Planting the seed for change
Student Owen Balas, Josh Staley (far right in group) and Addison Price are all students within Gannon's Public Service and Global Affairs department.
How do you define public service? Is it measured by the hours worked, the lives changed, the eyes opened or maybe the number of seeds planted?
Josh Staley was on an alternative break service trip in Detroit, Mich. in March of 2020, just days before the pandemic gripped the nation. His experience learning about urban farming changed his outlook on what it means to serve others.
“When it comes to service, your role in not only doing the work, but understanding what work needs to be done, is a really powerful and important thing for someone,” Staley said.
Staley is a senior political science major within Gannon’s Public Service and Global Affairs (PSGA) department – home to several majors surrounding public service.
The public service and global affairs, or PSGA, program is an inter-disciplinary, undergraduate program dedicated to high quality education, research and service enhanced by making connections across various academic disciplines. Students are empowered to be highly skilled professionals committed to public service careers in government, nonprofits, international organizations or the private sector. Learning is supported by high-quality, evidence-based research.
“Something that has attracted me to public service work or the field of PSGA is the idea that there’s not exactly a right or wrong thing – like in math or science there’s a definite answer, a definite truth,” Staley said.
“PSGA allows students to be able to understand that what they believe can be their truth, and that can lead you to find the type of work you want to do. Throughout my time, I’ve really been able to understand that service and community work is something that I find really important,” Staley said.
Staley worked alongside other Gannon students in Detroit to learn about the importance that access to fresh food holds in urban areas. The urban farm in Detroit includes a kitchen for city residents to receive fresh meals daily – a luxury people may take for granted.
There, in Motor Town USA, shoveling compost and planting seeds smaller than the width of a hair, Staley discovered his passion for farming and educating others on the power of food.
He learned to prune trees from a man whose secondary job seemed to be spouting riddles for hours. He heard firsthand from a man living in his car how essential the garden was to his daily survival. Then, he saw how empowering it was to teach people how to grow their own food.
Staley’s time in Detroit led to an opportunity in his hometown, where he worked on a small rural farm in connection with a youth-development nonprofit. Following that, he accepted a position at Leadership Education and Farming (LEAF) as the program coordinator, a position he’ll start six days after graduating.
This is something Gannon’s newest alumni, Owen Balas, can relate to. Balas graduated in December and immediately accepted a position as a paralegal in the law offices in downtown Erie.
Balas knew from the time he was 10 years old that he wanted to be an attorney. When it came time to go to college, he chose Gannon for its pre-law program within PSGA. Not even four years later, he graduated with a degree in legal studies, minors in pre-law and philosophy, a perfect GPA and the honor of Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference’s Wrestling Champion Scholar.
What programs does PSGA offer?
Global Languages & Cultures: gain insight to the fields of global history, politics, intercultural communication, cross-cultural psychology and fundamental business practices to succeed in the global and domestic job markets of business, public service and communication.
History & Archaeology: develop analytical skills and perspective from the knowledge of past personalities and events that assist in careers including diplomacy, higher education, international development, journalism, law, public policy analysis, writing and more.
Political Science: learn from active scholars about politics, current events and international affairs that shape the world. Then, gain experience through high-profile internships and networking opportunities.
Legal Studies: build foundational knowledge of the legal profession and pursue upper-level specialties in various types of law.
Public Service and Global Affairs: combine passion for travel, current events, politics, languages and literature into a career path that shapes public policy.
Balas even held an internship as a student-athlete, something that he attributes to the networking opportunities Gannon provides.
“One of the main reasons I’m so thankful I came to Gannon is how well it networks with the Erie community,” Balas said. “During my time at Gannon, I would say I got a pretty diverse perspective, but in my final years when I started doing my internship, working for lawyers in the area, I gained a larger understanding.”
Now, he’s on a first-name basis with two judges and several attorneys. He cites Judge John Trucilla, lawyer-turned professor Peter Agresti, attorney Brian Krowicki, and of course, Bernadette Agresti, for helping him network his way into the field.
Opportunities within PSGA
- Participate in a travel course to Poland and Bosnia to learn about the Holocaust and genocide
- Intern at the nation’s capital
- Become a part of local political campaigns
- Join the university’s archaeological dig at the Early Bronze Age site in Madaba, Jordan
- Meet with well-known political figures, including a past president, world-renowned political journalists, and chiefs of staffs from Washington D.C.
Addison Price, a PSGA major, said she believes that experiential learning is the pinnacle benefit of a Gannon education.
“One of the best parts of Gannon and PSGA is the experiences your professors are determined to give you,” she said. “Thanks to a professor’s encouragement, I was able to intern in Washington, D.C. last summer. I definitely gained not only educational experience but also confidence in my abilities from this internship.
“My next experience will be in Harrisburg, where I will be interning at the Capitol Building with the Pennsylvania State Representatives,” Price added.
Price expressed her gratitude to PSGA for allowing her to combine her interests in history, political science and foreign language to create the career she wants.
“The ability to choose and individualize my path was one of my major reasons for PSGA at Gannon,” Price said. “I love humanities because I can broaden or narrow my fields when I want.”
Continue your education at Gannon
Continue your education with a Master's in Public Administration. Gannon’s MPA program prepares graduates to take on leadership roles as competent administrators, professionals and leaders in public and nonprofit organizations, both domestically and internationally. The program emphasizes public service values such as democratic representation, accountability, sustainability, diversity and equity.
Staley said the biggest misconception within PSGA is that you must be a powerful politician to make change. Instead, his time at Gannon taught him it’s the individual that enacts change, and having a working knowledge of government is a crucial part of that.
“Humanities majors are the people who enact change throughout our country and throughout the world. They play a really important and pivotal role in our society,” Staley said.
“As we’re seeing our society develop, the importance of governmental and political understanding is becoming ever more important. PSGA allows you to learn it and see it in your real life,” Staley added.