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Abigail West – Bag the Bag, UGA Office of Sustainability, UGA Facilities Management Division

I believe in growing and blossoming where we are planted. For me, that means working on projects that have real, tangible impact within the broader community beyond the university. When I first moved to Athens, I sought out folks who were doing the kind of work that aligned with my sense of environmental stewardship. Soon, I found myself leading the waste reduction organization Bag the Bag and advocating for legislation on single use plastics at monthly Mayor and Commission meetings. This eventually led me to the UGA Office of Sustainability, where I worked for two and a half years as the Reclamation intern, finding new homes for discarded materials. This work combines many of my passions: I get to design and build creative and wildly cool furniture and other projects from surplus state property, keeping it from going to the landfill where so much of it ends up. A lot of this work is about being a bridge between materials and people who need them, be they on campus or at local nonprofits and schools. I plan to continue in the field of creative reuse, because it plays to my strengths as both maker and facilitator and provides a critical service to our community.

Abigail West working with Sustainable UGA

Prabhjot Minhas –  IMPACT Service Breaks, Refugee Outreach at UGA

My involvement in IMPACT Service Breaks and Refugee Outreach has been particularly important to me while in college. Freshman year, I worked closely with refugees near Athens through Refugee Outreach, discovering that I am interested in migrant and underserved issues. Since then, I have helped mentor youth, expand a women’s weaving group, coordinate supply drives, and teach English. Working with refugees and immigrants led to relationships and experiences that enhanced my understanding of cultural responsiveness and gave insight into how immigration status can affect life in the U.S. On UGA’s IMPACT Service Breaks week-long trips, I learned lessons in inclusivity, diversity, and intersectionality while exploring social issues. I led a trip to Nashville, Tennessee, concerning urban community health, and the next year, I led a trip to Immokalee, Florida, focused on farmworker justice and immigration awareness. As a site leader, it is rewarding to form connections with different communities and encourage participants’ interests in community engagement on the trips and beyond. Civic engagement at UGA has shaped my goal to become a physician who is committed to health equity, vulnerable populations, and compassionate care.

Manasa Kadiyala & Kavi Pandian – Athens Prison Tutorial

In early fall 2016, we met with local prison officials at the Athens-Clarke County Correctional Institution to start a program in which UGA students help inmates obtain their GED and other vocational training to improve their job prospects and financial security when released. At first, it was just the both of us tutoring three to four students every week. For each class we created a personalized curriculum with various supplemental materials that we felt would most effectively convey the standardized exam information to the inmates. Toward the end of the semester, our numbers started climbing, and we began recruiting more UGA students to help us out. So far, we have had around 20 inmates successfully pass the exam and obtain their GED, and our club, Athens Prison Tutorial, has over 30 undergraduate students and faculty members committed to improving the lives and careers of this underserved population. What started out as merely trying to help the incarcerated in Georgia quickly transformed into an earnest love for teaching and a deeper sense of connection and engagement with my surrounding community, one that is going to be very difficult to leave behind.

Laurel Hiatt – Camp Pride, John Lewis Fellowship, LGBT Resource Center, Lambda Alliance, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind

I have endeavored to promote the well-being of my community’s most vulnerable members. LGBTQ advocacy and transgender healthcare are at the center of my efforts, but I take an intersectional approach that includes people of color, those with disabilities, immigrants, and other marginalized individuals impacted by my work. I was shaped as a leader through opportunities such as Camp Pride and the 2018 John Lewis Fellowship. I have been an LGBT Resource Center Ambassador, held executive positions in Lambda Alliance, and was involved with National Alliance on Mental Illness, Dungeons and Dragons, Science Olympiad, and Athens Immigrant Rights Coalition. Of all these various unpaid labors of love, the most rewarding activity is training service animals for Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, which I have done since November 2015 as both a raiser and a permanent camper. I raised a Labrador Retriever for a year and two weeks and have watched dozens of dogs who now serve individuals across the country. Every dog I watch makes me a more patient and considerate person, and the process of giving up my best friend for a worthy purpose grounded me in a way that has further committed me to a life of service.

Foundation Fellow Smitha Ganeshan interning at the Greater New York Hospital Association

Smitha Ganeshan – Roosevelt@UGA, Athens Nurses Clinic, Athens Health Network, Hospital Regional de Loreto, World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services

The University of Georgia and the Foundation Fellowship taught me to contribute meaningfully as a member of local, national, and international communities. Learning and serving in Athens-Clarke County – a microcosm of the broader health disparities and policy failures seen across the United States – helped me understand the nuances of our health industry and the various issues that contribute to high healthcare costs and poor health outcomes. From working in a free clinic for uninsured patients in Athens to interning for the World Health Organization in India, I explored my interests at the nexus of health policy, medicine, and public health and given back in a sustainable way.

At UGA, I had the freedom to implement my ideas to strengthen our community. To improve healthcare for uninsured patients in Athens, I developed a policy proposal through the Roosevelt Institute, a student-run public policy think tank, calling for the Athens-Clarke County unified government to submit an application for a population-based health professional shortage area (HPSA) designation, which identifies communities around the country with severe healthcare access issues and unlocks millions of federal dollars to augment primary care services.

I collected the necessary data and drafted a HPSA application on behalf of the city. The designation would help pave the way toward a robust local health system, but it will not restructure the framework of our country’s health system. I am eager to pursue technical training to develop solutions on a wider scale.

Apart from pursuing policy research through the Roosevelt Institute, I served as the organization’s director of the Health and Environmental Policy Center, conference organizer for our national conference Bridging the Gap, and teaching assistant for the Roosevelt Institute Scholars Course, a three-hour research intensive in which students conduct policy research for Honors credit. I introduced students to the world of policy development and formed relationships with some of the most intelligent and hardworking students at UGA as they tackled issues ranging from sex trafficking to the education achievement gap in Athens.

Over four years at UGA, I delved into the world of sustainable policy development on campus, in Athens, and around the world. My last semester as an intern at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and my post-grad summer as an intern in the Office of Health Policy at the Department of Health and Human Services gave me the opportunity to apply what I had learned to bridge the gap between research and implementation.


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