Greg Wilson and Kira Crowe from CVIOG Workforce Development group go to Appling County for first PROPEL steering committee meeting and tour of town. (Photo by Shannah Montgomery)

This story, written by Margaret Blanchard, was originally published on UGA Today on May 25, 2022.

A generous $500,000 gift from the University of Georgia Foundation board of trustees to support rural economic development will enable UGA to reach even more communities and provide experiential learning opportunities to more students.

“This remarkable gift from the UGA Foundation will advance the university’s commitments to foster economic development throughout our state and provide impactful education to our students,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. “I am deeply grateful to the foundation trustees for their support of our students and our service mission.”

The foundation trustees made a $250,000 contribution to the Carl Vinson Institute of Government to boost its efforts to assist underserved communities through the PROPEL (Planning Rural Opportunities for Prosperity and Economic Leadership) program. Another $250,000 contribution to the Archway Partnership will support that Public Service and Outreach unit’s assistance to rural communities as well.

Neal J. Quirk, chair of the UGA Foundation board of trustees, said the catalyst for the gift was a presentation by Jennifer Frum, UGA’s vice president for Public Service and Outreach (PSO), that focused on PSO units proven to be particularly effective in reaching rural counties.

“We believe that private funding is critical not only to support the important work of PSO but also to signal to the greater community at-large how important the work is to our board of trustees and how important it is to us to support our rural communities,” Quirk said.

Frum noted that such philanthropy is vital to the university’s land-grant and sea-grant mission to serve the state.

“We are so grateful to the UGA Foundation for their investment in promoting economic prosperity and long-term resiliency in rural communities,” Frum said. “This gift reflects the university’s commitment to the state and to all Georgians.”

Launched last fall by the Vinson Institute, PROPEL provides rural communities with resources to create systems needed to support their own economic and workforce development strategies. Eight rural communities were selected to participate in the initial program.

Thanks to the gift from the UGA Foundation, PROPEL will now expand to additional rural communities and create a PROPEL Rural Scholars Program, which will provide the opportunity for undergraduate students from diverse majors to work side by side with Vinson faculty in PROPEL communities each year.

Quirk said providing students the opportunity to understand Georgia’s rural communities and citizens is vital to the state’s overall prosperity.

“The success of our rural communities is critical to the long-term viability and competitiveness of our state, and our students must understand this dynamic and support it now and after graduation,” Quirk said.

The gift also allows the Vinson Institute to leverage existing partnerships and develop new ones, said Rob Gordon, director of the institute.

“This is great news for rural Georgia. In addition to providing important hands-on learning for UGA students, with this generous gift we can serve even more communities across the state by providing the tools and expertise necessary to build capacity and foster growth,” Gordon said.