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What is community, and what is public service? Grant recipients gathered recently at CitySpace on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall to accurately define these terms and address related topics. This meeting, hosted by UVA’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies, was the second engagement of the newly established Community Public Service Fellowship.
Through this fellowship, six UVA schools awarded financial aid grants to a select group of graduate students who demonstrated a commitment to public service with the potential to contribute to inclusive excellence. Together, these Community Public Service Fellows form a unique, cross-professional, interdisciplinary cohort who will participate in several community engagement meetings this year, hosted by participating schools. Engagements include speakers, professional panels, professional training, service opportunities, community outreach and more.
For the 2023-2024 academic year, six SCPS Master of Public Safety students were named as Community Public Service Fellows: Angela Greene, Chai Kauffman, Savannah Mann, Leslie Pryor, Christina Reifsteck and Darrell Ruffin.
“I have a passion for community engagement and helping others,” said Ruffin, who traveled to the fellowship meeting from New York City, where he is the Chief of Staff for the NYC Department of Transportation. “I read the qualifications for the grant and thought, ‘That’s me.’ I have more than 10 years of experience in public service and look forward to learning from and with the other fellows.”
Greene, the Associate Director of Campus Safety and Security at Randolph College, traveled from Lynchburg, Va. “The connection with a larger university like UVA has been rewarding for me,” Greene stated. “It is amazing and humbling to have been chosen.”
Born and raised in Charlottesville, Leslie Pryor did not have to travel far for the fellowship engagement but expressed a sentiment similar to Greene’s. “This truly is an honor and blessing,” Pryor described being admitted to the MPS program and named as a fellow for the cohort. “It has been 35 years since I earned my undergrad degree. I look forward to seeing the MPS degree expand. Receiving the fellowship grant was just the icing on the cake.”
Pryor currently serves as the coordinator for the Charlottesville/Albemarle Family Treatment Court, a program designed to aid and equip parents to achieve long-term sobriety to enhance the probability of family reunification when there are mandatory legal timeframes present in child dependence cases. One of her goals in earning the MPS degree is to teach at the college level one day.
The SCPS-hosted engagement featured a panel composed of Charlottesville City Manager Sam Sanders, Charlottesville Chief of Police Michael Kochis, SCPS Dean Melissa Lubin, UVA Senior Director of Public Safety Programs Bryon Gustafson and UVA Assistant Professor of Professional Studies and Coordinator for the Public Administration Certificate Program Sara McClellan.
The panel shared elements they believe create a healthy community, including identifying stakeholders and items they would hope to experience. They also fielded questions from Community Public Service Fellows, who had the opportunity to congregate in small groups to share their backgrounds and discuss what community means to them.
“I wrap it around a sense of belonging,” said Sanders. “As a city leader, I look for opportunities to connects others to what they need.” Kochis, a Master of Public Safety alumnus of SCPS, added that this would include the needs of some community members who want to be involved but might be afraid to “speak up.”
Lubin pointed to education, access to childcare, transportation, affordable housing, health systems and the arts as all being interrelated for well-being within a healthy community.
“At SCPS, part of our mission is providing access,” Lubin stated. “I feel a responsibility to extend UVA’s education to those that can shape their communities. This mission cannot be insular. We must always be thinking of new audiences to engage and teach us. There should be transparency, and we should always be listening to each other. Good things can happen when you share the space with people who think differently than you and surround yourself with diverse relationships.”
Trust was a common theme of the day as all panelists agreed it is, more than ever, an important factor in building and sustaining healthy communities.
“We are working hard to build trust,” said Kochis. “For public safety, we can’t do anything without public trust.” Sanders agreed, stating, “Lack of trust in institutions is very hard right now. Charlottesville is a city of about 51,000 people. We have an obligation to, consistently and effectively, provide great service and know that we are impacting lives.”