The University of Virginia launched a new program this summer that supports undergraduate students as they grow in their commitment to a life of public service.
President Jim Ryan has emphasized a plan to launch the “Public Service Pathways” from the beginning of his tenure.
“One of the goals in the 2030 Strategic Plan is to make UVA synonymous with service,” he said. “The Public Service Pathways program helps get us closer to that goal by integrating public service more fully into the UVA experience – regardless of the career or profession students ultimately pursue. I’m extremely grateful to Louis Nelson and those who have worked hard to design and launch this important effort.”
The optional program, introduced through summer orientation sessions and welcome emails, has already attracted about 1,300 students, all of whom were invited to attend an informational kickoff event Sept. 18. Available only to incoming first-year students, the four-year program eventually will be open to all undergraduates. Hosted by the Office of the Provost, collaborating partners include Student Affairs; the Career Center; Madison House, the independent student volunteer center; and the Karsh Institute for Democracy.
Nelson, vice provost for academic outreach, said he and his team wanted to ensure the program emphasizes each student’s responsibility to explore personal competencies essential for public service, including civic commitment, effective communication, collaboration, and ethical action, among others. He is excited to see the program become “student-driven” and expects that Public Service Pathways will “have impact for decades to come.”
A Student Advisory Council, led by Student Leadership Coordinator David-Aaron Roth, is guiding the program’s community engagement component.
“We want to create a sense of cohesion around the goodness that already exists through UVA programs,” said Roth, a graduate student who co-teaches the Youth and Social Innovation capstone course as part of his doctoral work in the School of Education and Human Development, as well as working on community-engaged learning and leadership at Madison House.
The program brings together into a central hub – or “curates,” as Roth described it – many opportunities, from volunteer programs and student clubs to internships, coursework and career mentoring across Grounds and the community. Designed to be self-driven, the program allows students to find their own pathway toward a wider and deeper understanding of a life committed to public service.
Participating students will keep up-to-date through the program’s newsletter and website, and will track their progress and analyze their engagement through the Hoos Involved platform.
The council’s 12 undergraduate members have a variety of reasons for joining in this new effort.
“I hope this program builds a culture of community-minded scholars,” said fourth-year student Catey Nash, who found volunteer opportunities to match her passion for animals and the environment through Madison House. “We may only be here for four years, but we leave a mark behind on this community, and the Public Service Pathways program is helping to ensure that this mark is a positive one.”
Nash, who is double-majoring in the Frank Batten School’s Leadership and Public Policy program and psychology in the College of Arts & Sciences, plans to continue public service in the legal field, pledging that “public service will always be a part of my life.”
Seirrah Kors, a fourth-year student in the McIntire School of Commerce, said she sees public service as not only volunteering for a cause, but also getting to know Charlottesville and learning more about its history and its people.
“I see public service as an opportunity to listen and learn from the communities I am a part of,” Kors said.
Second-year student Anthony Madorma, on the other hand, found it overwhelming last year to figure out how and what to do to get involved beyond his course schedule. Dreama Johnson of the Career Center, who has also worked on building the pathways program, suggested he might be interested in participating in this new public service program.
“I feel personally attached to what the Public Service Pathways program offers to students,” Madorma said. “Knowing that I can help students find their way at UVA and alleviate the same worries I faced coming in is nothing short of spectacular.”
Six areas, or pathways, enable students to explore their interests and eventually narrow their focus: public health, global sustainability, justice, public interest technology, education, and public arts.
During the first year, students will gain exposure to the topics. By the beginning of their second year, they will identify one or two areas to pursue further through special events. In the following years, they’ll delve more deeply into one pathway and have access to tailored activities and programs, including faculty mentoring, as they gain experience and competence in public service.
Along the way, students work on developing “core competencies” in listening, communicating and collaborating with the local community, understanding community contexts and developing ethical thinking needed to address complicated social issues and dilemmas. Upon graduation, they earn the designation of “Presidential Public Service Scholar.”
“We want to create a successful program that so that students’ education is not just one of self-interest, but instead prepares them for the hard work of civic-mindedness,” Nelson said.