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Community garden idea readies MPA students for career, earns first place in policy competition

MPA students Ikeoluwa Akanmu, Melinda Roell, Jennifer Morgan and William Golden

Four Georgia Southern University students used the concept of a community garden to enhance their public administration education and win first place in the University of Georgia’s Georgia Students for Public Administration 2022 Policy Competition. 

For the competition, Master of Public Administration (MPA) students Jennifer Morgan, Melinda Roell, Ikeoluwa Akanmu and William Golden were tasked with developing nonprofit solutions to a relevant policy problem in their community. Their project focused on food scarcity in the community and a solution — Boro Grown, a community garden and food security initiative for Statesboro. 

The community garden concept was introduced to the team by Roell, who has worked in various nonprofit organizations in the Statesboro and Bulloch County area. Through her work with the OutReach Center —  a building near the Bulloch County Health Department that houses several local nonprofit organizations — she noticed a vacant spot on the west side of Statesboro. 

“As I would drive into town from where we lived, I passed several overgrown vacant lots in the neighborhoods where I knew a lot of clients lived,” she said. “One day the idea of a community garden in these lots just came to me. I’ve been thinking about this project off and on for nearly 20 years. Last semester, in our nonprofit management class, our end-of-semester project was to design a nonprofit. So, I pulled out my garden idea, dusted it off and used it for my class project. It just so happened that the garden idea was the one selected by the team to use in the competition.”

The competition allowed the students to put theory learned in the classroom into practice through a high-impact learning experience, said Trent Davis, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Public and Nonprofit Studies and director of the MPA program.

“This is an important step in their career development. The MPA program is a professional management program where students develop the skill set necessary for leadership roles in the public and nonprofit sectors,” he said. “This policy competition was a great opportunity for these students to put into practice what they have learned in the classroom, and build a real-world experience that is directly applicable to their future careers.”

Morgan, a Savannah, Georgia, native, is in her final semester of the MPA program and is grateful to get a preview of what her future could look like.

“This experience was great for career readiness,” she said. “As future public administrators, we will likely experience situations where we have to present our ideas for public policies or public programs. This competition was exactly that.”

This was the first year Georgia Southern has competed in the competition, Davis said. 

“As a program and department, we continually look for competitions, internships, practicum experiences and professional development requirements to prepare our students for their careers,” Davis said. “This preparation is particularly important for our pre-service students who have little to no work history in government or nonprofits.”

The student team entered the competition just a few days before the deadline at the end of January, and prepared their final presentation in a little more than a week. 

“The competition helped us practice realizing, presenting and organizing the practical elements of a proposal before a panel of strangers,” said Golden, a first-year MPA student from Savannah, Georgia. “It helped me feel more ready to present real-life initiatives in my future career.”

Akanmu, who is from Nigeria, is in her first year and semester at Georgia Southern. She enjoyed the team experience and is looking forward to more out of her MPA education.

“We were delighted to have won first place in the competition,” Akanmu said. “We made a great team, sharing ideas and knowledge, which made us outstanding. Creating initiatives that impact people has been one of my goals. I believe there is more to come.” 

The Georgia Students for Public Administration strives to help students of public administration and policy at the University of Georgia build social and academic networks. By fostering friendship and professional development within our diverse student body, we hope to encourage students not just to learn their chosen profession but to form lasting bonds with their peers, faculty, staff, and community.

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