Thomson-McDuffie’s Don Powers won the Gulf-South Summit’s award for Outstanding Community Partner Contributions to Service-Learning in Higher Education.

Powers has been the long-time chair of the UGA Archway Partnership Executive Committee in Thomson-McDuffie, first while in his role as city administrator and then after transitioning to president of Forward McDuffie, the umbrella economic development team for the city of Thomson and McDuffie County. Since 2018, Powers has collaborated with UGA on more than 100 projects, involving 25 faculty and upwards of 230 students. These projects have provided a return on investment to the Thomson-McDuffie community of greater than $2.5 million, along with invaluable professional development for students involved in active learning opportunities.

“It is an honor to receive this award from the Gulf-South Summit for community partner contributions. It has been incredibly rewarding to work with the Archway Partnership and the University of Georgia in Thomson-McDuffie and to see all the outstanding progress that has been made thanks to these efforts,” said Powers.

The Gulf-South Summit on Service-Learning and Civic Engagement Through Higher Education is the region’s largest conference bringing together practitioners, research, sustainable programs and a culture of engagement and public awareness through service-learning and other forms of civic engagement. The award for community partner contributions recognizes demonstrated excellence in creating and sustaining opportunities for engaging college/university students in service-learning.

“The model of the Archway Partnership is centered on community engagement and the people of Thomson-McDuffie have been the critical piece of our success. From the Executive Committee members to the numerous small work groups, this award represents all the work from them as well,” said Powers. “A big thanks to our longtime Archway Professional Sam Perren and Archway’s Executive Director Michelle Elliott for all the work they have done as well. There is seemingly no end to effective community problem solving when you are fortunate enough to have as partners the full force and energy, not to mention the creativity, of the students, faculty and staff of UGA.”

Group photo

L-R: Director of the Office of Service-Learning Shannon Brooks, Vice President for Public Service and Outreach Jennifer Frum, Associate Director for the Office of Service-Learning Paul Matthews (winner for Outstanding Faculty Contributions to Service-Learning in Higher Education – Research), Don Powers, Archway Professional Sarah Adams (winner for Best Poster – Research) and Archway Partnership Executive Director Michelle Elliott

The Archway Partnership was founded in 2005 and serves multiple Georgia communities through long-term collaborative relationships. Thomson-McDuffie joined the partnership in 2017. Archway empowers communities to address long-standing and critical community and economic development needs. Archway communities have addressed issues related to economic development, education, workforce development, leadership, health and welfare, overall quality of life, and more.

Powers is a community champion for all UGA efforts in Thomson-McDuffie, recruiting stakeholders to meet with students and faculty, providing students with invaluable feedback and mentorship, and leading implementation of projects in the community once student work is complete.

“Don has always cared deeply about our community. He has done an excellent job taking the lead on our Archway initiatives, working with students to produce top-notch work that helps us move forward together,” said Thomson Mayor Kenneth Usry.

Powers worked in private industry for the first half of his work life and has been involved in the community for many years in a variety of leadership roles. Over the past 20 years, he has served as executive director of the Industrial Development Authority, the city administrator for Thomson, and in his current role with Forward McDuffie. An amateur musician in his spare time, he also leads the Activities Council of Thomson, a local nonprofit, that presents the Blind Willie McTell Music Festival each year, currently working on their 29th annual festival. Powers and his wife, Beth, live in McDuffie County and are the proud parents of four children.

“We are so grateful to Don for all his work in Thomson-McDuffie. We have accomplished great things in this community thanks to the University of Georgia and the Archway Partnership and Don’s steering of those resources. Don’s commitment to Thomson-McDuffie and tireless work across a range of projects has led to an extraordinary success for the people of this community. This recognition from Gulf-South is much deserved,” said Usry.