Service-Learning Teaching Excellence Award

The Service-Learning Teaching Excellence Award recognizes UGA faculty for excellence in developing, implementing, and sustaining academic service-learning opportunities for UGA students in domestic and/or international settings. This award, established in 2011, carries a $2,500 faculty development award.

UGA faculty members in any career track are eligible to apply.

Nominations by deans and department heads, faculty colleagues, or self-nominations are accepted. Nomination/application packets should follow the stated guidelines (available below during Fall semester) and be assembled into a single PDF for submission.

Nominations/applications for the 2023 awards are due no later than Dec. 2, 2022. See the application materials below for more information.

Previous Recipients of the Service-Learning Teaching Excellence Award:

2022 Service-Learning Teaching Excellence Award Winner:

Katherine Melcher, Associate Professor, Landscape Architecture, College of Environment + Design

For over ten years, Professor Katherine Melcher has developed and taught service-learning courses in Athens and Tifton, in three interrelated areas: design-build projects, edible landscape design, and community design projects in studio courses. Her service-learning classes have worked with community clients such as the Brooklyn Cemetery, Tifton’s Future Farmstead model home, the Pinewoods community, the Athens-Clarke County government, Habitat for Humanity, the town of Bowman, and more. Her students report benefits including better understanding “the complexity that comes with creating a design for real world clients,” and attest to learning how to better listen to stakeholders, more deeply engage with the design process, and apply creative thinking to meet community needs. Professor Melcher is a past recipient of the College of Environment and Design’s Teaching Excellence Award and was a Service-Learning Fellow in 2011-12.

2021 Service-Learning Teaching Excellence Award Winners:

Gary T. Green, Professor and Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs, Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources

Since 2000, Dr. Gary T. Green has developed and taught multiple service-learning courses in topics such as environmental interpretation, tourism and sustainable development, and wilderness management. In his courses, over 500 undergraduate and graduate students have developed real-world expertise in areas such as trail recommendations for the USDA Forest Service, interpretive signs and exhibits for nature centers and parks, and plans for enhancing sustainability for international tourism agencies. Dr. Green has also engaged his students in evaluating Georgia state parks’ programming and recreation services for particular demographic groups, resulting in substantive changes to make these offerings more inclusive. A 2018-19 Service-Learning Fellow, Dr. Green has also been recognized with numerous teaching awards including the Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professorship and the Richard B. Russell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

Candice Hollenbeck, Senior Lecturer, Marketing Department, Terry College of Business

Every semester for the past five years, Dr. Candice Hollenbeck has engaged a hundred students in her MARK 4600S “Integrated Marketing and Brand Communication” service-learning courses to work with dozens of different Athens-area small businesses and nonprofit organizations dedicated to causes such as domestic abuse prevention, animal welfare, literacy, food insecurity, youth development, and more. Under her supervision, and with feedback from both the clients and from industry professionals, student groups apply marketing principles to real-world needs, providing brand identity and target market research, developing social media campaigns, promoting events, creating infographics and websites, and supporting fundraising initiatives. Her students regularly praise the value of these projects, the hands-on experience gained, and the satisfaction of helping local organizations. Dr. Hollenbeck was previously recognized as a 2019-20 Service-Learning Fellow.

2020 Service-Learning Teaching Excellence Award Winners:

Sarah Shannon, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Franklin College of Arts & Sciences

Since 2017, Dr. Sarah Shannon has taught the “Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program,” SOCI 4470S, which brings together a group of students from UGA and a group of residents from the Athens-Clarke County Jail to exchange ideas and perceptions about crime and justice, the criminal justice system, and imprisonment, from both personal and sociological perspectives. Through facilitated dialogue, academic reading, reflective writing, and a collaborative, class-defined project, her students—from both “inside” and “outside”—learn and work together. The Clarke County Sheriff’s Office calls her class “a shining example of cooperation” and past students regularly attest to the learning and impact of the class. A past Service-Learning Fellow and Lilly Teaching Fellow, she has been recognized with UGA’s Creative Teaching Award and the Richard B. Russell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in 2019, as well as the Franklin College’s Sandy Beaver Excellence in Teaching Award (2017).

Kristina Jaskyte Bahr, Associate Professor, School of Social Work

For more than 15 years, Dr. Kristina Jaskyte Bahr has integrated community-based components into graduate courses in social work and the master’s in nonprofit management and leadership, including Design Thinking for Social Innovation, Innovation and Change in Nonprofit Organizations, Theory and Management of Nonprofit Organizations, and Managing Volunteers and Staff in Nonprofit Organizations. Working with dozens of local non-profits, some 500 graduate students to date have designed and implemented program evaluations, fundraising plans, volunteer handbooks, and recruitment materials intended to help the organizations build capacity and better serve community needs. A 2018-19 Service-Learning Fellow, she was also recognized as a 2019 University Innovation Fellow by Stanford University’s Hassno Plattner Institute of Design (

2019 Service-Learning Teaching Excellence Award Winners:

Caree J. Cotwright, Assistant Professor, Department of Foods and Nutrition, College of Family and Consumer Sciences

Each semester, Dr. Caree Cotwright engages students in her Nutrition Education Methods service-learning course, where they learn about and apply nutrition knowledge through work with community partners such as the Athens Community Council on Aging, the Clarke County School District, and the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia. Dr. Cotwright’s students develop and implement nutrition lessons for preschool children using costumes and entertainment, provide food demonstrations and healthy recipes for older adults, and support food distributions and programming with the food bank. A 2014-15 Service-Learning Fellow, Dr. Cotwright has also published and presented nationally on her model program, and received grant support for her outreach and research from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and USDA.

Elizabeth Davis, Senior Academic Professional, Department of English, Franklin College of Arts & Sciences

For over ten years, Dr. Elizabeth Davis has integrated community-based projects into her Writing for the Web and her Writing and Community courses, allowing students to learn more about communities across the state while developing their writing and rhetorical skills. Her students have partnered with Archway Partnership communities to address real-world needs such as website redesign guidance for Candler County, Pulaski County, and Clayton County; documenting the history of the Hart County Training School; and creation of a “Traditions Highway” publication to enhance tourism for rural towns and communities along Georgia Highway 15. A past Service-Learning Fellow and Special Collections Library Fellow, Dr. Davis also presents nationally on her work, mentors other Service-Learning Fellows and is part of the Service-Learning Research Faculty Learning Community.

Cecilia Herles, Senior Academic Professional and Assistant Director, Institute for Women’s Studies, Franklin College of Arts & Sciences

Since 2010, Dr. Cecilia Herles has engaged hundreds of students in service-learning through two courses she developed in Women’s Studies. Through her course on the Gendered Politics of Food, as well as her Environment, Gender, Race, and Class course, students work with community partners such as Campus Kitchen, Clarke Middle School, the Food Bank, and the Athens Land Trust to learn about environmental and social justice, better understanding the complexities of how food systems intersect with issues of access, justice, and identity. A frequent presenter on her community-based praxis, Dr. Herles was a Service-Learning Fellow in 2009-10 and has been recognized with UGA’s Creative Teaching Award and the Sustainable UGA Outstanding Faculty Award.

2018 Service-Learning Teaching Excellence Award Winners:

Melissa Landers-Potts, Senior Lecturer, Department of Human Development and Family Science, College of Family and Consumer Sciences

Dr. Melissa Landers-Potts, a 2013-14 Service-Learning Fellow, has engaged hundreds of students since 2012 in online and face-to-face versions of her Adolescent Development service-learning course. Each semester, her students apply theory-based principles of adolescent development to service-learning projects, mentoring and tutoring adolescents at the Classic City High School, as well as serving as trained wellness coaches through the iPrevail platform, offering online emotional support and resource referral to adolescents from around the world. Dr. Landers-Potts has presented nationally and locally on service-learning and online learning, and is a past Online Learning Fellow and past CTL Writing Fellow.

Jerry Shannon, Assistant Professor, Department of Geography, Franklin College of Arts & Sciences, and Department of Financial Planning, Housing, and Consumer Economics, College of Family and Consumer Sciences

Dr. Jerry Shannon, a 2015-16 Service-Learning Fellow and past Lilly Teaching Fellow, developed and teaches a split-level geography service-learning course in Community Geographic Information Systems. In these courses, his students learn principles of undertaking and communicating geographic research, applying GIS and data visualization methods to real-world problems for local community partners including the Athens Wellbeing Project, the Clarke Co. School District’s local school governance teams, Community Connection of Northeast Georgia, and the Athens-Clarke Co. Police. Additionally, Dr. Shannon has mentored undergraduate research through CURO, engaging students in learning about food insecurity, urban development, and housing issues through community-requested GIS projects benefiting the Cobbham Historic District, the Georgia Initiative for Community Housing, Bike Athens, and local food banks.

2017 Service-Learning Teaching Excellence Award Winners:

Carol Britton Laws, Assistant Clinical Professor in Disability Studies in the Institute on Human Development and Disability, College of Family and Consumer Sciences

Dr. Carol Britton Laws, a 2013-14 Service-Learning Fellow, developed and taught graduate and undergraduate service-learning courses centered on disability issues and advocacy. She coordinates the Disability Studies Certificate program, and over the past four years has integrated service-learning coursework throughout the program. Her students learn from and support people with disabilities, and better understand the relevant social, personal, and structural issues from this work. Dr. Laws has published and presented on the role of service-learning and civic engagement in disabilities studies. This semester, she is implementing a new service-learning course that pairs UGA students as peer mentors for “Destination Dawgs,” an inclusive post-secondary education program for students with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

Sungkyung Lee, Associate Professor, College of Environment and Design

Dr. Sungkyung Lee, a 2011-12 Service-Learning Fellow, incorporated service-learning into landscape architecture studio courses since 2010. Her graduate and undergraduate students have applied their knowledge of community-based design and development planning to work on real-world projects with diverse, historically underserved communities and neighborhoods in Athens and Albany, GA, including developing community gardens, agricultural and stream bank site designs, and neighborhood analyses focused on recreation and on garden markets. College of Environment and Design Dean Daniel Nadenicek attests that Dr. Lee’s students “come away from her courses with a new point of view and a sense of urgency about how they can use their professional skills to truly help people.”

2016 Service-Learning Teaching Excellence Award Winners:

Emily Sahakian, assistant professor of theatre and film studies as well as Romance languages in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

Dr. Emily Sahakian developed and taught courses in community-based theatre and theatre for social change for undergraduate and graduate students, and for public school teachers. In her THEA 5710S/7710S class “Community-Based Theatre,” students learn about how theatre can be used to foster civic engagement, dialogue, and community problem-solving. Her students have engaged Clarke County high school students as peer mentors through the Experience UGA program, helping 11th and 12th grade students lead workshops using these techniques with 10th graders as part of their interdisciplinary arts field trips to campus. Her students have also developed workshops with community partners including Project SAFE, Casa de Amistad, and others. With Melisa Cahnmann-Taylor in the College of Education, Sahakian also co-taught a summer course for teachers in 2013, “Theatre for Reflective Language Practice and Social Change in Multicultural Classrooms,” in which classroom teachers from across the region learned how to use these strategies to understand and re-frame challenges faced in their schools. Sahakian’s students report many benefits from her classes, including better understanding of themselves, their career options, and the community. A former graduate student says, “Dr. Sahakian’s class was easily the most important of my degree,” and Ashley Goodrich, a former Clarke County School District high school teacher who worked with the Experience UGA program, says the hundreds of high school students “spoke highly of the experience, even months later.” Sahakian was a Service-Learning Fellow in 2012-13, and also has taken part in UGA’s Teaching Academy Fellows program.

Gretchen Thomas, instructor in career and information studies in the College of Education.

Gretchen Thomas, a 2013-14 Service-Learning Fellow, has engaged over three hundred students since 2013 through a range of instructional technology service-learning courses, including EDIT 2000 “Teaching with Technology”; EDIT 4100S “Mentoring K-12 Students through Technology”; EDIT 5100S “Assistive and Learning Technologies,” and more. As part of this process, she converted two existing courses in her department into new classes with the “S” designation for service-learning, reflecting her commitment to high-quality, robust service-learning pedagogy. In her courses, Thomas’s students have worked with over 250 K-12 students in nearby school districts on projects that allow UGA students better to understand and gain expertise with using instructional technology to support community needs. For instance, Thomas’s EDIT 5100S students learned to develop assistive technology devices for special-education classrooms using 3-D printing. Other classes helped host creative “maker spaces” with elementary students, and have used technology to mentor elementary and middle school students in project-based learning and leadership strategies. Thomas has presented on her “Discovery Dawgs” online mentoring program, and has received grants from the Office of Service-Learning, Center for Teaching and Learning, and College of Education to support her service-learning work. Past students report that the skills and competencies from Thomas’s classes have given them an advantage on the job market as well as developing “a true purpose to our studies” through the community connection.

2015 Service-Learning Teaching Excellence Award Winners:

Kris Irwin, senior public service associate in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources.

In 2012, Dr. Kris Irwin developed and annually teaches the first designated service-learning course (FANR 4444S/6444S, Foundations of Environmental Education) in Warnell, in which students partner with community organizations such as Athens-Clarke County Stormwater Education, Sandy Creek Park, and more, to create environmental education plans. He also regularly teaches FANR 5690/7690, Natural Resource Management for Teachers, and has taught international service-learning courses in Costa Rica, including a new spring-break course on tropical reforestation. Dr. Irwin previously served as a Senior Scholar for the Office of Service-Learning in 2008-09, and helped develop a faculty toolkit for academic service-learning protocols for UGA Costa Rica.

Michael Marshall, professor and area chair of photography in the Lamar Dodd School of Art, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

Professor Michael Marshall has engaged undergraduate and graduate photography students in courses since 2010 in partnering with communities across Georgia through UGA’s Archway Partnership, as well as the Athens Land Trust, the Athens Community Council on Aging, and other agencies to implement documentary photography and digital storytelling skills to support the community. His students have also collaborated with English courses, the College of Environment and Design, and the UGArden and Campus Kitchen, demonstrating growth artistically, civically, and academically.  Prof. Marshall was previously recognized as a Service-Learning Fellow in 2011-12.

2014 Service-Learning Teaching Excellence Award Winner:

Betina Kaplan, associate professor of Spanish in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Romance Languages.

Dr. Betina Kaplan taught and developed SPAN 4090/4090S, Spanish Practicum for Service-Learning, engaging hundreds of students in applying their Spanish knowledge to real-world opportunities such as parent-teacher conferences, tutoring, and healthcare referrals. Additionally, she developed and taught a version of the course for five semesters at UGA’s Buenos Aires study-abroad setting, as well as a First-Year Odyssey course supporting Spanish adult literacy for immigrants in the Athens community. Kaplan was previously recognized as a Service-Learning Fellow in 2012-13.

2013 Service-Learning Teaching Excellence Award Winners:

Corey W. Johnson, associate professor in the Department of Counseling and Human Development Services in the College of Education.

Dr. Corey Johnson developed a unified, service-learning focused educational curriculum for students in the recreation and leisure studies program. Taught annually for seven years by Johnson and his colleagues, four separate undergraduate and graduate courses collaborated in an Integrated Event Design program to develop, coordinate, and reflect upon special events they implement to benefit non-profit organizations in the community while at the same time developing their professional skills. For instance, in Spring 2012, Johnson’s students applied their event planning knowledge and skills to benefit nine agencies, raising over $12,000 and contributing over 4,000 hours of service. Johnson also created and taught a new service-learning course on The Slow Food Movement in Spring 2012. He has presented and published extensively on his service-learning course experiences and outcomes.

Katherine F. Thompson, clinical associate professor in the College of Education’s Department of Elementary and Social Studies Education.

Dr. Kathy Thompson incorporated service-learning into the middle school education program through four courses at the graduate and undergraduate level over the past eight years, including in her Theory and Practice of Service-Learning in P-12 Settings class, which explicitly trains future teachers to incorporate this pedagogy with their own students. Thompson also serves as the Service-Learning Coordinator for the College’s Office of School Engagement, and is the professor in residence for Hilsman Middle School’s professional development school collaboration. She is the lead faculty for the Office of Service-Learning’s P-12 initiatives, helping provide ongoing professional development to teachers interested in service-learning. Thompson was the Service-Learning Senior Scholar for Community Engagement in 2008-10 and was recognized as a Service-Learning Fellow in 2007-08. She has received grants relating to service-learning teaching and research, and has published and presented on service-learning locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally.

2012 Service-Learning Teaching Excellence Award Winners:

Stacey R. Kolomer, associate professor of social work, School of Social Work.

Dr. Stacey Kolomer helped her undergraduate and graduate social work students develop professional skills and competencies through engagement with a range of diverse populations in communities across the state. In her Social Work with Older Adults course, students gained real-world experience working with seniors through interdisciplinary health fairs and life reviews of older adults.  An innovative service-learning project in Hart County with UGA’s Archway Partnership resulted in recordings now used for walking tours about area history. Collaborating with the Georgia Firefighters Burn Foundation, social work students in Kolomer’s Burn Camp classes worked with burn-injured children, served as counselors during a special summer camp, led support groups, and evaluated the program. In her First-Year Odyssey Seminar, Kolomer’s students explored how households led by grandparents are affected by food insecurity through participation in food recovery and assistance programs offered through the Athens Community Council on Aging and UGA’s Campus Kitchen project. Kolomer was also recognized as a 2008-09 Service-Learning Fellow. Her scholarship also includes publishing and presenting on the outcomes of her service-learning work.

Deanna W. McEwen, public service assistant in the College of Pharmacy.

Dr. DeeDee McEwen incorporated service-learning experiences for all second- and third-year pharmacy students, improving their clinical and interpersonal skills through at least 80 hours of direct involvement with the community through four academic courses. These introductory pharmacy practice experiences met new accreditation standards from the American College of Pharmacy Education, and involved over 250 students annually in disease prevention and awareness clinics, health camps, and wellness programs. McEwen engaged her students in developing and implementing smoking cessation programs for UGA employees, influenza vaccination clinics for Athens-Clarke County government employees, farmworker family health programs in south Georgia, blood drives, and cardiovascular fitness programs for Walton County. She also improved coordination and communication with these multiple community partners, hosting a service-learning expo to share information, clarify activities, and prepare community preceptors for supporting students undertaking service-learning projects. McEwen was  recognized as a 2010-11 Service-Learning Fellow.

2011 Service-Learning Teaching Excellence Award Winners:

Pratt Cassity, public service associate in the Center for Community Design and Preservation, College of Environment and Design.

Since joining the UGA faculty in 1987, Pratt Cassity has developed an extensive portfolio of service-learning courses that include courses in the College of Environment and Design, development of service-learning based study abroad programs in Ghana and Thailand, and as lead instructor in UGA’s First-Year Residential Learning Community program. He received the Franklin College first year seminar award for his seven years as a lead instructor in the Global Engagement Freshman Learning Community that included a service-learning component each Spring. For ten years, he led UGA’s first service-learning study abroad program to Ghana focused on community development. For over 15 years, he has involved some 400 students in intensive on-site community design projects called charrettes in nearly 70 locales through the historic preservation course “The Community Design Charrette: An Innovative Service-Learning Experience.”

Gwynn Powell, associate professor in Recreation and Leisure Studies in the College of Education.

Dr. Gwynn Powell has a demonstrated track record of innovative excellence in linking students’ educational experiences with the community, especially in service to youth in camp settings from the Athens area to Russia. She incorporates into her courses multiple experiential and service activities that relate to the curriculum in Recreation and Leisure Studies, including for example local partnerships with the Clarke County School District and the Boys and Girls Club and student placements in camp administrations throughout the country. Additionally, she developed a course (“Supporting Families in Vulnerable Situations”) in which students work intensively at Camp Twin Lakes with children and families affected by life-threatening illnesses. Dr. Powell also created an annual study-abroad program in which UGA students serve as camp counselors in Russian, Turkish and South African summer camps.