Workshop Kicks Off Joint, Interdisciplinary Public Interest Technology Fellowship Program

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Georgia Institute of Technology's College of Computing and Georgia State University’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies recently hosted a half-day workshop to kick off their new collaborative research fellowship. The Southeast Region Public Interest Technology Fellows Program will pair social scientists from Georgia State with technologists from Georgia Tech to address social challenges through computing. The program is part of Georgia Tech's new Center for Computing and Society.

Around 40 faculty members and graduate students participated in the January 9 workshop at the Institute for People and Technology to meet potential collaborators, learn more about each other’s research, and explore ideas for joint projects in public interest technology.

Ellen Zegura, the Stephen Fleming Chair in Telecommunications at Georgia Tech’s School of Computer Science and fellowship program co-lead, opened the workshop. She presented examples of Georgia Tech’s current work in public interest technology – projects that examine topics like the implications of smart technology in public housing and deciphering hate symbols on social media.

“This [workshop] is meant to jumpstart the conversation for some interesting funding proposals to be written,” Zegura said. “This topic calls for disciplinary expertise that we have in spades at both Georgia Tech and Georgia State. This work is really calling for this type of partnership.”

Georgia State’s Susan M. Snyder, assistant professor in the School of Social Work, and Scott Jacques, associate professor in the Department of Criminal Justice & Criminology, co-organized the workshop. They presented overviews of the university’s research in child welfare, education, homelessness, health disparities, poverty, and criminal justice and how these areas connect to technology.

Together with Georgia Tech’s expertise in computing, Jacques said Georgia State offers valuable knowledge in addressing the region’s pressing social issues. “Georgia Tech and Georgia State are the perfect match for tackling inequality, especially in the South. This is the kind of collaboration that our state needs.”

During a breakout session Snyder described as a “speed-dating round for research,” workshop participants presented their individual research strengths and areas where they could use more expertise.

Next, in teams, the researchers will write seed grant proposals for their projects, which will be funded with mini-grants. At the end of the two-semester program, the teams will present their collaborative projects during a public showcase.

About the Fellowship Program

In 2018, the Ford Foundation and New America formed the Public Interest Technology University Network (PIT-UN). The purpose of the network is to encourage the development of education and research in "the study and application of technology expertise to advance the public interest, generate public benefits, and promote the public good."

Georgia Tech and 20 other colleges and universities across the country are charter members of the network, and in 2019 the institute received a $180,000 grant to develop a regional faculty fellow program in public interest technology. Sixteen faculty members—eight from Georgia Tech and eight from Georgia State—will work together in pairs to develop interdisciplinary projects addressing historic and ongoing inequity challenges in the southeastern United States.

The Ford Foundation, New America, and the Hewlett Foundation all support PIT-UN. The grant is the first of its kind awarded by the organization.

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Alyson Powell Key

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