MACON, Ga. — From making improvements to Georgia’s farming and food systems to supporting artists’ programs to monitoring water quality in the state’s rivers, students in the fifth cohort of the Partnership for Inclusive Innovation’s (Partnership) Summer Internship program, formerly Smart Community Corps, are working on public innovation projects that address some of the most important civic challenges facing our state — and are branching out to solve challenges in other states, as well.
The Summer Internship is a program under the Student Engagement pillar of the Partnership, which is a statewide public-private collaboration to promote innovations that drive inclusion and growth to build economic mobility for a more resilient and equitable future. The internship program, sponsored by Gulfstream and additional funding partners, is designed to foster the next generation of innovators by providing civic-minded college students, both undergraduate and graduate, from across the nation with hands-on experience working on real-life problems supporting innovation work to create livable and equitable communities.
Macon-Bibb County Mayor Lester Miller welcomed the students and others to Macon City Hall in early May for the kickoff of the fifth cohort.
Students in the previous four internship cohorts were all from Georgia colleges and universities and worked on projects in Georgia only. This year’s cohort of 62 summer interns includes students from as far away as Oregon and Illinois and projects in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Washington, D.C., as well as in Georgia. The 35 host sites for 2023, represent city and county governments, higher education, nonprofit agencies, civic and minority-serving organizations, incubators, and startups.
State Rep. Dale Washburn (District 144) congratulated the students for their commitment to these important civic causes. He urged them to “follow something that’s honest and honorable and is of service to other people when choosing what you want to do with your life.”
The internships are a great place to start that journey.
“The 2023 Summer Internship cohort is the largest, most competitive, most geographically diverse cohort the Partnership has had,” said Cody Cocchi, the Partnership’s student engagement manager. “This cohort will have the most significant impact across the state of any of our previous cohorts. This class represents a diverse group of higher ed students from 25 universities, 8 states, and 14 countries.”
Manikandan Lapasi Parthasarathy, an intern who completed his first year in the master’s program for computer science at Georgia Tech, is working with Henry County to build a tool that can help local leadership make data-informed decisions on where to place freight infrastructure to improve life for residents in the region. For example, he is looking at “What kind of improvements can they make in which areas of the county? How will it affect the county as a whole? Which areas would be the best places to explore such improvements,” he said.
This project appealed to Lapasi Parthasarathy because “on the professional front, I’m good at building tools that translate ideas into actual instruments that we can use. I thought this would be a really good way for me to explore that further,” he said. “On the personal front, I like being useful to people.”
That’s a hallmark of these public innovation or civic technologies projects, they are useful to a broad swath of people, from the interns to the project site representatives to the people who live in the communities where the projects are based.
Wesleyan College in Macon, the first college in the U.S. chartered to grant degrees to women, has a long history of including the underrepresented. Two Wesleyan students are participating in the Summer Internship program for the first time this year.
“They’ve been connected with different organizations that are providing opportunities for our students around social enterprise,” said Wesleyan President Meaghan Blight. “It’s the best of both worlds — an opportunity for them to make a living over the summer that helps pay for their education while also giving them an opportunity to have workforce experience on something that’s driving their passion on the social enterprise piece, connecting with communities, and sustainability. Those are things that employers are looking for.”
Jordyn Hardy, a Wesleyan biology major, will spend the summer in the Okeefenokee Swamp. It’s an internship that plays right into her career goals. “I want to become a wildlife biologist,” she said. “I want to conserve endangered and threatened species.”
Wesleyan undergrad Savannah Pollock is working on a double major in biology and religious studies. She hails from Folkston, Georgia, the home of the Okefenokee, and is excited to spend the summer in the swamp, as well. “I really wanted to get involved in my community, especially in the black community in my hometown,” she said. “One of the big components of our hometown is the swamp. Being a part of that and trying to engage the community to be involved in it was something I was really interested in this summer.”
Victoria Ponce, a Georgia State University political science student, is returning for a second year with the Summer Internship. Last summer she worked at Neighborhood Nexus, an Atlanta-based nonprofit organization that provides data, tools, and expertise to help create more equitable and livable communities for all. This summer she’s interning in Washington, D.C., with MetroLab Network, an ecosystem of researchers and local government leaders who work collaboratively to equip cities with science.
“After working with Neighborhood Nexus last year, I realized that I have a passion for data and working with policy,” Ponce said. “Political science has a huge spot for data. I decided to go to law school and also to get a masters in working with policy. I think having this experience, getting mentors, and actually getting your hands on this type of work, gives you a better idea of the day to day.”
These paid internships continue through the summer, with a wrap up program in August, when students will present the findings from their work.