When I first began at Georgia State University as a geography major some two years ago, I would have never imagined how both academically and socially involved I would become with the university. Georgia State has gone from being a crossroad in my life to a major stepping stone that has taught me so much more than just abstract theories that relate to Geography. The university has given me the opportunity to immerse myself in a diverse array of environments, all offering their unique lessons and guides. With every intersection I cross, both literally and metaphorically, I always learn something new that I can apply the very next instant.

Much of the geography program at Georgia State University includes requirements from a diverse range of departments throughout the School of Arts and Sciences and other schools in the university. This unique curriculum has allowed me to process various phenomena across multiple disciplines, and is a process that has stimulated tremendous growth and sculpting. Being encouraged to adopt a multidisciplinary approach and perspective has taught me to think more critically about how geography plays into everyday life..

Too many discussions, formal and informal alike, ignore geography’s role in shaping events and trends. Whether it’s the more obvious, such as noticing a given budget for rent only goes so far in certain neighborhoods, to the more complex realities of globalization, geography is playing a role that affects everyone. When considering geography’s numerous intersections with other disciplines, the mental connections multiply. This academic training of broad, analytical thinking has taught me how to see a geographical component in almost everything.

When I started working at Georgia State University as a Student Innovation Fellow back in August, I was excited for the opportunity to flex my geography muscles. All of the projects that I am currently working on involve a geographical component that adds to the project’s larger goal. As a geographer with a natural curiosity, working on these projects has fascinating and a great learning experience. Being able to see all of the different components of a plan and listening to everyone’s ideas and what they’ve discovered is an actual learning experience.

The first project I began work on is the Planning Atlanta Photographs project, which takes archival photographs of Atlanta and determining where the picture was taken based on landmarks and other clues that are featured in the photograph. The process relies heavily on one’s background knowledge surrounding Atlanta’s physical history. In addition to drawing from my extensive background knowledge, a large part of geotagging archival photos requires an intuitive touch, especially when determining where the photo was taken and what the photographer was attempting to capture. Both of these elements play a huge role in how I know what was being photographed and where it was photographed.

Of course, as I learned quickly, no SIF is blessed with just attending to a single project. The university some years ago was tasked with developing a public facing map of a historic cemetery, located in the Flat Rock community just southeast of Atlanta. The Flat Rock community began as a maroon society in the early 1800s, and developed as a community as freed and runaway slaves alike moved into Georgia’s interior. As time progressed, much of the community and its origins were erased and discredited, leaving behind two rural churches that held the community together all of this time. The Flat Rock Cemetery is a primary anthropological tool that has the potential to capture and share the areas rich history and metamorphism it has undergone over the last two centuries, and creating a digital map that is both accessible and easy to understand is a major stepping stone in reaching its full potential.

Much of the community’s history has been neglected and forgotten by many larger institutions that exist, left only to be remembered through old documents and oral histories. Being able to map the Flat Rock Cemetery, and attach the community’s history to the people that lived there is central in creating a space that recognizes Flat Rock’s importance in our shared history. Many challenges have come up during the process, including being able to actually visit the cemetery (which rest in-between dense forest and urban sprawl) and organizing historical documents to be included as a part of the cemetery map. None of these obstacles, however, have deterred the steady pace my team and I have in developing a documented history and accompanying map.

All of these projects and the various others I have mentioned begin in one particular area of study and cross into geography. Whether it’s spending hours gazing at multiple historical photos and creating spatial connections across various maps or geotagging oral histories, there is a geographical element at work. That’s what’s most exciting about working for Georgia State University as a Student Innovation Fellow; you get to see first-hand how ideas come together and get shaped into the projects that I am writing about now.