Focus on Faculty: Grace Bagwell Adams

Dr. Grace Bagwell Adams, an assistant professor in the College of Public Health, helps students connect the dots between their academic training and the work they will be doing in the field after they graduate.

Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?

I earned my undergraduate degree in history and political science at Converse College (a women’s liberal arts college) in Spartanburg, South Carolina. I earned both my master’s in public administration and my Ph.D. in public policy in the department of public administration and policy in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia.

I am currently an assistant professor in the department of health policy and management in the College of Public Health here at the University of Georgia.

When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?

I came to the University of Georgia in August of 2007 to begin my Master of Public Administration program in UGA’s School of Public and International Affairs—the reputation of the program and the city of Athens is what brought me here. My mentor at Converse College persuaded me to look at the MPA program my senior year of college. It was the only graduate program I applied to because I knew that this is where I wanted to be.

What are your favorite courses and why?

I love to teach, so I enjoy all the courses I instruct. My favorite course to teach is actually our introductory survey course, “Introduction to Health Policy,” in the Master of Public Health program. I love introducing my students to policy (many for the first time), and giving them to the chance to explore politics and policy as an academic discipline separate from their own belief systems. I also enjoy teaching these same students about health insurance and health-related social programs because I believe it is important for them to be familiar with these topics. Pretty much everyone will have to interact with health insurance providers and government programs at some point in their lives.

What are some highlights of your career at UGA?

Some highlights include coaching a team of graduate students each year (2013-2017) to participate in the University of Pennsylvania’s National Policy Challenge. Dr. David Bradford (SPIA) and I took five different teams to compete, and our students won the national competition twice in that time, winning over $10,000 to solve a policy problem with a solution they designed.

In regard to my most recent line of research, I have been honored to work with a team of talented faculty and graduate students to investigate the link between medical cannabis and the opioid epidemic. We have produced several papers together and are working on a grant to fund this line of work.

How do you describe the scope and impact of your research or scholarship to people outside of your field?

My work focuses on vulnerable populations and the policy responses to mitigate that vulnerability. This is true for my first and longest line of research analyzing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) and its impact on various outcomes; and it is true for other lines of work that I now have on maternal and child health, community health needs assessments, and most recently, the opioid epidemic.

How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?

I believe that students need to be able to recognize the role of government intervention in their daily lives, and to have the tools to assess that intervention (broadly known as policy analysis and program evaluation). I am always looking for ways to bring my research into the classroom for my students to have concrete, real-world examples to understand concepts we study.

I am always learning from my students. They inspire me to be a good teacher, and I am encouraged by their ability and willingness to make the world a better place.

What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?

I think they gain the ability to connect the dots between their academic training and the work they will be doing in the field once they graduate. I primarily teach MPH students, which is a practical, terminal degree, so I hope they leave ready to contribute to the fields of public policy and public health.

I teach my classes through a social justice lens, and I hope my students leave my classroom with a greater awareness of their individual and social responsibility to work for equity and well-being for all people.

Describe your ideal student.

My ideal student is curious and ready to learn, and one who is looking for new ways to build bridges between their education in the classroom and the job/career path they will eventually take. I like to work with students and see them develop a research idea, then take it all the way through to a finished project.

Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is …

The Health Sciences Campus, where the College of Public Health is located, is really beautiful and perfectly situated in Normaltown, which is one of my favorite parts of Athens. I love being there and walking to get coffee or lunch nearby. In general, we have a beautiful campus, so I enjoy it no matter where I am!

Beyond the UGA campus, I like to …

I love spending time with my husband, Clayton, and our 6-month-old daughter, Bonnie. We love to take walks together and enjoy all the good food and music that Athens has to offer. I also like to drink espresso at local coffee shops and go thrift shopping.

Community/civic involvement includes …

I have enjoyed serving as principal investigator of the Athens Wellbeing Project (AWP), a collaboration among community stakeholders to collect and use data to guide local public policy. Working with Drs. Jerry Shannon (Franklin College of Arts and Sciences) and Amanda Abraham (SPIA), as well as many community leaders and organizations in Athens-Clarke County has taught me a tremendous amount about community work and the application of academic skills to community work.

This spring, I am excited to dance in Project Safe’s Dancing with the Athens Stars with Seth Hendershot; we will be tap dancing to raise money for Project Safe.

Favorite book/movie (and why)?

I love old movies; some favorites are “His Girl Friday” and Frank Capra’s “Arsenic and Old Lace” (both with Cary Grant). I have been tap dancing since I was 4, and so I also love movie musicals with tap dance scenes (Gene Kelly in “Summer Stock” is a favorite).

Since I was a child, I have loved any books on time travel. A life-long favorite is Madeleine L’Engle and her “Time Quintet” series.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I love this town and my husband and I now consider it home—and it’s great to be a Georgia Bulldog!

– Posted February 19, 2018

Originally published February 18, 2018 for UGA’s Focus On Faculty feature: