UGA students give a little, gain a lot in leadership class

By for CAES News
By Stephanie Schupska
University of Georgia

The class assignment was to find an organization to help and make a memorable impression on its people. University of Georgia student Liberty Newberry felt her group’s 200-foot slip-n-slide, though fun, just wasn’t enough.

This summer, Newberry took “Leadership and Service,” a UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Science course designed to help students gain an understanding of leadership as it pertains to their lives.

As part of the class, the students divide into teams for a service-learning project. Newberry and her five-man team decided to help an Athens-area Boys and Girls Club, and to get a little muddy while doing it.

The club’s needs were many, said Kyler Dennis, a team member. The adults there needed a break, and the kids needed a change.

The group felt there was one thing they could do for the club. All it took was a little time, water and 200 feet of plastic stretched down a hill to make a supervised, water-soaked field day for the kids.

“There are only four adults there with about 60 kids,” said Dennis, who is a junior majoring in business. “We really just wanted to take a load off of them for the day. For me, it was an eye opener. I’ve never really done any volunteer work at all.”

But was that enough?

“By throwing a field day for the kids, I don’t think I left a lasting impression,” said Newberry, a senior consumer foods major from Asheville, N.C.

As the group cleaned up, Newberry overheard a boy tell a club leader that he wanted to go to the club’s summer camp, but his mom didn’t have the money.

“They had a stack of forms for kids who couldn’t pay to go,” Newberry said.

Newberry decided then to raise money for children who couldn’t afford the camp, which costs $50 per child. She wanted to raise $450 to send nine children. She got $150 from family members. She rallied her classmates for the rest.

“They jumped on so quickly and were so willing to help out,” Newberry said. “It was really cool.”

The class is taught by CAES assistant professors Chris Morgan and Dennis Duncan.

“My objective is that the students understand where and who they are as leaders,” Morgan said. “How do you develop leadership skills in someone? That’s the question.”

Instead of using a textbook, Morgan and Duncan take a conversational approach. They then send the students out into the community to work. There the students learn whether they are leaders or supporters, their strengths and weaknesses and how to improve.

The instructors provide their students with a list of nonprofit organizations, ranging from animal shelters to the YMCA, in the Athens area. They give students free reign to determine an organization’s need and come up with a way to meet it.

It challenges students to identify and explore their potential, Duncan said. Morgan calls it authentic leadership.

“It’s really not trying to be someone you’re not,” he said. “It’s based on your values and strengths. If you’re not strong in an area, let someone else do it.”

The CAES students haven’t stopped working with the club. They are now trying to repair computers and have others donated to the club. A leadership day is in the works for this fall, and they are putting together a fund for the club to give summer camp scholarships.

“These kids need to have a fair shot,” Newberry said. “If they aren’t ever given the opportunity, then what chance do they have?”

(Stephanie Schupska is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

Stephanie Schupska is a news editor with the University of Georgia Public Affairs Office.