How SLS Influenced My College Career

May 16, 2022

Atticus Lemahieu is a graduating 5th year Environmental Engineering Undergraduate Student. He has worked with SLS as a student fellow since his second semester at Tech. Now, as he prepares to graduate, Atticus reflects on his time with the Center and how it shaped his college path.

Over the last four and a half years, I have had the incredible opportunity to work closely with SLS as a student fellow. In my second semester as a student, I began working with SLS after learning about the work they did while I was a senior in highschool. At the time, I was stepping into my curriculum as an environmental engineering student, making connections with the campus and surrounding community, and just starting out my college career. Now, as I am looking at “Graduation” circled in red on my calendar with less than a week away, I can do nothing but be amazed at the impact SLS has had both on the Institute and its community partners, but also my personal and professional development.

Truth be told, when I started at SLS, and even into my second year, I really didn't know what sustainability was. I knew that it was, in some way, related to the most basic concepts of my degree and that there was a component of “environment” involved; to me, working on sustainability efforts was the most obvious choice as an “environment”al engineer. However, through my engagement and work with the center, affiliated events and programs, and near daily work as a student fellow, I began to become more familiar with its roots.

The most pivotal introduction to sustainability as an engine for progress on the local and global level came through my time as a United Nations Millennium Campus Network (UN MCN) Fellow, where I was introduced to the SDGs and worked on a semester-long project to amplify at least one SDG on a local level. A few student fellows and I worked together that semester to amplify SDG #17, Partnership for the Goals, through the expansion of the RCE Greater Atlanta Youth Network. This network grew to include 7 Higher Education Institutions in the Metro-Atlanta area and provided a platform for students working on sustainability in their college careers to spread their efforts across the area. In this experience, I began to see that sustainability was not just about protecting the environment, but encapsulated SO many other aspects, each with the core root of driving social change for continued progress.

My familiarity with sustainability continued to be nurtured through my engagement with the SLS Internship Program, as a student intern through SLS with Groundwork Atlanta in the Summer of 2020. Through this internship, I worked with an Atlanta local non-profit whose work focused around environmental brownfield restoration with a subsequent community development component once the site was restored. In this particular internship, I was able to work on the community development plan of an abandoned, unregulated, and illegal dumping site in West Atlanta. I was further able to create a year long urban agriculture education program for middle school students. Through these efforts, the idea of sustainability as something which can aid in the equitable and sustainable expansion of communities was further developed. I began to completely break down my preconceived thoughts that sustainability was just an environmental related buzzword. Through this experience, I was able to see that sustainability can shape communities and social systems, and if done correctly, can shape them in a way which can benefit all stakeholders involved.

As my academic career continued, I began seeing connections between the work I was doing with SLS and its relations past just academic and community based programs, but into the industry and governmental sectors. In the summer of 2021 I was selected to sit on an advisory committee which sought to research and suggest program creation/expansion ideas around the creation of Georgia Tech as an Anchor Institution, rooted in sustainability and the SDGs, through the institute’s strategic planning council. Through this position, I interacted with industry representatives, professors, researchers, and institute leadership, all who spoke of how sustainability and the SDGs were paramount towards creating the next sustainable and equitable GT and Atlanta, and how the two were not mutually exclusive. This engagement echoed the work and involvement of RCE Greater Atlanta members, and further progressed my understanding that sustainability is rooted in everything we do as a people.

As my time with SLS comes to a close, I reflect on all the lessons and opportunities it has provided. I am one of the lucky thousands who have been impacted and shaped by its programs, ideas, way of thinking, and engagement with GT and surrounding communities. While researching Anchor Institution work at other universities, it became apparent very quickly that SLS is unique; no other university which I researched had a centralized space for sustainable and equitable community creation, and none had the level and amount of programs and initiatives which SLS does. To be able to have an office like SLS on a college campus like GT and in the heart of one of the most rapidly expanding, yet one of most unequal, cities in the US is truly a gift but also an incredible opportunity. I will be taking my lessons,experiences, and lifelong friendships from SLS with me as I continue my studies at Berkeley, and through my career in the environmental sector.