Beyond the Classroom: Students get first-hand experience

April 24, 2018 | Students

By Varad Dabke

PSO Student Scholars

Beyond the Classroom: Students get first-hand experience

Throughout this semester, I’ve outlined a series of conversations with faculty at the Carl Vinson Institute of Government. By discussing how they served the state in new and unique areas, I’ve explained that their work goes far “beyond the classroom”—that the best way to grasp in-class concepts is to see them applied first-hand through government work. Just as I wanted to better learn how the faculty takes the Institute’s work beyond the classroom, I wanted to get some students’ perspectives. So I sat down with spring semester interns Elizabeth Griffin, S.J. Dillon and Sam Driggers.

Griffin is working in the training and education  division of the Institute. Tasked with organizing training courses for state and local officials, her office has developed a curriculum to spread best practices in areas such as efficient government management and supervision. With guidance from her faculty mentors Eric Robinson and Mara Shaw, Griffin is helping to create a survey that lets city and county managers report their own competency in different areas. She explained that these competencies can be on-the-job strengths such as situational leadership, self-awareness and problem-solving skills. The hope is that data from this self-assessment could be used to make changes to one of the Institute’s premier training courses, the management development program. The MDP is the most comprehensive class offered for training new city and county managers and human resources personnel. Understanding which competencies should be prioritized in the lesson plans could make the time-tested course even better at promoting leadership skills in government employees. Griffin spent a majority of this semester planning her survey by creating a literature review and studying the textbooks used in MDP classes. She plans to spend the summer in Athens, helping transition the survey from its research to design and implementation phase.

Dillon worked with Karen Payne, a faculty member with the Institute’s Information Technology Outreach Services office. One of this office’s tasks is helping state and local officials better understand the potential harm of dealing with new technology. Dillon is conducting research on the negative impact on one such area called steganography. As she describes it, steganography is “the practice of concealing information or data in plain sight, to send messages or to carry out more malicious activities.” To simplify, she gave me an example of downloading a picture of puppies. When you save the picture, a user just sees the image of cute dogs, but secretly it could also be loading a virus or other harmful content onto your computer. She explained that while the majority of research teaches how to encrypt messages using steganography, there is little research on how dangerous this process can be in the wrong hands, especially for government officers who are responsible for securing large sets of data for private citizens. That’s why she is currently writing an article with Payne to highlight this potential fallback of tech growth—to show how even if steganography can help encrypt data, it can also hide content intended to harm government work.

Driggers worked with faculty member Shana Jones, head of the Institute’s Office of Planning and Environmental Services. He tracked legislation regarding environmental issues and helped write a memo for the proposed Grady County landfill project. Driggers started by creating spreadsheet to track the status of different legislation from the Georgia General Assembly’s 2018 legislative session. His mentor is responsible for explaining the impact of this legislation to different communities working with the Institute. Driggers researched and relayed the intent of House and Senate bills that were especially relevant to environmental services. These pieces of legislation could affect a community’s potential access, use, or management of natural resources in addition to public awareness of environmental issues. Therefore, the Institute’s responsibility in explaining the impact of different bills helps government officials make more informed decisions. On the second task, the Institute was asked to consult on the feasibility of building a publicly owned landfill in Grady County. Driggers assessed the expense and management regulations needed to build the landfill by comparing it to other privately owned options. He also described the effect on property value that the new landfill might have. So far, he has gathered empirical data and will outline possible policy options going forward. In his memo, he was also able to tie in a new understanding of relevant legislation. Driggers plans to spend the fall semester furthering this research into possible publication.

There isn’t a single government class that can relay the nuances of these three perspectives on public work. When lived in and experienced as by interns at the Institute, the nature of public service takes on an entirely new meaning. Beyond the classroom, Elizabeth, S.J., Sam and I gained a unique understanding of what it means to help the state. Whether it be through research, discussion, presentation or analysis, perspective will be our best tool in addressing future challenges to government work.

Varad Dabke is a third-year English and international affairs major from Columbus. He is the public and alumni relations chair for the UGA Undergraduate Mock Trial program and serves as an expert-witness in simulated trial competitions. Varad also was selected for a faculty-sponsored research assistantship with the Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities. After graduation, Varad hopes to pursue a career in the legal field.