Faces of Research: Meet Joe F. Bozeman III

Joe Bozeman graphic

Through its interdisciplinary research, service-based learning, and innovative coursework, Georgia Tech’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering is a leader in systems-level thinking and technological innovation at the interface of built, natural, information, and social systems. The school aims to not only define the challenges and complex problems facing humanity and the environment, but to catalyze the solutions to solve them.

This installment of the Faces of Research Q&A series is with Joe F. Bozeman III, assistant professor in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, the School of Public Policy, and director of the Social Equity and Environmental Engineering Lab (SEEEL).

What is your field of expertise and why did you choose it?
I research and develop equitable climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies anchored in environmental engineering practice. My current focus areas are urbanization, food-energy-water, and circularity (e.g., circular materials and the circular economy). I chose this path because I felt that I could merge my lived experiences, having come from humble beginnings, with the technical aspects of engineering and public policy to realize more equitable infrastructure and policy outcomes.  

What makes Georgia Tech research institutes unique?
Georgia Tech’s research institutes have an existing system which allows for collaboration across scientific disciplines and with real community members. This is something that I think is uniquely beneficial for folks like me. That is, for my research to have real-world impact, I need access to faculty and community collaborators who share an equity-centered mindset. 

What impact is your research having on the world?
It has been wonderful to see my research enter broader community and academic spaces through mainstream media, scientific publications, regulatory deliberation, and even art. For instance, my work on U.S. food-consumption impacts — for example, greenhouse gas emissions, land, and water impact that come from what we eat — across sociodemographic subgroups (Black, Latinx, white, and socioeconomic status) was featured in a range of media outlets including NPR, the New York PostPopular Science, Free Speech TV, and political radio programs. Other aspects of my research have established international research priorities for cities, or urban systems, and even inform some of the music you may have heard on network TV and streaming services. My lab, the Social Equity and Environmental Engineering Lab (SEEEL), is exploring other ways to merge equity, engineering, and art in meaningful ways.     

What is the most challenging aspect of your research?
For SEEEL activities, acquiring and fairly distributing money, and time resources is the most challenging part. The concept of integrating systemic equity into existing engineering practices is new. This is exciting in many ways. However, it also presents challenges when it comes to developing standards around flexible funding access, community-based research and development, and establishing criteria to evaluate how well systemic equity is being achieved in various domains (e.g., within research labs, within governmental bodies, and for actual community members). Through these types of efforts, I hope to play a role in regaining some of the public’s trust in academia.

If you weren't a researcher, what would you be?
If I weren’t a researcher, I probably would have continued as a music sound engineer, producer, and performer. As I previously mentioned, I hope to leverage my experience in the arts to help translate some of the technical engineering findings into content that all of us can easily digest (e.g., songs, video, film, and physical art). I’d even go as far as to say that I think there is room to make the technical engineering findings, in their original form, more accessible to the broader public. This has compelled SEEEL to master the art of effective writing and presentation delivery.

What was the first thing you remember wanting to be when you were a kid?
As a kid, I first wanted to be a NBA player. Ironically, I listed becoming an engineer as a very close second. Back then, I believe I thought of engineering as a means to video game and sound design.

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