New program provides UF students opportunity to solve real-world problems

In 2017, UF Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Charlie Lane put forth a forward-thinking strategic development plan that sought to enhance cooperation between the City of Gainesville and the University of Florida—One Gainesville.

The goal was to “prepare UF and the surrounding community for the future, identifying optimal initiatives related to growth, intensity/density, economic vitality and livability—a framework for the university and its host community to achieve preeminence.”

To that end, the Bob Graham Center partnered with the City of Gainesville to develop and launch a fellowship program that places UF students at the forefront of working on solutions to real-world, operational city issues.

“We are pleased to provide UF students with the opportunity to work side-by-side with experienced and talented city leaders in Gainesville,” said David Colburn, director of the Bob Graham Center for Public Service.

The program, made up of four eight-week blocks, is designed to provide a multidisciplinary learning experience for the fellows, who work 10 to 15 hours per week across several city departments.

“The fellowship is a fantastic opportunity for UF students interested in public service to learn by doing,” said Logan Leonard, one of the four inaugural students selected to participate in the program. “It represents the vanguard of university and local government relations.”

As part of the fellowship experience, Leonard is working with city planners in the Department of Doing to develop a new online business portal for local entrepreneurs. He also collaborates regularly with specialists in the Department of Human Resources to enhance the city’s employee recognition program.

“It is rare for many professionals—much less college interns—to play a key role in producing something real that people will use and find beneficial. As a fellow, I know that I am helping to create world-class, cutting-edge tools for use by actual citizens and city employees. And, in the process, I get to work with devoted public servants.”

Leonard, a triple major in political science, economics and history, is headed to law school at the University of Virginia School of Law in Charlottesville in the fall.

“Drawing on the lessons and experiences of working at the city and with the Graham Center, I plan to pursue a career in law and public service,” he said. “I am deeply grateful for the opportunities the city and the Graham Center have afforded me during my undergraduate career.”

The city is equally enthusiastic about the positive impact the experience is having on students and the opportunity to bring creative capacity to local issues.

“We are excited to connect with the tremendous talent at the University of Florida for the benefit of the entire Gainesville community as we co-design a New American City,” said Carrie Blanchard Bush, director of strategic initiatives for the City of Gainesville. “We look forward to our ongoing collaboration with our partners at the Bob Graham Center.”

The fellowship program represents just one of many possible collaborations between the city and university to improve growth and economic vitality while providing UF students with an extraordinary opportunity to enhance their academic experience and professional prospects.

2017-18 City of Gainesville Fellows

Mateo Van Thienen
Major: Sustainability and the Built Environment, Geodesign Specialization
Hometown: Weston, Florida


Kassidy Wallace
Major: Visual Arts and African American Studies
Hometown: Land O’ Lakes, FL


Heather Ryan
Major: Agriculture Education and Communications
Hometown: Lakeland, FL


Logan Leonard
Major: Economics, History and Political Science
Hometown: St. Johns, FL


Story submitted by Shelby Taylor, communications director, Bob Graham Center.