Nearly 36 years after its humble beginnings in the basement of Bentley Hall, the George V. Voinovich School for Leadership and Public Affairs is celebrating its anniversary with a specially curated photography exhibit.

In 1981, the Ohio University Board of Trustees created the Institute for Local Government and Administration and Rural Development. Since its inception, Dean Mark Weinberg led the program, which later evolved into The Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs. The Voinovich School was established by the Board of Trustees as the first multidisciplinary school at OU in 2007.

Over the past ten years, the school has expanded its master’s degree programs, documented the work of student projects through photography and involved undergraduate students in learning about public affairs and leadership, all under Weinberg.

Senator Voinovich spoke about the guiding principle of the school when he said the government’s highest calling is to empower people and galvanize their energy and resources to help solve our problems, meet our challenges and see our unsought opportunities, Weinberg said. 

The school has about 150 externally funded projects and many grants to address a variety of initiatives around the region. Because the school focuses on community outreach, those projects range from environmental to technological initiatives. 

The 10th anniversary celebration began with an art show entitled “Sighting Progress” at the Kennedy Art Museum on Oct. 20. It not only displays the photography of visual communication fellowship members, but it also illustrates the progression of outreach projects Voinovich students have done in the region.

Since the college was chartered, Merry Foresta, scholar in residence, has worked with the school to document its programs through photography. It was her idea for the school to partner with visual communication students and have them follow the students to their project worksites.

“This exhibition is just the tip of the iceberg for many of those images that now you can find on the Voinovich School website,” Foresta said. “It was a remarkable experience of not only picking images that were in my eye very powerful images, evocative images, powerful images, images that were both great landscapes and wonderful portraits, but it is also indicative of the reach of the school into the region.”

A primary mission of the school is to support local leaders in both the private and public sector to promote rural development and public administration. That mission also emphasizes “learning by doing,” which has a focus on impacting the Appalachian region, Associate Dean Geoffrey Dabelko said.

Former visual communication fellow Sarah Tilotta said seeing the direct impact of what the school is doing in the community was “really important” for her.

“For the Voinovich School, it’s a promotional tool but also for the people whose story I was telling,” Tilotta said. “They felt quite strongly that they had been represented well and that they were able to get out what they were trying to do in the community ... these really interesting and valuable instances and innovative projects that are happening right here in Athens and in the surrounding regions.” 

The school primarily works with graduate students, but, over the past decade, the school has grown in scope of student involvement and community outreach. 

The Voinovich Scholars Program was created to connect undergraduates with graduate and faculty researchers. The school is also partnered with Enactus, an organization that pairs  undergraduate and graduate students with businesses to improve local and international standards of living. 

Although the school does a “very good job” of connecting students to faculty and staff, former Enactus President Autumn Sprunk said in an email she would like to see the programs reach more students on campus.

Moving forward, the school hopes to expand and begin a rural revitalization partnership initiative with colleges and new partners, Weinberg said. 


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