16 Student Projects Receive Funding in Inaugural Year of Jefferson Public Citizens Program

June 4, 2009 — Sustainable affordable housing. The use of a sensory resource guide in the care of dementia patients. A GED class for the homeless. A study on the social, political and technical barriers to alleviating groundwater arsenic contamination in an Argentinian town. A "Sister to Sister" project for local ninth-grade girls.

These are a sampling of the 16 student group projects the University of Virginia is funding as part of its newly launched Jefferson Public Citizens program, which grew out of Commission for the Future of the University.

The program is "an intentional effort to connect public service to academics, to prepare students for life after college," J. Milton Adams, vice provost for academic programs, said in March as the program was announced.

Conceived as a four-year academic public service program that increases in intensity over time, the program will support students and encourage them to reflect," he said.

"It's all about college students learning and developing as people, not only intellectually, but personally, morally and ethically," Adams said.

Program director Megan Raymond said JPC will serve U.Va. students who seek stronger connections between public service, citizen leadership and academic life.

"It is a comprehensive academic public service program that integrates students' service and research experiences throughout their time at the University. Ultimately, it encourages and prepares them to work with local, national and international communities to effect positive change in the world," she said.

First- and second-year students take courses designed with a community service component and engage in other civic engagement activities at the University. By their third year, they are ready to form a JPC group of their own, identify a faculty adviser and community partner, and launch their own community-based research and service project.

"Essentially, it's a capstone project for students in their final year of the program," Raymond said.

Rising third-year students applied for the 16 group research awards in late March.

A 16-member committee of faculty, students and administrators selected the winning projects.

The application process was "rigorous," Raymond said. "Students in this inaugural class are top-notch."

With their project awards, the student teams will now research their problems, collect and analyze data, propose solutions and when appropriate, implement them, Raymond said.

Faculty and graduate students guide the student teams, which will discuss their project results at an annual conference in the spring and present them in Public, a new journal created for this purpose also to be published in the spring.

One-third of the projects are international in nature; the rest will take place in Charlottesville or other areas of Virginia, Raymond said.

One Jefferson Public Citizens award, the "Sister to Sister" project, will allow the Young Women Leaders Program to expand its reach beyond middle school girls to area ninth-grade girls. The expansion was proposed by Curry graduate student Jen Leyton and her team of undergraduates: Lauren Boswell, Rebecca Dolan, Britteny Madine, Lowery Pemberton and Jasmine Wade. The group's faculty adviser is Curry assistant professor of educational psychology Joanna Lee.

"This is the first time we have included undergraduates in the Young Women Leaders Program curriculum development and evaluation, and I think it will be a terrific experience for them," said Edith "Winx" Lawrence, a Curry School professor and the director of the Young Women Leaders Program, run by the Curry School of Education and the U.Va. Women's Center. "JPC is a well-thought-out program. The structure as well as the academic and financial support they are offering both the undergraduate and graduate students ensures high-quality products will result."

In all, 80 students (including graduate-student mentors) and 12 faculty members advising them make up the inaugural cohort of Jefferson Public Citizens scholars. They received awards totaling more than $350,000, part of the seed-funding for Commission on the Future initiatives approved by the board in October.

The Jefferson Public Citizens Web site has more information, including the list of projects and participants.