By Michael Davis (B.A. '03)
Curt Jackson, a Ph.D. student in history and graduate teaching assistant who leads the Krog Tunnel mapping project, uses a 360-degree camera to capture images of the tunnel’s graffiti.
By Michael Davis (B.A. '03)
Seated behind a desk within the four walls of a classroom isn’t the only way to learn. And sometimes the best education you can get comes from doing something yourself, perhaps failing at it, and trying again.
That’s why courses at Georgia State often extend beyond the building and the book.
The American Association of Colleges and Universities recognizes 11 High-Impact Practices (HIPs) it says are proven to lead to higher rates of learning success, “particularly among students historically underserved by higher education.” They include capstone projects or courses, first-year seminars, learning communities, collaborative projects, internships, undergraduate-level research, writing-intensive courses and service learning.
At Georgia State, students have ample opportunity to engage in each of these HIPs areas, as well as courses known as Signature Experiences that further elevate the learning experience. The Signature Experiences program, out of the Office of Student Success, was adopted in 2012 by the university’s Senate Committee on Academic Standards. Signature Experiences focus on field studies, internships, clinical rotations, service learning, research and other approaches that break from the norm and emphasize reflection on learning as critical to success.
“These courses are not only amazing opportunities in which students can learn in exciting and meaningful ways, but they are career-empowering with long-lasting impacts,” says Christy Visaggi, senior faculty associate for Signature Experiences. “Having experiential learning as part of the curriculum means that by the time they graduate, students from all backgrounds already have the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in their first jobs and beyond.”
Here, we take a look at a cross-section of courses around the university that give students a unique way to get involved in what they’re learning. They’re definitely not your typical “College 101.”
Through Georgia State’s Experiential, Project-based and Interdisciplinary Curriculum (EPIC) program, students can work on long-term projects alongside faculty, graduate students and other undergrads while earning credit toward their degrees.
Among EPIC’s ongoing Project Labs is Mapping Atlanta, which is creating digital records of cultural touchstones unique to the city. If a neighborhood, night club or retail center was namechecked by Outkast, it’s a datapoint on the online Rap Map. If it’s spray-painted inside the iconic Krog Street Tunnel, it’s being captured in 3D scans and 360-degree photos that document the ever-changing scene inside the city’s most popular underground art gallery.
Brennan Collins is the director of the EPIC program and associate director of Georgia State’s Center for Excellence in Teaching, Learning and Online Education (CETLOE). He runs the Mapping Atlanta Project Lab, which is also tracking the establishment and relocation of Southeast Asian restaurants around the city and looking back at the forced migration of members of an enslaved African family.
In the Krog Street Tunnel, students are using 360-degree cameras and Matterport 3D mapping technology, which allows for virtual tours, to periodically scan the graffiti-laden walls.
“The idea is they’ll archive this and eventually start doing interviews with artists and community members,” Collins says. “And with Matterport, what we’re hoping to do is sort of a virtual Krog high-rise, showing each scan of the tunnel as a different floor from a different point in time.”
Established five years ago, the Rap Map project is building an online database of the places around metro Atlanta mentioned in rap lyrics. From Walter’s Clothing to Stonecrest Mall, each pin on the map represents a location named in a song. The work of six well-known artists has been mapped so far, with 10 more soon to be added.
“Some of the questions we’re asking include, ‘How does this reflect the gentrification patterns and the migration patterns in the city?’” Collins says. “How are these poorer communities that have been historically where hip-hop artists have come from being dispersed into the suburbs?”
Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, shown here speaking with College of Law professor Mo Ivory and her class in 2019, received an honorary Bachelor of Science in Music Management this spring for his support of Ivory’s class and the Creative Media Industries Institute (CMII).
While law students are used to studying contract, constitutional and case law, some at Georgia State also study the biggest names in showbusiness.
In her “Legal Life of…” series, College of Law Professor of Practice Mo Ivory dives into legal concepts like client representation, negotiation and what it takes to be successful in the area of entertainment practice — all through the lens of a superstar’s career.
“It’s a different kind of law class,” says Ivory, who is also director of the Entertainment, Sports and Media Law Initiative at the college. “We have dream subjects for students to learn about.”
This semester, Steve Harvey is the subject under scrutiny.
Among the busiest entertainers in the business, Harvey is host of the game show “Family Feud” and its spinoff, “Celebrity Family Feud.” He’s also a motivational speaker, best-selling author, radio show host and philanthropist.
In the new series “Judge Steve Harvey,” the comedian wields a gold gavel and his own brand of humor as he decides disputes based on intuition rather than precedent.
Ivory’s class on Harvey is the third in her “Legal Life of…” series, which began in fall 2019 with a course on rapper-actor Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, a former Georgia State student and artist-in- residence at the Creative Media Industries Institute. Singer, business-woman, actress and “Real Housewives of Atlanta” star Kandi Burruss was the focus of the second installment.
“These stars give us an open door to understanding the legal aspects of their careers,” Ivory says, “and we couldn’t do it without them.”
Visual effects students check their work on a screen at the Creative Media Industries Institute studio.
Preparing a pipeline of skilled artists for game design, film, television and commercial work, Max Thomas’ Visual Effects for Games courses have students working with the latest virtual production technology.
While learning how to design and animate digital characters and virtual worlds, Thomas says students develop skills transferable to an array of industries and knowledge of the tools used by working professionals.
“It’s really all about real-time virtual production,” says Thomas, a lecturer in Georgia State’s Creative Media Industries Institute. “The higher-quality assets within games these days are mostly photo-scanned assets of the real world. I really try to diversify what I teach them in terms of application, where it can go and how you can use it.”
While students learn traditional virtual production techniques, such as capturing a real-world background and applying it to live-action scenes shot in a studio against a greenscreen, Thomas also requires them to create real-time productions inside fully computer-generated worlds.
“We make sure they have really good, high-quality data and that they’re really firm in their foundation on motion capture because we believe it’s really a key tool to unlocking opportunities for them in the professional world,” Thomas says. “It’s something we offer at CMII that sets the students apart from those at other schools.”
At the end of the semester, students have two fully produced short scenes showcasing their abilities to include in their portfolios.
“Even if they don’t find their way into a game company, they have skills they can use to build the things that they want to create,” Thomas says.
“I always tell students the reason you take a sociology class is because, unless you are studying to be a hermit or a cloistered nun, you will have to work with other people at some point in your life,” says Perimeter College sociology lecturer Hosanna Fletcher.
And working with others is a big part of Fletcher’s course.
Along with a broad survey of the discipline, introducing students to a range of topics studied by sociologists — from religion and family to culture and demography — Fletcher’s students also work on small-group service projects that benefit the Newton County community. This spring, students are helping to stock a local food pantry, tutoring elementary-age students and collecting books for the Newton County School System’s book bus.
Working with their classmates to coordinate efforts provides its own sociological lessons, says Fletcher, who is co-facilitator of the Academic Community Engagement program at Perimeter-Newton.
Among the requirements of each group project is that students work with people or organizations outside the Newton Campus.
The students growing food for Covington First United Methodist Church’s food pantry, for example, have to coordinate their maintenance duties and work with local suppliers for the materials they need for the campus’ raised-bed gardens.
Each of the projects, Fletcher says, is linked to sociological concepts studied in class and that must be highlighted in end-of-semester presentations.
“It’s intended to be group work so that there’s a product at the end, but it’s also intended to be group work in that they have to work together on something,” Fletcher says. “The purpose of the project is meeting a community need, so the challenge is: How are you going to get that done?”
Preparing a healthy dish is a weekly part of Jessica Todd’s courses in culinary medicine.
In Jessica Todd’s culinary medicine courses, students are learning to make healthy meals and getting to enjoy the tasty results.
Todd, a clinical assistant professor and the coordinated program director in the Byrdine F. Lewis College of Nursing and Health Professions’ Department of Nutrition, teaches both graduate and undergraduate courses.
Her graduate students will go on to become dietitians, working in health care settings to help patients manage diseases impacted by food. Students in the Culinary Medicine and Wellness undergraduate course, which is open to all Georgia State students regardless of major, learn how food affects their overall wellness and how to make healthier diet decisions.
Each week, students are given a recipe and its ingredients. After preparing and presenting an appropriately portioned dish, students get to share their work with their classmates.
At the end of each semester, undergraduate students are tasked with making an unhealthy dish — lasagna or macaroni and cheese, for example — into a healthy recipe by substituting ingredients while preserving flavor and aligning with the Mediterranean diet.
“They might swap out the refined elbow noodle for a whole-grain elbow noodle,” Todd says. “There are lots of things that can be done.”
Graduate students develop a patient-education program to address a given disease, complete with a recipe demonstration.
“I hope the undergraduate students feel empowered to be in charge of their own wellness and feel like they have the knowledge to build a healthy plate,” Todd says. “For graduate students, I hope they understand that working with individuals, you have to remain patient-centered, meet patients where they’re at and understand how to adapt.”
With the 24-inch Miller Telescope, astronomy students track asteroids across the night sky.
For students with an eye toward the heavens, taking Misty Bentz’s Astronomical Techniques and Instrumentation course means a chance to spend several nights peering into the sky.
Using the 24-inch Miller Telescope at the Hard Labor Creek Observatory in Rutledge, Ga., about 45 miles east of Atlanta, students spend up to three nights each spring semester — from sunset to sunrise — collecting observations of asteroids. From powering up the telescope to powering it down at the end of the night, students are fully immersed in the science of celestial objects.
“They’re learning the actual skills astronomers use every day to do our jobs,” says Bentz, a professor in Georgia State’s Physics & Astronomy Department.
While in the observatory, undergraduate and graduate students train the telescope on an asteroid and track it across the sky throughout the night.
After a litany of observations are cataloged, students take their data back to class and begin the process of interpreting it, trying to answer questions about the asteroid’s color, speed and rotation.
“As they tumble in space, they’re rotating around and reflecting different amounts of sunlight off each side,” Bentz says. “You can determine how fast they’re rotating by measuring how the brightness increases and decreases as a function of time.”
Bentz, whose research specialty is black holes, has used NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and is leading one of the first 13 projects to use the James Webb Space Telescope, which is expected to start sending observations this summer. For her course’s final, students have to develop an observing proposal not unlike the one she submitted to use the Webb telescope.
“This is the way professional astronomers get access to big telescopes,” Bentz says. “Being able to do that becomes really important if you continue on in astronomy.”
And whether students continue in astronomy — or any of these fields — they’ll know firsthand what it’s like to do the work.
Photos by Meg Buscema, Carolyn Richardson and Steven Thackston
Videos by William Davis (B.A. ’11) Riki Kujanpaa (B.A. ’17)