AEC Internship: Bob Graham Center for Public Service

Guest Blog by Heather Ryan
Photos provided by Heather Ryan

“Our partisan divide exists only between the engaged and the apathetic.” This statement was powerfully spoken at a pivotal chapter of my early collegiate career. These words have since served as the pillar foundation for each of my experiences as an undergraduate student in the department of Agricultural Education & Communication (AEC) at the University of Florida (UF). Leadership, public service, and community development have been the central themes of my extracurricular pursuits that allow me to mobilize diverse people groups together not only on campus, but throughout the surrounding Gainesville community as a collective.  

Thanks to the support offered through the Bob Graham Center for Public Service, I have shared the privilege and joy of serving as 1 of 4 students in the year-long fellowship program downtown at City Hall. Our roles span across a widespread set of skills and disciplines including visual design, urban planning, and policy research. In particular, the scope of my current position is centered on community and civic engagement projects throughout the city. Beginning in August, our team completed the hiring process and were treated with a clear sense of professionalism as city employees from the start. We entered the corporate culture of local government at an opportune time when city officials began charting a redirection to posture Gainesville as the “New American City.” This progression unraveled further as we learned of integrated development programs through the Bloomberg Philanthropic Challenge and “What Works Cities” initiatives. Such grant incentives and support networks compelled our team to improve all aspects of the citizen – centered experience through mobility, technology, and the UF – Gainesville strategic partnership.

On the first day in the office, I started working on a project proposal known as the Gainesville Volunteer Portal. Despite volunteer listings available through community centers and campus offices, I still noticed the widening gap of knowledge between volunteer bases and service organization coordinators. Over the following six weeks, I consulted eight software vendors to evaluate the appropriate online platform that would best meet the need of non-profit organizations in sharing upcoming events and sign up forms updated in real time.  After interviewing administration over Alachua County Schools, I also learned how high school students could greatly benefit from a digital recording system to account for an accurate record of community service and residual economic impact.

Portal completion is projected toward late April as roughly 20 local non-profit organizations have demonstrated interest in the onboarding process and strengthening their volunteer base through this resource.  Furthermore, this platform aims to yield the highest success rate of Bright Futures scholarship recipients by encouraging all students to meet the minimum 150 service hour requirement. As a graduating senior, I feel entirely fortunate and grateful to contribute toward the advancement of my city in this way. I look forward to returning to Gainesville 25 years from now to see the furthered development of young leaders toward civic education and engagement. My time as a fellow with the Bob Graham Center for Public Service is far from over, but I am already excited to see the change future City of Gainesville Fellows will make.

For those interested in pursuing an opportunity immersed in civic engagement, applications for the 2018 -2019 cohort of City of Gainesville Fellows will open in March and can be found at

Heather Ryan is a graduating senior majoring in agricultural edcuation and communication, specializing in communication and leadership development.

Heather stands with the three other Bob Graham Center fellows at one of the community development site buildings.