Public Service Week Set to Return in Full Force – Virtually

Arial view of Charlottesville from a distance

Public Service Week events have been geared toward faculty members, students and staff alike. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

A grand, first-of-its-kind Public Service Week at the University of Virginia was supposed to take place around this time last March with nearly two dozen events – but, like many things, was pre-empted by the pandemic.

Next week, the event series – which highlights UVA’s ongoing contributions to public outreach programming, community-engaged teaching and public impact research – will be back in full force with virtual events designed for faculty, staff, students and members of the Charlottesville community.

By showcasing work with public impact from around the University, Public Service Week aims to celebrate accomplishments and invites audiences to apply a public impact lens to their own work.

Ellen Blackmon, the community engagement curricular coordinator in UVA’s Office for Academic Outreach, said: “Public service, at least to me, conjures an image of volunteering or doing public service work out in the community, but we really mean it to be a broader term that captures not just volunteerism, but also the work of these faculty who teach community-engaged courses, faculty and staff who engage in research with communities.

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“We want to highlight that work, but also, where possible, offer some on-ramps to people who are attending these events. If they are intrigued by something they learn and want to add that public-impact lens to their work, then hopefully some of these events will show them how to get involved.”

“I think a lot of us who work at the University, and many more people in the community, have no idea of the variety of service and community partnership work that occurs,” said Frank Dukes, a School of Architecture lecturer and distinguished institute fellow at UVA’s Institute for Engagement & Negotiation, who will present a workshop Wednesday. “Having this week allows for more people to become aware, and possibly to make connections with some of the individuals and organizations and projects that are ongoing.”

One of the week’s highlights will take place on Tuesday when Randy Stoecker, a renowned sociology professor from the University of Wisconsin, gives a talk, “From the Margins to the Streets: Higher Ed Community Engagement for Justice,” that is being sponsored by UVA’s Center for Teaching Excellence, Equity Center and Office for Academic Outreach.

Given the radical changes in schooling due to the pandemic, another event, “America Reads: UVA Tutors in the Community,” is also expected to draw a lot of attention. America Reads is a federal work-study program that assigns college and university students to tutor local schoolchildren in literacy and math. While UVA America Reads tutors usually work in area schools, this year they have tutored students online and in “learning pods” organized by community partners. 

If you have a child who is in kindergarten through high school who has been doing virtual learning in Charlottesville, there’s a pretty good chance they have worked with a UVA student tutor in a “breakout room” – a virtual space designed to give students additional, more personalized instruction.

There are usually about 100 UVA student tutors, according to Donna Lewis-Wagner, the America Reads Coordinator who works out of UVA’s School of Education and Human Development. The students get to work with kids and give back to the community in which they’re living while making some extra money.

“It’s an absolute win-win,” Lewis-Wagner said. “I’ve had a number of tutors who never knew that education was their path and did this and realized, ‘I want to teach,’ or ‘I want to go into education policy or education law.’ It’s very gratifying to see that. It’s just wonderful.”

Another event, set for Monday, will be a panel discussion featuring Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy alumni who are committed to serving democracy through careers in public service. Batten School Dean Ian Solomon will moderate the discussion. 

“As a school of leadership and public policy, public service is a central tenet of our mission,” Solomon wrote in an email. “Most of our students choose Batten because they are motivated to be servant-leaders, because they want to solve society’s most pressing challenges, because they believe in the potential of human-centered, purpose-driven public policy to improve people’s lives. We are excited to be a part of the University’s Public Service Week lineup through events like our alumni in public service panel, my conversation with Humans of UVA on service at the heart of leadership and our research talk with Batten alumna Breanna Gray, who launched UVA’s first University-wide service week 10 years ago.”

Blackmon said the eclectic collection of events have been geared for faculty members, students and staff alike.

“The ‘great and good’ mission can apply to so many different kinds of work,” Blackmon said. “How can you apply it to teaching? How can you apply it to service? How can you apply it to research? How can you apply it to creative endeavors?

“That’s kind of at the heart of this event series – guiding people to consider all the different ways that they pursue that ‘great and good’ mission with different kinds of work.”

For a full schedule of events and registration information, click here.

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