developing students who graduate better prepared to engage with their communities, the state of Georgia and the world," said Frum.
One program, the Public Service and Outreach Student Scholars, has been developed specifically to provide students with a deeper understanding of the university's service mission through experiences with PSO units and community partners. The program also helps students link their service experiences with their career and educational goals. Cara Murray, a senior from Lithia Springs majoring in international affairs and Spanish, is currently a PSO student scholar.
"The resources of land-grant universities are expected to be used in a certain way," said Murray. "Service is an overarching theme here at UGA. It's part of what we do."
Carl Vinson Institute of Government director Laura Meadows knows first-hand the value of a land-grant university to Georgians. Meadows grew up in a farming family and remembers extension agents helping her father and grandfather make a living to feed their large family, and then she attended UGA and learned the impact of the university's service mission on students. For her, it led to a career in public service and a passion for UGA's mission.
"The land-grant mission is really all about taking the resources of the university out to the people," Meadows said.
State officials recently called on the Vinson Institute for help with several statewide initiatives including leading efforts to strengthen Georgia's rural communities through the OneGeorgia Rural Policy Center. Working alongside the department of community affairs, the institute is helping develop policies that create new opportunities for success in Georgia's rural areas. As an integral part of this initiative, the institute is identifying entities that can conduct relevant research addressing rural development issues.
Frum sees economic development as one of the areas in which the university can contribute the most to Georgia's communities and the state as a whole. "UGA is committed to working with communities across the state to make Georgia more prosperous," said Frum. "I am particularly interested in ways our public service and outreach programs can be as responsive and effective as possible in this area, building on our existing expertise to make the state more economically prosperous."