2023 Cleantech Community Research Awards Presented

The Partnership for Inclusive Innovation awarded projects in four cities across Georgia

September 18, 2023, 3:09pm EDT

STATESBORO, Ga. — At a ceremony at Georgia Southern University’s campus in early September, the Partnership for Inclusive Innovation (Partnership) announced the winners of the 2023 Cleantech Community Research grants.

The Partnership is a public-private organization supported by Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute. The organization is designed to position Georgia as the leader for innovation, opportunity, and shared economic success, with the goal of making the state the tech capital of the East Coast.

The theme of this year’s awards, cleantech, represents a vital sector in terms of both the environment and the economy. The projects, in four communities from across the state, will benefit from teams of world-class researchers, program management tools, and strategic partnerships. The winners also receive up to $150,000 to fund the work.

Georgia Southern’s President Kyle Marrero welcomed the approximately 50 attendees to the program. Georgia Southern boasts research participants who are part of two of the four winning projects.

“We couldn’t be more proud to be part of this,” Marrero said. “I’m excited about the work that many of our faculty are doing and so proud of them and all of their incredible work.”

Statesboro Mayor Pro Tem Shari Barr also spoke on behalf of Mayor Jonathan McCollar. “The mayor, one of his favorite sayings is, ‘we are better together, people are better together.’ And I agree with that. I’m sure all of you do, too. That’s part of what we’re celebrating here today, that we are the Partnership for [Inclusive] Innovation. And that is a wonderful thing to be part of.”

The Community Research pillar of the Partnership brings together local governments and university researchers to tackle civic innovation projects that benefit the community, said Katie O’Connor, community research program manager. “This means getting the research out of the lab and into the real world,” she said.

The 2023 Cleantech Community Research grant winners are:

City of Atlanta: The project aims to eradicate barriers to Atlanta’s transportation network, with results that will inform policies incorporating smart transportation technology. The ultimate goal is to propel the city toward a safer, cleaner, and more interconnected future.

“We’re really excited to be among the many practical projects that we’ve heard about today,” said Karen Johnston, deputy director at the Center for the Comparative Study of Metropolitan Growth at the College of Law at Georgia State University, and one of the researchers on the Atlanta project. “I’m excited to begin our work on our project assessing infrastructure for equitable access to active transportation and multimodal mobility.”

City of Brunswick:  The project aims to improve water quality, address environmental disparities, and contribute to long-term sustainable solutions for Glynn County with a people-first approach. Local citizens directly impacted by poor water quality will be trained to test their water and share the results with the broader community to ensure a holistic grassroots solution.

The Georgia Foundation for Public Education (GFPE) is providing additional funds for the Brunswick project because it includes the development of curriculum for the local K-12 school district. GFPE is the philanthropic arm of the Georgia Department of Education.

“We exist for the single purpose of supporting educational excellence for Georgia students in the public schools,” said Jaclyn Colona, director of brand strategies at the GFPE. “What the GFPE does is important because we are helping transform classrooms and schools across Georgia. We’re giving schools and districts across the state the safety to test new ideas in a non-punitive way, and to ensure that their students have a direct pipeline from the school system to their workforce.”

City of Milledgeville: The Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Georgia College is launching a solar power system certificate program, with a special focus on providing technical training to those from underserved communities. Within the program, participants will also receive business education opportunities to equip them with the skills they need to become the next generation of change agents.

“We’re not creating new tech,” said Nicholas Creel, assistant professor of business law at Georgia College and director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “But one thing we are trying to do is get people trained in how to use the tech so we can increase adoption rates.”

City of Statesboro: This research will investigate indoor air quality in rural public buildings to enhance the working conditions of city employees who work in these offices daily. The overarching goal is for these findings to benefit countless others living or working in older, potentially dangerous buildings throughout the South.

“This project will help to gather data regarding existing indoor air quality issues that we have,” said Olympia Gaines, the Statesboro project lead and assistant city manager. “And also provide positive outcomes that will help us to make recommendations to enhance the overall well-being of employees and members of the public and visitors.”

The Partnership has funded 24 community research projects across the state, since starting in 2020. “These projects are supported by their communities as well,” O’Connor said. “Last year, for every $10 the Partnership spent on community research, $7 were matched in additional investments in the community either through cash match or cost share. The Partnership has made much progress in two short years. In addition to setting new programs in motion, we’re proud to have made a real impact in advancing innovation and inclusivity across the entire state of Georgia.”

Digital Twins

Two of the 2022 award winners made their final presentations about the progress they have made on their projects. Columbus, Georgia, received funding in support of building a digital twin— a virtual version of a real system, in this case the Chattahoochee River. The river flows through Columbus and is home to the longest urban whitewater rafting experience in the world. The digital twin will allow first responders to know who is on the river and who might be in trouble or in danger of drowning when water is released upriver and floods the rocks that entice swimmers and boaters. It identifies people, as well as boats, and can help responders know where to go in the water to rescue those who need it.

The Columbus project team was comprised of John Taylor, a Georgia Tech professor of computer and network systems, director of the Network Dynamics Lab, and National Science Foundation program director; Neda Mohammadi, a Senior Research Engineer at Georgia Tech; and Forrest Toelle, IT director for Columbus Consolidated Government.

The city of Warner Robins also presented its project, a digital twin applied to public safety that uses technology—in this case, license plate readers—to detect, deter, and prevent violent crimes. An algorithm is used to predict where violent crimes are likely to occur, the license plate cameras are set up in those areas, and local police are able to identify cars potentially used in crimes.

The project team also included Georgia Tech’s Taylor and Mohammadi, along with Lt. Eric Gossman, Warner Robins Police Department; Elaina Behounek, associate professor of sociology and criminal justice at Middle Georgia State University; and Angie Gheesling, executive director of the Houston Development Authority.

Following the Columbus and Warner Robins teams, Georgia State House Rep. Lehman Franklin spoke about the 2023 projects and why they matter, before introducing the project representatives.

“These projects will address complex and important challenges our communities,” he said. “Community research is a vital way that universities can serve our communities and advance important initiatives. The research and science taking place within our universities is made more meaningful when it is utilized to directly impact communities. These projects will advance innovation for both the communities that are announced today, and the communities that will benefit from this resource in the future.”

The program wrapped up with a video message from Georgia Tech President Ángel Cabrera, congratulating the winners and the Partnership for the important work they’re doing to impact the health and well-being of communities around the state.

2023 Community Grant Researchers pose for a photo.
Milledgeville team with Georgia College & State University and Millegeville City Manager Hank Griffeth
Georgia Southern Researchers posing at the Community Research program announcement event.
2023 Community Grant Researchers pose for a photo.
Researchers present their updates on the digital twin project
Katie O'Connor and Georgia State House Rep. Lehman Franklin at the 2023 Community Grants Award Ceremony

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