When I applied last year to the Student Innovation Fellowship (SIF) Program as a graduate student, I knew I was going to be in for something special at Georgia State University (GSU).  I perused the website maybe two years back when the program was initiated. I thought what a creative way for undergraduates, graduates and faculty and staff work collaboratively together in the field of research, teaching and technology. I wanted in.  So in last year, I decided to apply for the academic school year 2017 – 2018. I received the email in July that I was accepted this year as an Innovation Fellow. This is quite amazing for I just recently completed a fellowship with the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta examining urbanization and gentrification in Atlanta’s downtown and surrounding neighborhoods. It has been amazing year with the SIF program, let me tell you why through my year in review.

As a Sociology Ph.D. student, I felt that with many of these projects, I could add a human story to what is going in the city of Atlanta.  As a sociologist, I have focused my research on place, people and perspectives on how individuals view situations around them. According to the American Sociology Association, our field focuses on the scientific study of society, including patterns of social relationships, social interaction, and culture. With the many projects of SIF like Open World Atlanta and ATLmaps and other exciting projects, I thought I would be a great resource for the team.

The first week in September was quite interesting. The SIF Team members are from various disciplines and academic departments throughout Georgia State University. Our team members consist of undergraduate and graduate students from the History, Computer Science, English, Geosciences and many more academic departments. We are also organized by what we call “SIF Blocks” where team members get together twice a week for two to three hours to work on projects independently and collaboratively.  I thought this might be the most strenuous and unproductive time; however, I was quite wrong.  I found this time quite useful.  In the age of endless text messages, e-alerts, emails, and FaceTime meetings, this face-to-face time is crucial to the success of SIF community building and projects. Most of these times are quite creatively unstructured where if you need assistance from a team member they’re right there and you don’t have to shoot them a message or call them. Every week, I found myself looking forward to the SIF working time slots.

Apart from my personal orientation to the program, I decided to attend most of the group’s open public meetings about the SIF projects.  I attended the Unpacking Manuel’s Tavern Event, Atlanta Maps 2.0 Kick Off, and Atlanta Streets ALIVE. Each of these events represent the SIF program’s strong conviction of working closely at the heart of our engagement with the neighbors and residents of Atlanta. Known as one of Atlanta’s restaurants where police officers, politicians and community members have convened over the years as place to build community, Manuel’s Tavern serves as somewhat of a folklore museum of stories of Atlanta’s rich past. Unpacking Manuel’s Tavern shares the oral histories, pictures, and personal artifacts on the walls of the Tavern. The next week, I attended Atlanta Maps 2.0 Kick Off which was also held at Manuel’s Tavern.  This is a web interface where individuals can explore Atlanta through geographical and other data utilizing mapping software built by Emory University and Georgia State University research and library staff. This event highlighted the updates of Atlanta Maps 2.0 software version to researchers, community members, and government officials as well. My last SIF community event was Atlanta Streets ALIVE, sponsored by the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, held on a Sunday afternoon from 2:00pm to 6:00pm. Atlanta Streets ALIVE closed 20 blocks of Peachtree Street from Underground Atlanta to Midtown. The streets that were closed were filled with performers, pedestrians, break-dancers, bike riders, non-profit exhibitors and educational activities for families and friends.  The SIF team displayed Open World Atlanta which shows Downtown Atlanta as it was in the 1930s.  Community members got a glimpse of what Atlanta looked like before the MARTA rail line was established in the early 1970s.

The first year of Student Innovation Fellowship was quite rewarding for me.  I look forward to working with my fellow teammates, staff, and faculty at Georgia State University and the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) to continue to engage the Atlanta community in the great projects that we have to offer.