It can be hard for graduate students to get involved in their local communities, but the University of Georgia’s GS LEAD program is working to change that.
Funded by an award from the National Science Foundation through its NSF Research Traineeship, Innovations and Graduate Education track, the project—which is formally known as Graduate Scholars Leadership, Engagement and Development—brings graduate students together to make a difference in their community.
“GS LEAD is a project that brings new doctoral students in the STEM fields in over the summer and trains them in leadership, team building, communications and community service,” said Julie Coffield, an associate professor of toxicology and neuroscience in the College of Veterinary Medicine and one of the program’s coordinators. “We want students to learn to reach outside of the lab, start thinking outside the box and be able to connect and communicate with the community.”
The program has two important components, one in the summer and one in the fall. Students arrive on campus over the summer and participate in an immersive, six-week program facilitated by Brandy Walker and Janet Rechtman of the university’s J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, a public service and outreach unit, through which they work on skills such as networking, teamwork and leadership.
Following the summer program, GS LEAD students continue with the program in the fall, where they complete a “Challenge Course” along with their other coursework. In this course, the students break into small groups and apply their collective knowledge to a project benefiting the community.
GS LEAD is now in its third year, and the 2018 cohort consists of 14 students who are entering a diverse mix of doctoral programs that range from microbiology, pharmacy and forestry to history and theater.