EI2 Asks: Defining Smart City Digital Twins

A Q&A with Georgia Tech’s John Taylor, the Frederick Law Olmsted professor and associate chair for graduate programs and research innovation, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Neda Mohammadi, city infrastructure analytics director, Network Dynamics Lab.

In March, three communities that are part of the Partnership for Inclusive Innovation’s (Partnership) Community Research Grant program were honored with international smart cities awards. Two of those cities, Columbus and Warner Robins, received the awards for projects that involve digital twins. But what, exactly, is a digital twin? And how can the technology be used to solve community problems?

Neda Mohammadi and John Taylor

We talked with John Taylor, the Frederick Law Olmsted professor and associate chair for graduate programs and research innovation, in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Neda Mohammadi, city infrastructure analytics director, Network Dynamics Lab, at Georgia Tech to get some answers. These are edited highlights from an interview.

Q: What is a digital twin?

Taylor: Basically, a digital twin is an intelligent, adaptive system that pairs virtual and physical worlds. In community development work, a Smart City Digital Twin (SCDT), like those used in Warner Robins and Columbus, pairs a real city to its digital counterpart to generate data-driven feedback loops of interactions between cities’ three main components: (1) human systems, which includes government, industry, and residents; (2) infrastructure systems, these are physical systems and the services they provide; and (3) technology systems, such as devices, sensors, and data analytics infrastructure.

Q: They’ve been used in manufacturing for some time. How is that different from a SCDT?

Taylor: They’re somewhat easier to implement in a manufacturing context, because everything’s under control, under a roof. They model all the different manufacturing machinery, and they use that to see when a part might need to be changed, when they need to do maintenance. And they can play with the system, using real time running data to see what happens if this piece did wear out. How bad would it be? They could either adjust that piece or adjust that machine or maintain it, whatever it might be, based on the scenario analysis.

Q: How does that translate to the less controlled environment of a city?

Taylor: It involves replicating multiple systems. For example, if a tall building is on fire, there will be multiple systems brought into play. First, you can see what’s happening in the city at a most basic level. You can see that there’s traffic building up, for example. The next level is why is it happening? And that’s where it gets a little bit more interesting. Most of the digital twin work that we’ve seen — that anyone’s doing out in the world — is to understand why things are happening the way they’re happening. But really, the value starts to unlock the third and fourth levels.

The third level is the “what if” scenario. In the context of a city, for example, in Midtown they’ve just installed new traffic signals. Hopefully someone tested that out in advance. But one “what if” analysis could be: We’ve got bad traffic in Midtown. What if we put these traffic signals right here in the Tech Square area? What effect will that have on the flows in the city? With a digital twin, you can know that before you install the lights. That is one of the big opportunities.

The fourth level is this idea that the infrastructure could actually start to intervene on behalf of the citizens. And so that example of the tall building fire, the traffic signals might preemptively allow the fire trucks through. But they could also do other things like make all of the signals around the building red, so no traffic is moving and there’s more space for people to evacuate the building. So that would be something that we might allow the systems to do for us.

Q: How is that different from, for example, a project in Valdosta that allows first responder vehicles to change the traffic lights so they can get to an emergency more quickly?

Mohammadi: A digital twin will update itself based on data that keeps coming in. So if you think about the interaction with the traffic signal, it doesn’t care about what happened five minutes ago, 10 minutes ago. At that moment, they know that the driver probably has a better situational awareness than the automated system. So they let the driver interfere and put useful inputs into the systems to make a better decision.

The digital twin is accumulating data as it comes because it is based on prediction. The definition of prediction is looking at past data and based on past experience predicting what’s likely to happen in the future. We know that time is a moving target. As we move on, things that happened in the past accumulate. There are more things that we know. A digital twin is really at the edge of this moving target.

Q: Tell us about the river safety project in Columbus, which uses a digital twin to create an alert system to prevent drownings in the Chattahoochee River. The city was recently named a Smart 20 award winner by Smart Cities Connect for the Citizen Safety Digital Twin project.

Taylor: A good project from our perspective involves a complicated enough scenario where multiple sensors are involved. With the river safety project, we had to understand and predict water levels with a water level sensor. We use visual sensing to understand if people were in the environment in a moment when hazardous conditions might begin to occur could we get them out of harm’s way before they get swept away into the water?

We had to build a digital twin of the entire river basin, so we would know just what the danger is if the water level rises this much. Are the islands that people are standing on before the water level rises going to vanish?

That one was particularly interesting to us. If you look at the smart city digital twin work we did first, it was related to energy consumption. We’re increasingly excited about having a more direct effect on people’s lives. This one is stopping people from drowning.

Q: Tell us about the digital twin you developed for the Warner Robins’ Citizen Safety Digital Twin for Community Resilience project, which deploys dynamic license plate reader cameras to help deter crime. It received the Intelligent Community Forum’s Smart21 Community Award at the 2024 Taipei Smart City Summit and Expo.

Taylor: This project is pretty complicated from our perspective, because we had to build a GIS [geographic information systems] map of the city. We also have to know where crimes have been occurring. We’ve got more than 10 years of crime data, including very recent crime data. We’re deploying sensors in part to deter crimes, but also to detect and collect more information about crime patterns. It comes down to taking the information about where crimes are occurring and coupling that with predictions about routes people would take if they did commit a crime, so that the car would come into view of one of the cameras. We don’t hide the camera, we put it on a very visible structure, where we predict, most likely the crimes are going to occur this week. We put this very visible thing to discourage people from doing anything, once they realize they’re being watched. And we found that it did in fact, reduce the crimes in those high crime spots by 20%.

Q: What are some other ways digital twins can be used by communities?

Taylor: We published something this spring, and we’re working on a funding proposal now about how ambulances move around during a period of inundation — coastal flooding, coastal inundation, or heavy rains. We’ve met with Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah about this. We looked at data in Virginia Beach to see if in real time as the flooding is changing, we could deploy ambulances in different parts of the city ahead of where they’re needed. It’s ambulance routing during a natural disaster event.

Q: Are there limitations to smart city digital twin technology?

Taylor: When we travel around and we present this, some clever student or faculty member will say, “Wouldn’t a great research project be to figure out how to build a central platform for the collection of this data or a standard format for the way this data should be sent so that all the systems can talk to each other?” And they’re right. It’s difficult to get the value across a whole city if you’re only looking at one system at a time. A future research topic is figuring out those data flows and centralization of that data.

 

 

Launching New Leaders

The PIN Leaders Program is working with teams from across the Southeast to foster inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystems and tech-based economic development

The Partnership for Inclusive Innovation (Partnership), a program of Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, continues not only to foster entrepreneurship, innovation and technology around the state, it also continues to reinvent itself — offering new initiatives that help level the playing field for innovation access and growth in communities. The latest iteration of its evolution is the PIN Leaders Program, which kicked off its first cohort in April with four teams.

PIN Leaders team members

The Leaders Program is designed to foster inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem building and tech-based economic development in small, midsized, and rural communities through a public-private and civic collaboration model. It builds on the Partnership’s mission of using public-private collaboration to create inclusive innovation. The program came out of the realization that many communities lack the human capital, support resources, and community-centered approach to build and grow thriving ecosystems in their regions.

“The PIN Leaders Program recognizes that developing thriving and sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystems requires increased collaboration across the public, private, and civic sectors,” said Jamal Lewis, economic opportunity manager for the Partnership. “By bringing together multisector teams to learn inclusive innovation and tech-based economic development best practices, we can catalyze the growth of innovation and economic opportunities in communities that have been overlooked in the past. The Southeast has a key voice and perspective to contribute when it comes to making innovation and economic success more inclusive for all.”

As Lewis and his team looked into the possibilities, they realized that no one was working to build teams of people. Innovation programs were focused on individuals. It is a space where they can make an impact, they realized.

The seven-month pilot program is unique in that a requirement is that teams be comprised of leaders from the public, private, and civic sectors. This type of cross-community collaboration will help drive inclusive innovation, a hallmark of all Partnership programs. The four teams developed their own projects and applied to be part of the program. Each team will receive in-person and virtual workshops on best practices in community-centered impact and tech-based economic development, peer learning, project coaching, access to project funding, and site visits. The goals are to develop a team of collaborative ecosystem leaders, learn best practices for building inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystems, secure funding, connect with local and regional teams to improve resilience and create economic success for all.

The teams and their projects are:

  • Albany, Georgia, will establish an inclusive entrepreneurial center in downtown Albany to address small business and startup ecosystem entry, develop skills and provide support for early-stage entrepreneurs and innovators.
  • Montgomery, Alabama, seeks to boost entrepreneurship in the city by enhancing its small business support center, the Small Business One-Stop Shop, which provides tools, resources, and social capital to enhance sustainability and growth.
  • Thomasville, Georgia’s project, Invest Thomasville (TVL), will increase access to capital for economically disadvantaged communities and help grow a locally owned community development financial institution.
  • Tennessee and Kentucky seek to unlock the innovative potential of underserved universities and innovators through the creation of a centralized technology transfer office, which will offer commercialization resources across the region and help develop an inclusive innovation ecosystem.

DeShay Williams, the executive director of Spark Thomasville, one of the team members, said, “It’s a very exciting opportunity for us to be part of this cohort to figure out how to work through this project, each step that it’s going to take for us to provide not just access to capital but on the other side of our community development, access to building entrepreneurs, developing entrepreneurs.”

Kenneth Pen, with the Montgomery project, is also excited about the opportunity to work with the Partnership. “Our reason for coming here is to open our horizon in terms of what we know, and to figure out what we don’t know. And to interact with other people who have gone through [similar] things, to help us brainstorm what has worked in their community, and also what could potentially work in our community.”

In addition to spotlighting the four teams, the kickoff event included welcoming remarks from Jonathan Corso, the Georgia economic development representative from the Atlanta regional office of the U.S. Economic Development Administration, and Stephanie Tillman, chief legal counsel, Flowers Foods and a Partnership founding advisory board member.

Following that, Partnership Executive Director Debra Lam interviewed Myla Calhoun, the former vice president of the Birmingham division of Alabama Power, and current president and CEO of Propel Education in Birmingham. The two discussed the state of innovation and entrepreneurship in underserved communities.

Partners in the Leaders Program include two Georgia Tech units: the Energy, Policy and Innovation (EPI) Center and the Enterprise Innovation Institute. Other partners are Georgia Power Community and Economic Development, the Center for Civic Innovation, the Urban Institute, the State Science and Technology Institute (SSTI), The University Financing Foundation,  New Growth Innovation Network, and Orange Sparkle Ball.

EI2 Asks: Harnessing the Power of Collaboration

a book cover
The book was released in Spring 2024, by the Institution of Engineering and Technology.

Empowering Smart Cities through Community-Centered Public Private Partnerships and Innovations was released in Spring 2024 by the Institution of Engineering and Technology. Co-edited by longtime colleagues Debra Lam, the founding executive director of the Partnership for Inclusive Innovation (PIN), and Andrea Fernández, managing director at C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, the book presents eight case studies from around the world that showcase ways in which cities can harness the power of cooperation to address some of the 21st century’s biggest issues: climate change, digitalization and innovation, economic revitalization, and social inclusion. Here, Lam and Fernández discuss the book in advance of a webinar that shares its name on June 5, 2024.

What is the difference between a traditional public private partnership and a community-centered public private partnership?

a photo of a woman standing in front of a building
Debra Lam, founding executive director of the Partnership for Inclusive Innovation (PHOTO: Daemon Baizan)

Debra Lam: Community-centered public private partnerships (P3s) are not just based on the funding, financing, and operating big public, physical infrastructure pieces, like bridges and dams. Traditional P3s are ineffective against the the backdrop of the rise of Artificial Intelligence, data, and virtual infrastructure, including how people interact between physical and virtual infrastructures. We mapped out different types of currencies that are needed for this new type of partnership. First, it’s not confined to a fixed, limited period of time. You have to go through a much longer period to really address these complex problems, like climate change. Second, it’s based on relationships. You need a lot more actors, not just public sector and private sector, but also civic society and universities. The biggest currency is relationships and building a coalition of sectors that all contribute.

a head shot of a woman
Andrea Fernández, managing director at C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group

Andrea Fernández: One of the things that separates these types of partnerships from the more traditional public private partnerships we’ve seen in the past for infrastructures is its stakeholders coming together, leveraging their resources and experience toward the common good. There’s a shared vision for common good, all around creating stronger, more resilient, greener, healthier cities or places or community. It’s a shared vision, which I think is really key, because these other types of partnerships are dictated by commercial terms, by transactions.

Why is now the right time to introduce readers to this concept?

Lam: There’s a virtual infrastructure that has come about, a technological revolution, so we’re not just living in the physical built environment anymore. There is a whole virtual infrastructure with data and innovations and technologies that we need to account for. The other big driver that sparked the shift is climate change. Within the confines of any one city or community, there have been a lot of shifts regarding the impact of these two factors and what must be done. Andrea and I thought there was a need for a new kind of public private partnership to address the interplay between the physical and the virtual infrastructure, taking into account not only innovation and technology but also ways to address climate change.

How did you decide which projects to feature in the book?

Lam: Not every case study that we looked at was a perfect example of a community-centered public private partnership, and that was intentional, because we wanted to show the process and the outcomes. There were some case studies that had very good intentions — they had all the people together and the vision, but they had difficulty with execution. So there were never any outcomes, but that to us was good, because that showed things that didn’t work and what you could learn from it. Then there were others that had a haphazard startup process but have been durable, and they have been building and improving upon that. What we wanted to show was a variety — at different stages. different development levels, different sizes, different geographies, and different politics — to give people examples to choose from what they see as most relevant. When you pull them together, the sum is greater than each of its individual parts, because you have lessons learned and best practices that can be used for future community-centered public private partnerships.

Can you point to a particular case study that changed your idea of what was possible in this area?

Fernández: One of the youngest of the partnerships we looked at is an initiative in the U.K. called Oh Yes! Net Zero, which is comprised of the Hull City Council; Future Humber, which is the marketing organization for the region; University of Hull; and Reckitt, a large multinational fast-moving consumer goods company that was founded in Hull and has a really strong connection to place. The partnership was formed because the Hull City Council had declared a climate emergency in 2019, but it’s not a huge city and it doesn’t have a lot of resources, and it was clear that there wasn’t a strong enough plan for how to get there.

Reckitt saw the need for bringing stakeholders together to create this initiative, which I would describe as an unincorporated alliance. It’s not a legal entity, but it’s an initiative to bring these partners together so that they could support businesses, including the small SMEs, in not just committing to net zero but actually helping them understand what it means, practically speaking, to reduce your energy use, for example. It was a collective effort, but very much with a strong private sector lead. In the book we reported they got 150 companies to commit, but I believe the number may be a lot closer to 200 now.

Climate change is one of those difficult challenges where you’ve got to set an ambitious target to reduce emissions in line with what science says is needed. In my work, we’ve got cities all over the world saying they need finance, that they need to know how they are going to deliver these ambitious targets. So I was just fascinated that this relatively small city could have such an amazing program to engage its local businesses and its local community. It shows what you can do when you’ve got companies and stakeholders that really care about place and want to do something for that community. You don’t need necessarily need a tremendous amount of resources.

What surprised you most in putting together this book?

Fernández: I think it’s great that three of our longest standing, very successful partnerships — the one in Medellín, Colombia, the one in Gauteng Province in South Africa, and the Malaysia Think City — are all from the Global South, dating back to 2008 and 2009. Leaders recognized back then the need to create these types of institutions — to invest in them, to have them funded — and those are three that get regular funding. It’s pretty impressive to see how long some of these have been around tackling inclusive economic and sustainable development.

Lam: A surprising feature for me was the role of universities in each of these different case studies. There’s a wide breadth of how universities can support these initiatives and the roles they play. Obviously, they’re an important research partner, and they can provide talent, as in students, researchers, and expertise. But having them as a community anchor is also important. They’re at the table because they care about the community, they want to invest in the community. That’s a very different role than what you think of as a university, which has typically been: “We find students and conduct research, but we don’t get involved in this type of stuff.” But it’s crucial that they have a role to play. It’s to their advantage if they are part of that decision making process.

Fernández: I work at a city network organization where we do peer-to-peer knowledge sharing, and that’s the beauty of cities and people who work at this level. They’re happy to learn from the lessons of others and to build on others’ successes. I think it’s exciting that this book is being sold to universities around the world, with the idea that universities think about how they could create these partnerships in their own community and tackle whatever issues matter to those communities. We want to inspire them, and part of that is showing the huge range of models available.

Anything else you’d like readers to know?

Lam: We practice what we preach. The chapters are all written by teams of authors, so there’s not one chapter that’s just one author. That was very purposeful, because we wanted to tell the story from the private sector and from the public sector, and you can only do that when you bring a group of people from those different perspectives together.

Communities Changing Lives

The Partnership for Inclusive Innovation (Partnership) at Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute has been using its Community Research Grant program to help Georgia communities with innovative technology-based projects that improve the lives of residents and visitors since 2020. In Warner Robins, crime has been reduced thanks to a digital twin project. In Columbus, the Chattahoochee River is safer for swimmers and boaters because of another digital twin application. In Valdosta, first responders now make it across town much more quickly, saving lives and property.

The Community Research program is a competitive grant process that supports teams of university researchers and local governments by providing funding, expert advice, program management, access to the Partnership’s Summer Internship Program, and a network of peers, on year-long pilot projects. Alumni cities and counties have successfully implemented projects and garnered additional funding and technical assistance to continue serving residents and meet community goals. Projects have also achieved national and international recognition and served as models for communities addressing similar problems.

This year’s Community Research projects, which are at the halfway point, have the potential to positively impact lives in equally important ways for Georgians in Atlanta, Brunswick, Milledgeville, and Statesboro. Recently, project leaders presented information on progress, challenges, and lessons learned to date.

Atlanta: Active Transportation

Sensors on the back of bikes help researchers in Atlanta

Across the city of Atlanta scooter drivers, pedestrians, and wheelchair users take their lives into their own hands — or into the hands of distracted drivers — every day. Atlanta’s project seeks to make roads safer for all users by studying transportation issues in four neighborhoods: Grove Park and Cascade II, on the westside, and South Boulevard and East Atlanta, in the city’s southeastern quadrant.

The goals of the Atlanta project — a collaborative effort that includes the City of Atlanta Department of Transportation (DOT), MARTA, Propel ATL, Georgia State University’s Micromobility Lab, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s College of Engineering — are to develop policies and initiatives that incorporate smart transportation technology and contribute to a cleaner, safer, and a more connected Atlanta.

Fei Li, of Georgia State University’s Urban Institute, is the project lead and presented at the event. To achieve the project goals, Li laid out the objectives of the group’s research: to understand the barriers to active transportation — which she defined as “human powered. So that may include walking, biking, or rolling, like scooters.”

Using a multi-pronged approach to get at the information needed, the research team will do neighborhood surveys; assess the current physical infrastructure, including sidewalks, bike racks, and more; track activity; and monitor air pollution in the project neighborhoods.

To date, data has been collected from light detection and ranging (LiDAR) equipment mounted to cars to map the neighborhoods; 25 students have canvassed 24 blocks to recruit participants and administer surveys; and 3 Fitbits and 2 Airbeams have been deployed to track individual residents’ physical activities and exposure to air pollution.

Working with DOT, the project has identified low-hanging fruit that can help improve mobility and safety. Locations for micromobility (bikes, scooters) device parking corrals have been scouted, which will not only keep parked devices off sidewalks and streets, but will also make the streets safer for pedestrians.

“We’re calling these quick builds,” said Ashley Finch, the Atlanta DOT’s shared micromobility coordinator, “because it’s things that we’re able to do in house, with our in-house maintenance crews and materials that we keep in our warehouses.”

Going forward, the team will continue to build community support for the project and seek additional funding to expand the project and implement the findings that will create safer neighborhoods for all.

Brunswick: Safe Water Together

Citizen scientists learn to test water

Brunswick and Glynn County on the coast of Georgia are home to beautiful marsh lands, historic sites, and popular beaches. The region is also home to four U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Superfund sites — areas of toxic, hazardous waste that can leach into the ground and the water – that are being cleaned by federal Superfund dollars with the goal of returning them to productive use.

The Safe Water Together project focuses on addressing these and other environmental health and justice issues in a region with socio-economic disparities.

“Toxic waste pollution is significantly impacting human health on our coastline,” said Asli Aslan, project lead, associate professor of environmental health sciences, and director of the Institute for Water and Health at Georgia Southern University. “One in every six Americans lives within a mile of a toxic waste site, and nearly 30% of those are minorities. Brunswick is specifically important in that sense because they have four of those [Superfund sites] and other hazardous waste sites as well.”

The polluted areas threaten rivers, ecosystems, water supplies, air quality, food supplies, and, ultimately, the health of residents.

A collaboration with Rebuilding Together Glynn County, the local school system, Georgia Southern University, and Georgia Tech, the project aims to develop solutions based on community experiences and scientific data. By utilizing advanced water quality detection technology, the initiative targets microbial and chemical contamination exacerbated by sea-level rise.

Working with 12 pastors in the Black and Brown communities of Brunswick, researchers have assembled a group of citizen scientists that will help measure the chemicals in water and determine community needs.

“One of the objectives for this grant is to build the foundations of a community-led citizen science group,” Aslan said. “Working with community leaders is extremely important for us because those are the liaisons that will be spreading the word, creating more awareness, and increasing perceptions and knowledge in the area about what these toxic chemicals may do for health for the communities. The other objective is to identify and disseminate [information about] existing water and health hazards by looking at the data. It’s not like a research presentation, but really taking this to the communities and working with them to see what that data means for them and how they can use it.”

To meet these objectives, the research team is setting up a water quality lab in Brunswick that will be owned by the citizens. The team will train the citizen science group to collect field samples, assess them, and develop protocols for ensuring the data is collected properly. The team will also work with citizens on creating outreach and education materials.

The project team has been approached by other universities and local governments for information about how to set up a community approach to improving water quality.

Ultimately, this endeavor seeks to improve water quality, address environmental disparities, and contribute to long-term solutions for a more sustainable and just community in Brunswick and Glynn County.

Milledgeville: Workforce Development Study in Solar Technology and Eco-entrepreneurship

A solar class meets

As technology changes, so do the skills needed to deploy those technologies. Nowhere is this more evident that in the shift around the world to green energy. Often the people left behind by these technology shifts are those who can’t afford or don’t have access to the training they need to work in a new sector.

To help combat the lack of trained solar technicians in Middle Georgia, the city of Milledgeville is working with researchers from Georgia College & State University’s (GCSU) Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, College of Arts and Sciences, and the College of Education, as well as Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina. That consortium of researchers aims to launch a no-cost certificate program in solar power systems combined with business education for aspiring entrepreneurs in the green energy sector. The program is making a special effort at recruiting disadvantaged and underserved individuals. The program aims to address the lack of accessible certification options in the middle and south regions of Georgia.

Hasitha Mahabaduge, associate professor of physics at GCSU, presented the project for the team.

“We, like most of rural Georgia, have seen our share of economic hardship,” Mahabaduge said. “We at Georgia College came together and discussed that we could use some of our expertise to help the city of Milledgeville to reverse the trend of this economic hardship. It would be a win-win situation for all of us.”

In addition to teaching people how to install solar panels, they are taking the training a step further, teaching participants how to create and manage their own business in the solar energy industry.

The certification course in solar energy and eco-entrepreneurship is free to all participants. The team has scheduled four cohorts of 10 students each for the classes, with people coming from as far as three hours away for the training.

In addition to training people for a new industry, researchers are looking at the economic impact of the program on the community and measuring attitude changes related to green energy by the participants. At the end of the four cohorts, students will be certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners, the established certification organization in the field of renewable energy. Finally, all the students from all cohorts will come together to install a solar project for the city of Milledgeville.

“We are teaching the basic physics engineering aspects of working in the solar field,” Mahabaduge said. “On top of that, we are providing them with the tools to not only work for someone else, but to start their own business.”

The project has received media coverage in Middle Georgia, which has resulted in a waiting list of more than 150 potential students. By providing hands-on experience and relevant skills, the project strives to build a sustainable, eco-conscious workforce and economy.

Statesboro: Improving Indoor Air Quality

Measuring air quality

Live, green plants do more than brighten a drab office. They can also help to improve air quality, making spaces healthier and more comfortable for the people who work in them. But how much can plants help with odors and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in older, government-owned buildings? That’s the question a pilot project in Statesboro is working to answer.

“We are spending most of our time indoors, but unfortunately, the current national regulatory standards are not protecting indoor environments,” said Atin Adhikari, associate professor of environmental health sciences at Georgia Southern University.

In an office building there may be many indoor air pollution sources, including housekeeping practices, dirty ventilation systems, and water damage, which can create health problems for office workers.

“Unlike in our home environments, office workers may not have adequate resources for changing their indoor air quality,” Adhikari said. “In this project we are focusing on the application of indoor plants, which can be used for absorbing different types of gases. It’s not a new concept. NASA and some other laboratories already did laboratory experiments. But nobody applied the simple, green, and cost-effective approach in office environments.”

The project measured VOC levels in 16 public buildings in Bullock County, from office buildings to city hall to a fire station. For the study, six buildings were selected. Three are control buildings and three buildings had plants added. Students collect data at the buildings and care for the plants, which include bamboo, rubber plants, and areca palms, plants that have been shown to absorb toxins from the air.

An initial round of data was collected before the plants were added. After reviewing that data and measuring both data and perception of employees following the plant installation, the pilot project will wrap up.

“We will conduct statistical testing to determine the impact of the implant intervention on indoor air quality and parse it into the air quality,” Adhikari said.

The City of Statesboro is partnering with a multidisciplinary research team from Georgia Southern University and Fayetteville State University, in Fayetteville, North Carolina, to look at  both objective sensor data and subjective perceptions of employees on air quality before and after intervention.

The study involves active engagement with stakeholders, including students, administrators, and city employees and aims to improve indoor air quality for city employees and the larger local population, offering scalability potential, and serving as a reference for similar areas on indoor air quality evaluation and intervention.

Partnership for Inclusive Innovation director speaks at Congressional AI-Transportation roundtable

Debra Lam, (front row on the right, second from right) addresses the full U.S. House Committee Bipartisan Roundtable on AI in Infrastructure and Transportation. (PHOTO: Robert Knotts)

The Partnership for Inclusive Innovation (Partnership), a program of Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, focuses its work on improving access and opportunities for all Georgians. Its goal since its founding in 2020 is to drive innovation and create opportunities for all to thrive together as part of the innovation ecosystem., regardless of geographic, racial, gender and socio-economic status.

The U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure held a roundtable on artificial intelligence (AI) in infrastructure and transportation on April 16, 2024 where Partnership Executive Director Debra Lam was invited to speak and share how the organization is leveraging AI as a tool to bring innovative solutions in the transit space.

Lam also sat down with U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, the committee’s ranking member, for Q&A session on how AI can help drive innovation in transportation forward.

 

Below are Lam’s prepared remarks for the hearing:

Good morning, Chairman Graves, Ranking Member Larsen and distinguished members of the House Transportation Committee. It’s an honor to be here today to discuss the transformative potential of AI in Transportation.

My name is Debra Lam and I lead the Partnership for Inclusive Innovation based out of the Georgia Institute of Technology. Our mission is to catalyze and invest in innovative solutions that drive shared economic prosperity through public-private collaborations. Since 2020, the Partnership’s work has deployed millions in financial and social capital and catalyzed hundreds of projects with local governments, corporates, universities, startups, and nonprofits. The projects have created new businesses, increased jobs, and deployed hundreds of technologies and innovations.

In the realm of AI and transportation, we are guided by three core principles:

  • Community-centered problem solving: We believe in starting with the challenges faced by communities themselves, who best understand their needs. However, complex issues like transportation and infrastructure require a collective approach. This is why we form robust public-private partnerships, combining the expertise of multidisciplinary research teams to find the most effective tech-based solutions tailored to community goals. Whether it is AI or other future, unknown technology, it should be seen as one of many tools that is centered on solving community problems.
  • Innovation for all: We stand by the idea that every community, regardless of its size or location, can be a hub of innovation. Our objective is to democratize access to technology and foster an understanding of innovations like AI. This empowers communities to not just utilize technology but to refine and advance it.
  • A holistic view of transportation: Transportation is the lifeline connecting housing and employment. We are dedicated to ensuring that accessible and affordable transportation, especially with the integration of AI and other advanced technologies, is not a hurdle but a support system for securing employment and accessing homes.

Now, let me illustrate how these principles come alive in one of our projects:

Through a U.S. Dept. of Transportation SMART grant, the Chatham Area Transit Authority, with Georgia Tech researchers, is improving transit services in historically underserved neighborhoods. Piloting an On-Demand Multi-model Transit System (ODMTS) powered by AI, riders, including paratransit riders can use a mobile application to summon prompt and efficient transit service.

The AI-driven algorithm behind the service not only learns and evolves from increased usage but also guides the existing, professional drivers along the safest and most expedient routes. The project utilizes union operators and trains early career professionals as operators and maintenance personnel from the local colleges. Additionally, we are improving algorithms to optimize electric vehicle charging to increase operational efficiency and energy conservation.

This project stands as a testament to our approach, showcasing AI as a powerful ally in elevating and integrating transportation services to meet the needs of all communities.

I look forward to delving into these topics with you today.

Thank you for your attention and for supporting this vital work.

Partnership for Inclusive Innovation Smart Cities Projects Receive International Recognitions

Warner Robins, Woodstock, and Columbus, Georgia, recognized with smart community awards

Within hours in early March, projects from three Georgia communities that are part of the Partnership for Inclusive Innovation’s (Partnership) Community Research Grant program were honored with international smart cities awards.

Winners of the Intelligent Community Forum’s Smart21 Community Awards at the 2024 Taipei Smart City Summit and Expo

Warner Robins’ Citizen Safety Digital Twin for Community Resilience and Woodstock’s Smart Master Plan and Smart Corridor Study were recognized at the 2024 Taipei Smart City Summit and Expo with the Intelligent Community Forum’s Smart21 Community Award.

At the same time, Columbus was named a Smart 20 award winner by Smart Cities Connect for the Digital Twin River Safety Project. That award will be presented in May.

“These accolades are a testament to the Partnership’s pivotal role in developing, nurturing, steering, and funding these projects from conception to triumphant completion,” said Debra Lam, the Partnership’s director.

The Warner Robins project to develop and test a Citizen Safety Digital Twin for Community Resilience integrated a dynamic license plate reader solution with police department investigation practices to help lower crime rates in the community. Working with researchers from Georgia Tech and Middle Georgia State University, the Warner Robins Police Department used historical crime data to determine the optimal location and direction to place license plate reader cameras. During the six-month pilot phase of the project, the data helped recover 27 stolen vehicles and solve three major crimes — a shooting and two homicides.

“It’s one of the best investments I think we can make as a city because it brings the peace of mind of safe streets, safe communities, safe shopping experience. The fact that we have our flock cameras in different areas in our city with the smart technology to expand the footprint of our police department helps us solve crime and also helps deter crime, which is even more beneficial.” Warner Robins Mayor LaRhonda Patrick said.

The Woodstock project dates back to 2020, when the city worked with the Partnership on a master plan and smart corridor study to help alleviate the traffic and lack of parking in the city, following a doubling of the population since 2010.

In that first part of the project, the city collected data from GridSmart installations, which document minute-by-minute traffic and turning movements. In the second phase, interns from the Partnership examined the data to find ways to integrate it with previously collected traffic volume flows to show historical patterns. The goal is to determine the best way to amalgamate the data for use in making smart decisions about new transportation projects.

“Woodstock is honored to be among this diverse list of communities, and we are proud to represent the state of Georgia with fellow honoree Warner Robins,” said Mayor Michael Caldwell. “The city of Woodstock is committed to improving its citizens’ quality of life through smart technology programs. From transportation systems to innovative infrastructure technology, the city has been boldly pursuing the initiatives of its Smart Master Plan since 2020.”

The Columbus project’s goal is to make the world’s longest manmade urban whitewater course safer for swimmers and boaters. Scheduled and unscheduled dam releases have caused flooding, limited time for evacuations, and drownings. A digital twin created for the river allowed Georgia Tech and Columbus State University researchers to collaborate and develop technology that can predict changing water levels, detect humans in the water, and alert authorities.

“I think to win the award is awesome, but the impetus was to promote river safety and provide real-time SMART solutions that save lives,” said Dr. James Forrest Toelle, information technology director for Columbus consolidated government, and the project manager for the digital twin project. “None of it would have been possible without the tremendous partnership with Georgia Tech, the Partnership, and our local fire department.”

“It was an incredibly valuable opportunity for us to develop public safety Digital Twins together with collaborators in Columbus and Warner Robins,” said John Taylor, Frederick Law Olmsted Professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, “and it is particularly rewarding to see the research being implemented to help save lives and reduce crimes in real communities. These smart community awards are important recognition of the forward thinking vision and dedication to public safety of these communities.”

These three international wins follow the selection of Valdosta as a finalist in the 2021 World Smart Cities Awards in the Mobility Category for its Traffic Monitoring and Communication System to Improved Safety, Connectivity, and Efficiency project that has reduced the time it takes for first responders to travel the city.

“These projects exemplify the transformative power of technology and community engagement in creating safer, more enjoyable, and more resilient communities,” Lam said. “This remarkable success rate is a clear indicator of our role in nurturing a vibrant ecosystem for innovations—placing Georgia firmly on the map for smart cities.”

Partnership For Inclusive Innovation Welcomes Incoming Workforce Fellows

Event at Atlanta BeltLine Inc. celebrates outgoing cohort of Fellows and welcomes new class

The offices of the Atlanta BeltLine, itself a model of innovation, was the perfect spot to celebrate the Partnership for Inclusive Innovation’s (Partnership) PIN Fellowship, with an opening ceremony event that kicked off the Fellowship’s second year in operation, recognized the work of the outgoing class, and welcomed the next cohort into the program.

Event participants at the Atlanta BeltLine Inc.

Kara Lively, director of economic development for Atlanta BeltLine Inc., welcomed people to the offices and the event and discussed why she views the PIN Fellowship program as important to the BeltLine.

“A big part of why we’re a part of this initiative is our last pillar is innovation, specifically around smart cities and digital equity,” Lively said. “We want to be a testing ground for innovation in our city and a place where we can help grow the next generation of our workforce.”

“We define inclusive innovation as increasing access and opportunities for everyone to innovate,” Debra Lam, the Partnership’s executive director, said. “That innovation is not just an end state, but a real way to make the change that we want to see in terms of improving the human condition.”

The PIN Fellowship program supports that mission by working to identify and empower the next generation of innovative leaders in Georgia and the Southeast. The Fellowship places early career professionals into two public-private sector, six-month rotations that support corporate/startup and public/nonprofit projects in the same industry (AI manufacturing, IT/cybersecurity, cleantech, and supply chain). The projects are dedicated to advancing innovation and technology, while furthering economic opportunity for the Fellows themselves.

The program started in 2023, with two cohorts of Fellows working for companies and organizations including Cox Enterprises, the Atlanta BeltLine Inc., Georgia Tech, Park Pride, Freudenberg NOK, Microsoft, Fulton County government, and others.

The PIN Fellowship opening ceremony provided an opportunity for the first Fellows, who graduated from the program in 2023, to share their experiences and give advice to incoming Fellows.

“I would say the best thing about the PIN Fellowship was that we were able to get so many different experiences within a one-year period,” Sruthi Kumar, a Fellowship alum, said. Kumar worked at Cox Enterprises and Georgia Tech.

Following her Fellowship, Cox hired Kumar as part of its LEAD program, a rotational, leadership development program that introduces young professionals to different departments within the company. It’s a position she says she would not have gotten without the PIN Fellowship.

“The PIN fellows that we’ve had [at Cox], have really supported our fundamental programs on recycling and reducing our carbon footprint,” said Clarence Jackson, senior director of sustainable supply chain and business operations at Cox. “We’ve worked hard to get them involved and to support our programs directly.”

Noah McQueen, another Fellowship alum, worked last year at Microsoft and at the Atlanta BeltLine. “The most beneficial thing I believe about the PIN Fellowship is we got a chance to grow and explore and develop as young leaders in a professional space,” McQueen said. “I love the diversity of the public and private experience. You get the full scope of all the things that you can do in your career and the possible avenues you can take.”

Isaac Harper, a member of the incoming Fellowship cohort, will work with Cox Enterprises and the Georgia Water Coalition on a project near Augusta, Georgia.

“I wanted to be part of the PIN Fellowship for the learning opportunities that it provides,” Harper said. “I think coming here as an immigrant from New Zealand, as someone who’s already graduated, I missed a lot of that pipeline that somebody local would have access to. Trying to build a network over here is a goal. And I think PIN is going to help me with that.”

The incoming cohort has three Fellows who will be working with the following employers:

    • James Gathings Jr. – Atlanta BeltLine and Honeywell
    • Isaac Harper – Cox Enterprises and Georgia Water Coalition
    • Israel Todd – Park Pride and Cox Enterprises

Learn more about the Fellowship and the workforce development pillar at pingeorgia.org.

 

Now accepting Summer Internship Applications

The Partnership for Inclusive Innovation’s Summer Internship
program is accepting applications through Feb. 11, 2024

What do mental health initiatives in Macon, the arts in Augusta, infrastructure in Albany, city data, and parks have in common? They are among the project host sites for the Partnership for Inclusive Innovation’s (Partnership) 2024 Summer Internship program.

The Partnership 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 Summer Internship program, formerly known as the Smart Community Corps, is seeking a record number of interns this summer. The public innovation projects address important civic challenges facing Georgia, South Carolina, and Washington, D.C.

“We’re continuing to grow,” Cody Cocchi, the Partnership’s student engagement manager, said of the upcoming sixth cohort of students. “Last year we had 35 internship opportunities. This year we have 42. That gives us opportunities for 84 interns, compared to 62 last year.”

The internship is an immersive 12-week program that pairs two students at each project site from universities and communities around the country to work on innovative public projects that foster economic mobility and sustainable living.

One other thing that will be different with the 2024 cohort is the opportunity for a student to build his or her own project, Cocchi said.

“Interns have to identify what the project is going to be, where their host site will be, and who the site supervisor will be,” he said. “They also have to find a peer to work with on the project. That’s a really interesting addition this year that has already drawn one application.”

Ornela Gjoni, a master’s student at Georgia Tech in city and regional planning, interned with Park Pride in 2023. Park Pride is an Atlanta nonprofit organization that works with communities to help develop neighborhood parks. Gjoni and her project partner worked on community engagement in Peoplestown, an historic neighborhood in Atlanta’s southeastern quadrant where Park Pride is helping to develop Four Corners Park.

Gjoni, who is from Albania, found the project helpful to her future career. “It was interesting to get a sense of what working with communities in another country will be like,” she said. “It was a taste of what I could expect after I graduate, if I’m able to find a job and do something similar.”

In addition to gaining job experience, the paid internships offer an opportunity to boost students’ professional level, expand professional networks, and take advantage of professional development programming.

Georgia City Solutions (GCS), a nonprofit unit under the umbrella of the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA), was so impressed with the two interns they had in 2023, that the GCS signed on as an anchor partner, which means the organization is committed to hosting interns for 2024 and 2025.

For the GCS summer interns’ project, which started in 2023 and will continue, students measured, reported and shared GCS information related to work the organization is doing with cities around the state on equity and inclusion, municipal workforce development, and youth leadership and engagement.

“The most important tip,” said Brian Wallace, director of content strategy and engagement for the GMA/GCS, “is to have a project ready to go, then let the interns be creative.”

It was huge, he said, that they had two very good interns, who could spend 12 weeks completely focused on one project. “We hit a homerun with the two interns,” Wallace said.

For most of the projects, the Partnership funds the cost of one intern – a stipend of $8,000 is provided – and the site funds the other.

“Of course, it’s on a sliding scale all the way to zero,” Cocchi said, “Because of the inclusive nature of what we want to do, we don’t want to not support organizations that can’t afford to pay for interns.”

Interested in serving as a project site? There’s a process for that.

“We do an open call,” Cocchi said. “We want the projects to be community driven, community-identified issues, with community-driven solutions. Then we recruit students so that they know which organization they’re going to work with.”

The program is open to organizations from around the state and higher ed students from any institution, any degree level, and any major. Project sites for 2024 have already been selected. Intern applications will be accepted through February 11. Check out the Summer Internships website for more information.

Association of Public Land-grant Universities to Give Public Impact Research Award to Partnership for Inclusive Innovation

APLU’s Council on Research Award is one of three
presented to research institutes of higher learning

ATLANTA — The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) has named the Partnership for Inclusive Innovation at the Georgia Institute of Technology the 2023 winner of its Public Impact Research Award. It is one of three announced by the APLU’s Council on Research (COR), which also included the University of Alaska Fairbanks (Advancing Diversity and Inclusion in Research Award) and the University of New Hampshire (Research Safety and Accountability Award).

Group shot student interns
The 2023 PIN Summer Internship Class, comprised of 63 students, supported 35 projects in 15 communities in Georgia, North Carolina, and Washington, D.C. (Photo: Chris Ruggiero)

“Congratulations to this year’s COR Award winners,” Howard Gobstein, senior vice president for STEM Education and Research Policy and advisor to the president at APLU, said in a statement. “We’re delighted to recognize their leadership and outstanding work done in advancing public impact research, diversity and inclusion in university research, and enhancing safety.”

APLU, based in Washington, D.C., is a research, policy, and advocacy association of more than 250 research universities and land-grant institutions in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. The Public Impact Research Award recognizes multi-project research efforts focused on community and public impact.

The Partnership, formed in 2020, is a regional public-private consortium tasked with leading strategic, statewide efforts to position Georgia as the leader for innovation, opportunity, and shared economic success.

APLU noted the Partnership’s work to foster collaborative projects across 34 institutes of higher learning, including historically Black colleges and universities. In 2023, the Partnership’s Student Engagement program brought 63 student interns from 25 universities across the country to work on 35 projects in 15 communities.

Other Partnership efforts have led to more than 45 multidisciplinary researchers focusing on community-driven needs such as increasing the use of data science at small and mid-sized farms across the state of Georgia to enhance production. Another project, in Valdosta, Georgia, led to improved emergency vehicle response timesthrough the implementation of traffic signal preemption technology. Overall, the $2.36 million in funding awarded by the Partnership to support projects has garnered an additional $17.3 million in funding from other sources.

“We are honored to have been selected for this recognition,” said Debra Lam, the Partnership’s founding executive director. “Tackling the complex challenges our communities face requires novel approaches to how we innovate. By leveraging the unique strengths of the public and private sectors, our model at the Partnership proves we can have substantive impact that promotes geographic and community inclusion and supports economic mobility for overall shared economic success.”

The APLU award is the second such recognition received by Georgia Tech. In 2014, the APLU named Georgia Tech one of four recipients of its Innovation and Economic Prosperity Universities Awards. Georgia Tech was selected because of its efforts through its Enterprise Innovation Institute, the oldest and largest university-based economic development organization of its kind in the country.

“Improving the human condition through research, and more importantly, applying those research innovations to solving real-world challenges, has been our core focus since our founding in in 1885,” said Chaouki T. Abdallah, Georgia Tech’s executive vice president for Research. “The Partnership is the embodiment of that mission and our continued commitment to economic development in Georgia and beyond.”

About the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities
APLU is a research, policy, and advocacy organization dedicated to strengthening and advancing the work of public universities in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. With a membership of more than 250 public research universities, land-grant institutions, state university systems, and affiliated organizations, APLU’s agenda is built on the three pillars of increasing degree completion and academic success, advancing scientific research, and expanding engagement. Annually, member campuses enroll 5 million undergraduates and 1.3 million graduate students, award 1.3 million degrees, employ 1.3 million faculty and staff, and conduct $49.5 billion in university-based research.

About Georgia Tech
The Georgia Institute of Technology, or Georgia Tech, is one of the top public research universities in the U.S., developing leaders who advance technology and improve the human condition. The Institute offers business, computing, design, engineering, liberal arts, and sciences degrees. Its nearly 48,000undergraduate and graduate students, representing 50 states and more than 148 countries, study at the main campus in Atlanta, at campuses in France and China, and through distance and online learning. As a leading technological university, Georgia Tech is an engine of economic development for Georgia, the Southeast, and the nation, conducting $1.45 billion in research annually for government, industry, and society.

About the Partnership for Inclusive Innovation

Launched in 2020, the Partnership for Inclusive Innovation is a public-private organization that was created to lead coordinated, statewide efforts to position Georgia as the leader for innovation, opportunity, and shared economic success. The Partnership’s focus pillars of community research, workforce development, student engagement, and economic opportunity are a powerful combination that provide technical and financial support to democratize innovation through collaboration. Since 2020, the Partnership’s work has catalyzed 100+ projects with local governments, universities, startups, and nonprofits. The projects have created new businesses, increased access to financial and social capital, and deployed more than 200 technologies. More information is available at pingeorgia.org.

Smart Community Corps Launches Fifth Cohort

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.

Cody Cocchi, the Partnership’s student engagement manager, back left; and Debra Lam, Partnership director, front left, with some of the Summer Interns in Macon

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.