U.Va. Renews Jefferson's Mission to Create Public Citizens

March 10, 2009 — University of Virginia students who are passionate about public service now have a new option, the Jefferson Public Citizens program, which combines scholarship and service.

Preparing students for public service has always been at the heart of the University's mission, and it was one of Thomas Jefferson's founding principles. Thousands of U.Va. students give back to the local community each year through academic and extracurricular programs.

But for the first time, this new initiative will make it possible for undergraduate students to tightly weave service and research throughout their time at the University, said J. Milton Adams, vice provost for academic programs.

"This was an intentional effort to connect public service to academics, to prepare students for life after college," Adams said. "This program will support them and encourage them to reflect. It's all about college students learning and developing as people, not only intellectually, but personally, morally and ethically."

The program, which begins this fall, includes an array of new courses, workshops and programs. They will run the gamut from Jefferson and democracy to community engagement, multiculturalism and diversity.

Conceived as a four-year academic public service program that increases in intensity over time, rising third-year students may apply to the Jefferson Public Citizens program by submitting a portfolio outlining relevant academic and service experience and a proposal that includes a research component and a team project.

Students who are planning to participate must submit by noon on March 23 an abstract of no more than 500 words to the Institutional Review Board for pre-review. On April 6, student team applications will be due. Details are posted on the Jefferson Public Citizen Web site.

Every JPC service project must address a documented community need or social problem. Working in teams, students will establish a hypothesis based in a particular academic discipline, research the problem, collect and analyze data, propose solutions and when appropriate, implement them. The projects may be local, national or international.

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

The program is particularly interested in engaging faculty who work on interdisciplinary projects. "We do not envision this as additional service for faculty, but something that integrates smoothly with their existing scholarship and teaching," Adams said.

To encourage student learning and foster innovative academic public service, the Provost's Office is offering grants ranging from $1,000 to $9,000 for faculty, course assistants and community partnerships. Applications are due April 20. Details are on the Provost's Web site.

In the first year, organizers hope to enroll 250 students in the new courses, attract 100 students and 20 faculty members to the new training workshops and seminars, and admit 20 team project leaders to the inaugural JPC class. Longer term, they hope to increase those numbers and secure the Carnegie Foundation's Community Engagement Classification, which recognizes institutions of higher education that have established strong, collaborative relationships with their larger communities.

In the works for several years, the initiative grew out of the University's strategic, long-term planning process known as the Commission on the Future of the University. First proposed by the Virginia2020 Commission on Public Service and Outreach, the idea was advanced by the President's Commission on Diversity and Equity, then further developed by Megan Raymond, director of academic community engagement. This university-wide program will be administered by the Provost's Office.

The Board of Visitors has provided three-year seed funding under the Commission on the Future. Organizers are seeking additional one-time and endowed support.

"We believe this program will help us provide one of the best undergraduate student experiences in the country," Adams said. "It will also enable us to renew Thomas Jefferson's purpose in a new century, creating educated citizens who will serve the nation."

— By Charlotte Crystal