Faculty Fellows Program Focuses on Energy Equity, Environmental Justice, and Community Engagement

Jung-ho (John) Lewe (left) of the Georgia Tech Aerospace Systems Design Laboratory at Georgia Tech and Erica Holloman-Hill (right)

Jung-ho (John) Lewe (left) of the Georgia Tech Aerospace Systems Design Laboratory at Georgia Tech and Erica Holloman-Hill (right), a SCoRE adviser and chief envisioning officer/chief scientific officer of Ayika Solutions, a family-run environmental consulting firm that uplifts community-based climate change strategies, discuss their new partnership at the Georgia Tech Sustainability Showcase (March 2024) in a panel focused on community-engaged research, curated by the Faculty Fellows Program.

The Center for Sustainable Communities Research and Education (SCoRE — formerly SLS), in collaboration with the Strategic Energy Institute (SEI), the Brook Byers Institute for Sustainable Systems (BBISS), the Renewable Bioproducts Institute (RBI), and the Social Equity and Environmental Engineering Lab (SEEEL), launched the Energy Equity, Environmental Justice, and Community Engagement Faculty Fellows Program in November 2023. In this program, Georgia Tech faculty learn how to work with communities, bringing together their academic knowledge and the local expertise of communities that has been developed through lived experience and long-standing social action.

The inaugural fellows include 24 Georgia Tech faculty from five Colleges, as well as a faculty colleague from Georgia Gwinnett College and a partner from the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance, who are building relationships with each other and with community partners in the areas of energy equity and environmental justice. Since the launch, they have engaged in a wide array of events, including community benefit and development workshops, site visits to community-based organizations across the Atlanta region, and university-community gatherings and symposia.

The program is expected to result in both collective and individual deliverables. Collective deliverables include the development of network mapping tools to facilitate collaborations inside and outside Georgia Tech, a set of principles for conducting community-engaged research, a reflective essay on faculty training for community-engaged research, and ideas for future activities to facilitate university-community and interdisciplinary team formation. Fellows individually determine their deliverables, which run the gamut from exploring partnerships for a specific research project to writing a societal impact statement for a tenure package.

More broadly, the program aims to grow Georgia Tech’s collaborative expertise in community-engaged research by forming a supportive network of faculty interested in community-engaged sustainability research and education.  

Faculty Affiliate: Patritsia Stathatou, Research Scientist, Renewable Bioproducts Institute, Georgia Tech

Sustainable energy sources and environmental justice go hand in hand. Although such technologies aim to minimize environmental impacts of modern societies, without considering issues of environmental justice and energy equity, these solutions can inadvertently perpetuate disparities by disproportionately benefiting certain communities while harming others. Bridging the gap between technological advancements and community benefits is paramount to creating an equitable energy future for all.

This program provides a unique opportunity to explore these interconnections, enhancing my knowledge in integrating community values and concerns into my research on alternative fuels and renewable energy sources. I am particularly excited about the hands-on approach of the program, which emphasizes listening sessions and workshops, allowing fellows to gain direct insights from various stakeholders. I hope that, through active participation in these sessions, I can further my understanding of the challenges faced by local communities and incorporate these insights into actionable solutions in my research.

In my project, I'm in a group crafting a reflective essay about our experiences with Community Engaged Research training. Our goal is to translate the insights gained from this pilot program into a publishable piece. Additionally, I'm acquiring valuable insights into the development of Broader Impact Statements and Community Benefits Plans, crucial parts of proposals for securing federal funding from NSF and DoE, respectively.

Portrait of Patritsia Stathatou, Research Scientist at RBI and Faculty Affiliate

Faculty Affiliate: Sofia Perez-Guzman, Assistant Professor, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Georgia Tech

The fellowship program has been a fantastic experience. I never imagined how much I would learn from this program about properly engaging with communities. As researchers, we might think we want to hear the needs that communities face to provide them with solutions. That is different than the way community-driven research should work. I’ve learned that researchers need to gain the communities’ trust, be present and participate in their events, and, more importantly, work at their pace and for their interests rather than push our research agendas for our professional benefit. I know there is still a lot more I must continue learning, but what I’ve learned so far has been an eye-opener that is making me rethink how to approach my research and its social aspect.

My project focuses on the social performance of supply chains, and I am seeking to put more emphasis on the “social” part of my research by making it more community-driven. That is why I applied for the fellowship. I am advancing two current projects as part of the fellowship. One relates to increasing food accessibility to vulnerable populations via community-driven freight transportation solutions. I want to bring food closer to people and do it by co-designing solutions with the communities. The second project relates to forming a team to pursue research on enhancing community resilience to extreme weather events for the mobility of people and goods. The fellowship and a Sustainability Next seed grant from BBISS are helping me move forward with this project.

Faculty Fellow Sofia Perez-Guzman (third from right) joins SCoRE staff on a site visit to the ArtsXchange in East Point to explore mutual interests related to community resiliency (April 5, 2024)

Faculty Fellow Sofia Perez-Guzman (third from right) joins SCoRE staff on a site visit to the ArtsXchange in East Point to explore mutual interests related to community resiliency (April 5, 2024)

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