Fourth Smart Community Corps Cohort Launched

By Karen Kirkpatrick

May 23, 2022, 3:05pm EDT

Smart Community Corps (SCC), one of the Partnership for Inclusive Innovation’s flagship programs under the Student Engagement pillar, is designed to give civic-minded college students—graduate and undergraduate—from around the state hands-on experience working with communities in Georgia on projects to improve the lives of residents.

This year’s program, the fourth, launched in May and runs through the first week of August. The 33 interns were competitively selected from 140 applicants. They represent 11 Georgia universities and 17+ disciplines and will spend the summer working on 16 projects across the state as varied as understanding the technological needs and demands of the first-mile logistics industry in Savannah, increasing rural broadband in Griffin, and compiling data about the effects of establishments that sell alcohol in Albany.

In addition to the civic innovation work with the community, what makes Smart Community Corps unique is its pair model. SCC interns work primarily in pairs on projects, bringing complementary backgrounds, skills, and expertise together to learn from each other as they collaborate on the projects.

“The goal is to have two students from different universities at each location who can work together, learn from each other, and bring different sets of skills to the table to best help the projects.” – Kristi Kirkland, Student Engagement Manager

Julie Kim, associate professor and associate chair in Georgia Tech’s School of Architecture, is the project lead on the Flourishing Communities Project in Atlanta’s English Avenue neighborhood on the city’s westside. In the summer of 2021, Kim and her team worked to map the neighborhood, and documented everything from sidewalk conditions to property ownership. This summer’s project will explore options for affordable housing in the area, Kim said, with the goal of designing a sustainable, replicable affordable-housing prototype.

“The challenging thing, I think, with affordable housing is that too often what drives it is, ‘well, let’s just offer this housing for as inexpensively as possible,’” Kim said. “So [developers] try to hit a per-square-foot cost, because that relates directly to what they can sell the home for. What ends up happening is that lesser standard materials are [often] used, and the energy burdens and maintenance costs are passed off to the homeowners. This does not provide any kind of economic sustainability for our community.”

Kim’s project will address those issues, she said. “We’re really interested in demonstrating the positive capacity to introduce economically accessible technologies that fundamentally are aimed at lowering energy and maintenance costs on the homeowners. We’re really interested in building equity for the residents, understanding how to maintain a current historic fabric of a neighborhood, bolstering retention, stabilizing the community.”

This summer, two SCC interns will support the project: Dmitri Finch, an architectural engineering student at Morehouse College, and Joirdan Jackson, a computer science student at Clark Atlanta University. This is Finch’s second year with the SCC. He worked as an intern on a smart pedestrian planning project for Clayton County in 2021.

“I’m interested in civil engineering and structure and construction,” Finch said. “I feel like that inspired me to come back this summer to do something similar, not the same as last year’s project, but it’s something where we’re trying to make the community sustainable for everybody.”

For Jackson, the affordable housing piece was part of what drew her to apply for an internship with SCC. “I definitely like the Smart Community program, because I’m very much interested in sustainability,” she said. “Flourishing communities caught my eye, simply because it aligned with my career goals. I did some outreach with an Atlanta community that was low income, and they had issues with affordable housing as well. With that background and ability to directly help affordable housing with this project, I was very excited to be a part of this.”

It’s the first time since 2019 that the interns will work in person rather than virtually. An $8,000 stipend funded by additional contributions from Microsoft and Gulfstream help cover interns’ expenses for the 12-week program.

Smart Community Corps members will take part in weekly programming from Serve-Learn-Sustain, Georgia Tech’s initiative to help create sustainable communities. The virtual programs will cover sustainability and innovation, career development, writing, and mentorship. The Smart Community Corps already heard from Partnership Board Member and Senior Vice President USIS Data and Analytics for Equifax Peter Maynard, as well as Smart Community Corps alumni on advice as they start their projects.

“One week they have someone that comes in and speaks to them,” Kirkland said. “The next week they meet in a small group, so they really get to know each other, and talk about their internships.”

The goal of the program is for students to put the knowledge and skills they’ve learned in the classroom to work in Georgia to help create more sustainable and technologically advanced communities.

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