PROPEL Rural Scholars

University of Georgia students

Make an Impact on Rural Georgia Communities

The PROPEL Rural Scholars program provides undergraduate students interested in rural economic and community development the opportunity to work alongside an Institute of Government mentor and community leaders. In this role, students conduct and implement relevant research in rural Georgia communities. The two-semester program will equip future leaders with the knowledge and experience to take roles in economic development, community development, and civic leadership.

The scholars program is part of the PROPEL (Planning Rural Opportunities for Prosperity and Economic Leadership) program led by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government. The program guides rural cities and counties through a six-step model to develop and activate a plan to advance their economies. It helps communities build resiliency and capacity for long-term economic success.


PROPEL Rural Scholars look at cotton.

How It Works

How PROPEL Works


The PROPEL program is supported by the USDA. PROPEL Rural Scholars was created through a generous donation from the UGA Foundation. PROPEL communities embark on a two-year journey working with a core team of community leaders along with coaches from the Archway Partnership, Carl Vinson Institute of Government, Small Business Development Center, and Fanning Institute for Leadership Development. Communities learn to analyze economic and labor market data and identity local resources that could drive growth in the area. Scholars will work alongside PROPEL communities and faculty.

The Rural Scholars Program

The PROPEL Rural Scholars Program


The scholars program is open to UGA undergraduate students from any school or college. The year-long program begins in August and concludes in April with final deliverable presentations. Scholars attend bi-weekly two-hour workshops throughout the fall semester, covering various aspects of economic and community development in rural Georgia. During the fall semester, students will travel to an active PROPEL community, study the opportunities and challenges facing rural communities, and interact with community leaders. In the spring, students will work in teams to complete an applied research project in support of their community’s PROPEL plan. While the PROPEL communities are located across the state, scholars will complete their project largely from the Athens campus, committing 10 to 12 hours per week to the project throughout the spring semester. Funds will be available to support Rural Scholars' travel to their assigned PROPEL community. Students can earn non-course experiential learning credit through their participation in the program.

Meet our current PROPEL Rural Scholars.

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Why Rural Scholars


Students engaged in the PROPEL Rural Scholars learn about:

  • Economic policy and development

  • Community engagement and development

  • Georgia demographics, trends, and contemporary issues and opportunities

  • Small business development support strategy

  • Consulting skills and tactics

  • Meeting management and administrative skills

  • Core skills, like teamwork, notetaking, professional communications

  • And more!

Lead with us!

Lead With Us!


Applications for the 2024-2025 program are now closed.

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Hear From Our Students


"Being an out-of-state student at UGA, I don’t get many opportunities to explore the state of Georgia. The PROPEL Rural Scholars [program] was eye-opening. After our interactions with county officials, development specialists, and agricultural industry leaders, I have a better understanding of how rural entities work together to create economic opportunities for their communities.”

Caleb Kerr, 2023-2024


“Being able to learn about the challenges and opportunities that are unique to rural areas and then work hands-on with a rural community to address their needs was very eye-opening. Many rural communities have great ideas and goals for development and the betterment of their communities but lack the resources to do so, so it was meaningful to be able to help provide those resources.”

Hannah Willerson, 2023

 Current PROPEL Communities

Current PROPEL Communities



  • 2022 Communities

    • Grady County

    • Appling County

    • Pulaski County

    • Washington County

    • Lower Chattahoochee Council of Governments (Clay, Quitman, Randolph, and Stewart Counties)

  • 2023 Communities

    • Baldwin County

    • Ben Hill County

    • Burke County

  • 2024 Communities
    • Emanuel County

    • Crisp County

    • Marion County

Additional communities may be added in the future.

PROPEL In the News

PROPEL In the News

UGA PROPEL Rural Scholars program announces second class of scholars

January 4, 2024

Fifteen University of Georgia undergraduate students have been named as PROPEL Rural Scholars for the 2023-2024 academic year. The experiential learning program is in its second year, and the new class of scholars is nearly twice as large as the inaugural cohort. This year's scholars range from second-year to fourth-year students from nine UGA colleges with a variety of academic backgrounds, from agribusiness and civil engineering to biology and political science.

Read more.

U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to fund expansion of UGA’s PROPEL program

November 20, 2023

The University of Georgia Carl Vinson Institute of Government has received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to expand its work with rural communities in Georgia.

Read more.


University of Georgia’s PROPEL program receives top national honors

October 17, 2023

PROPEL, a University of Georgiaprogram, took home the top prize from a national awards competition honoring outstanding economic development initiatives, research and accomplishments.

Read more. 

Research by UGA students makes an impact in rural Georgia communities

July 26, 2023

UGA students who participated in the PROPEL Rural Scholars program are more attuned to the needs of rural Georgians and how government works thanks to the yearlong experiential learning opportunity at the University of Georgia’s Institute of Government.

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UGA’s PROPEL program to help guide Pulaski’s economic development strategy

May 17, 2023

Pulaski County is focusing on a long-term economic development strategic plan to ensure opportunity for future generations through PROPEL (Planning Rural Opportunities for Prosperity and Economic Leadership), a unique program of UGA’s Vinson Institute of Government. In its second year, PROPEL provides rural communities with resources to help create systems necessary for their economic and workforce development strategies.

Read more.



Madison Drummond