October 26, 2016

Sarah Perkins is the Assistant Director of Civic Engagement in the Office of Student Engagement at Georgia Tech.  The Office of Student Engagement applies a student centered approach for students to develop and clarify identity, to understand others, and to promote social change, along with providing numerous civic engagement opportunities for students, faculty, and staff.  This summer, Student Engagement, in partnership with Serve-Learn-Sustain, launched EngageATL, a community-based service experience where incoming students were immersed in the Georgia Tech and Atlanta community with a specific focus on sustainable community-building through direct service with community organizations.

The transition from high school to college is simultaneously exciting and overwhelming. For many students, Georgia Tech is their dream school and they are ready to be a Yellow Jacket and all that that entails. For others, Tech is not their first choice and they hesitate to embrace the white and gold. Regardless of whether they fall on one end of that spectrum or somewhere in between, new students are striving to find a community of friends where they feel a sense of belonging and where they can connect in meaningful ways to campus life.

In August, 16 new students started their Tech journey with EngageATL, a new extended orientation program sponsored by Student Engagement and the Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain.  This three-day, two-night program emphasized Tech’s tradition of service and fostered students’ positive transition to college through programming specifically focused on sustainable communities. Led by a team of five student leaders, the EngageATL participants served with community partners on three projects during the program. Students worked alongside community members and staff from the Proctor Creek Stewardship Council and West Atlanta Watershed Alliance to conduct water testing in the neighboring Westside communities, volunteered in Decatur’s Kitchen Garden with Global Growers, and served at the Southwest Emergency Ecumenical Assistance Center (SWEEAC) Mobile Food Pantry with the Atlanta Community Food Bank. Additionally, they experienced the Atlanta Community Food Bank’s Hunger 101 educational simulation, which illustrates the challenges surrounding food insecurity. The program also included intentional workshops with campus staff from International Education, Westside Communities Alliance, Campus Sustainability, Serve-Learn-Sustain, and Student Engagement. 

EngageATL encouraged new students to orient themselves not just to Georgia Tech, but to the Atlanta community. One participant shared, “I feel as though I have more of a sense of community with Atlanta as a whole” while another reflected, “I'm more curious about all the opportunities available in different neighborhoods around Atlanta.” As we strive for excellence in graduating good global citizens, we must provide opportunities for students to understand themselves as citizens of Atlanta and citizen scientists who can make an impact beyond the classroom. We must encourage students to explore power, privilege and oppression and specifically as it relates to community service and community partnerships. By introducing topics like asset-based community development and promoting community service that fulfills a community need as defined by the community, students gain critical awareness about how they can match their interests and talents with specific assets and needs to generate meaningful and sustainable impact. As the program came to an end, it was clear that a new community of friends had been created and that the students were entering their college career with a new appreciation of sustainable communities. In the words of one participant, “It allowed me to see how sustainable communities are a must.”

If you are interested in learning more about EngageATL or additional opportunities to connect with sustainable communities through co-curricular activities, contact Sarah Perkins, Assistant Director -Civic Engagement in Student Engagement or the Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain.