The experiential learning project was beneficial for everyone involved
A handful of UGA students spent the first month of their summer vacation helping out a town in rural Georgia. They conducted a housing assessment survey for the city of Lyon to create a simple dataset containing a description of housing conditions in the community.
The experiential learning project was beneficial for everyone involved: the city received valuable insights into the state of Lyon’s houses, and the Masters in Public Administration students gained first-hand experience of data collection and analysis.
“It’s no small feat to get a group of 10 students together in the field for two days,” said MPA director Eric Zeemering, an associate professor in the College of Public and International Affairs. “For students to see the application of classroom concepts is invaluable.”
This Maymester shortcut gave students an overview of theory and background before embarking on applied and field training. Classroom preparation included learning about housing policy, state and federal grants, and community development. “This course demonstrated the importance of being able to distill information quickly with practical application in mind,” said Ellie Pennybacker, second-year MPA student and program specialist at Meals on Wheels. “It was a humble reminder that in local government you often have to absorb information quickly to solve problems thoughtfully but effectively.”
After the in-class portion of the course, students took to the streets to document the problems encountered in residences across the city. For Will Rials, a second-year MPA student, the difference in house conditions was startling. “The walking distance between the relatively rich and the so-called poor [homes] was probably 10 minutes or less,” he said.
Students were asked to rank the specific conditions of a home and record their findings for each property in an app they used for the classroom. “Doing the housing assessment and determining the condition of each home, even with training, was more difficult than expected,” said Zack Forrester, a sophomore in the MPA program. “While it’s easy to rate homes that were at the extremes, most homes were in the middle of that range, and those answers were more subjective. It showed how difficult data collection can be. »
The data will provide the city with insight that will help it develop a strategic plan for housing and infrastructure repair. Having data is a powerful tool if they have to prove that certain neighborhoods need investment,” says Zeemering. The hope is that the data will help the city be more competitive for grants and funding to support community improvement.
Students can use their new experience in different ways
Brian Ulbricht saw the internship as an opportunity to gain valuable hands-on experience. “Housing being a key issue in community development and Lyon being a rural community, attending the internship seemed like a great opportunity to gain community development experience in rural Georgia.”
For Natasha Marshall, who has worked with local governments while deployed overseas, the internship was a chance to gain experience working in local government in the United States. The experience can serve as a basis for future work she plans to do internationally. “Any time I see good models in the United States that I can use in other countries, that’s a great base,” Marshall said.
The internship model has been in place for a number of years and UGA has partnered with the Georgia Municipal Association on many successful internship experiences.
Previous MPA internships have used this same model and carried out projects in Athens and Valdosta. For local governments looking to support students and collaborate on a project, Zeemering said the first step is to reach out. “I encourage cities to connect with GMA so that UGA has the opportunity to match students with projects in local government.”