June 1, 2022 | Spotlight

Vinson Fellows program receives support from UGA Parents Leadership Council

Spring 2022 Vinson Fellows presented their research findings in early May (top to bottom): Caroline Schneider, Emma Sorckoff, Claudia White.

Writer: Margaret Blanchard

The UGA Parents Leadership Council has awarded the Carl Vinson Institute of Government a generous grant to benefit the Vinson Fellows program. The Vinson Fellows program, which operates every fall and spring semester, matches undergraduates with faculty mentors in the Institute of Government to conduct research benefitting governments and citizens.

“We are very grateful for the Parents Leadership Council’s investment in this program. Our Vinson Fellows are some of the brightest students at UGA, and we appreciate the opportunity to provide them hands-on learning side-by-side with us on important governmental projects across the state,” said Rob Gordon, director of the institute.  

This spring’s fellows — all Morehead Honors College students — recently presented their findings on how government intersects with the criminal justice system, K-12 education and community gardens.

Emma Sorckoff, an international affairs and elementary education major, focused her research on how the institute might foster partnerships between local governments and school systems in Georgia. Her findings indicate that clear leadership, effective communication, and mutual trust could greatly increase collaborations between the two entities.

With guidance from faculty mentor David Key, she identified ways the institute could facilitate collaboration through a Joint Education Framework. In addition to identifying and training a leader, Sorckoff found that being sensitive to community dynamics can mitigate unnecessary conflict.

“Small, intentional adjustments can make a big difference,” she explained. “For example, choosing a neutral meeting space for my proposed training has the potential to significantly impact the overall success of the program.”

Sorckoff credited her experience as a Vinson Fellow with expanding her knowledge of the university’s public service mission.

“I learned a lot more about the role and importance of local governments, and it was a great way for me to better understand the ways that UGA gives back to the state of Georgia through the Carl Vinson Institute of Government,” she said.

Caroline Schneider, a political science and criminal justice major with minors in sociology and Spanish, worked with faculty mentor Greg Wilson. Her research focused on criminal records and employment in Georgia, specifically “Ban-the-Box” initiatives to remove the requirement to report criminal history when initially applying for certain jobs. In addition to reviewing the impact and public attitudes toward the topic, she also researched employment and recidivism; job performance among criminal record-holders; employer attitudes about hiring individuals with criminal records, and the impact of record expungement on hiring practices.

Building community through outdoor spaces was the focus for Claudia White, an anthropology and geography major. With faculty mentor Leigh Askew Elkins, she created guidelines for developing community gardens, including their benefits, funding structure, and site specifications.  

The Vinson Fellows program runs during the fall and spring semesters. The spring application period will open later this fall. All interested students, regardless of class standing, are encouraged to apply.