Dr. LaValla Wilson has a vision to help end homelessness in Georgia by increasing access to college and vocational training for homeless and at-risk youth.

 

When Dr. Wilson had an idea to turn her academic research supporting homeless youth into a resource website, she was not sure what to do. However, she realized at Georgia State University, there were resources at her fingertips to turn her dream into reality. That is when she made a call and sent an email to the Student Innovation Fellowship Program.

 

The Student Innovation Fellowship (SIF) Program collaborates with community partners, government agencies, and for-profit companies to enhance learning and research at Georgia State University through the use of innovative technology. It allows students to develop consulting expertise and share ideas on emerging technologies and instructional innovations. Projects utilize digital curation, integrated marketing media platforms, web development and content, 3D modeling, and community outreach. The issue of homeless youth in the Greater Atlanta area was not new to Georgia State University. The Sociology Department through their Atlanta Youth Count Field School program studies the unique needs of homeless youth aged 14-25 in the metro Atlanta area.

 

Dr. Wilson is currently completing her final coursework in the interdisciplinary Master of Religious Studies program at Georgia State University that includes a concentration in Nonprofit Management. She was awarded the Student Innovation Fellowship (SIF) to develop a mobile-first website named Dream Machine for at-risk and homeless youth to have a resource and a mobile location to identify housing, vocational training, and college admission resources. The purpose of the application is to provide a roadmap for a positive and productive future through a mobile experience for a mobile population.

 

Pictured above: Graduate student team leader George Greenidge, Jr. and Wasfi Momen, Tabias Clemens and Lee Klarich were the SIF student team assigned to this project.  They have a mixture of social sciences, computer science and programming in their background to tackle this task. George Greenidge Jr. expressed that this was not an easy task. “We had to take our time to understand our target audience, and not just throw a site up. We wanted to make sure that young people that were the most vulnerable would use it and access it.”

 

From the computer programming side, the SIF team wanted to make sure that the information could be accessible by utilizing any mobile device. Wasfi Momen, a senior at Georgia State University who was also assigned to the homeless youth website project said that he never realized how difficult resources were to find for homeless youth. “Every college or non-profit organization has something to help, but it’s only a paragraph with little information or a hidden tab requiring too many clicks to get to. With Dream Machine, I hope homeless youth can get actionable resources to help them succeed when the chips are stacked against them”, expressed Momen.

 

The Dream Machine website has received significant support from the College of Arts and Sciences. Last year, the Department of Religion hosted a talk on campus with Dr. Wilson highlighting the research and the work SIF put into the site. Wilson during that session stated that she wanted to empower youth experiencing homelessness by providing a simple and concise app with instructions, information, and support that will enable them to plot a path to their dreams.

 

Wilson later “The Student Innovation Fellowship Program (SIF) Program helped turned my idea of an online resource application and website for homeless students into a reality”.

 

To find out more about the Dream Machine, please contact Dr. LaValla Wilson via email at lwilson83@student.gsu.edu, and check out her recent feature story highlighting how she’s helping break down barriers to empower at-risk teenagers.