Grant Funds Course Development for Public Service Pathway

The Public Service Pathway, part of Tech’s Serve-Learn-Sustain initiative, will train faculty on how to develop courses that connect academic knowledge to community challenges.

A new grant from the Commerce Club Foundation will help Georgia Tech students connect their work in the classroom with the Atlanta community, as well as enable Tech faculty, staff, and students to develop coursework and projects that bring Tech’s innovation to local organizations.

The Public Service Pathway, part of Tech’s Serve-Learn-Sustain initiative, will train faculty on how to develop courses that connect academic knowledge to community challenges and work collaboratively with communities to support their visions for social and environmental change. In these courses, students will have the opportunity to form partnerships with local civic organizations and support ongoing community efforts as part of their academic work. The Commerce Club Foundation will provide $200,000 over the next two years to support course development, faculty training, and related student activities. 

“This is really an outgrowth of a lot of thinking that has been happening at Tech about how to get students involved in the issues of Atlanta,” said Carl DiSalvo, an associate professor in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication who will serve as director of the Public Service Pathway.

A workshop each semester will help instructors and students develop their coursework and connect with community partners. The Public Service Pathway will also include the development of a Civic Innovation Prize to be awarded to students for projects that have made a measurable contribution to the community. 

Many faculty members at Georgia Tech already incorporate this kind of work into their courses, but the grant will help grow the pool of courses and, in turn, the number of opportunities for students to get involved. As part of the Serve-Learn-Sustain initiative, it will also help faculty and students link community engagement to sustainability.

“The Public Service Pathway is the first curricular initiative we are launching for Serve-Learn-Sustain, along with two foundational courses next semester on systems and community principles of sustainable communities,” said Jennifer Hirsch, director of the Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain. “Faculty, staff, students, and community partners who participate will be partners in helping us develop the direction of the whole program. This makes it an exciting time to get involved.”

For DiSalvo, who has been at Tech since 2007, incorporating public service and community engagement into research not only benefits the community, but also hones the skills of researchers. 

“It presents a unique opportunity to take whatever question you are asking out of the lab and into a messy, uncontrolled, possibly emotional environment,” he said. “It has really sharpened my research.”

DiSalvo’s research focuses on community-based design and looks at how to work with communities to help them better understand and use technology. On a personal level, he takes seriously the responsibility of being a public employee and improving surrounding communities. 

“We have an opportunity to really set the standard for what it means to be a technical institute for the 21st century. Part of that means excellence in our research and in our commitment to civic engagement and the public impact of our work,” DiSalvo said.

A call for proposals for the Public Service Pathway will take place each semester for classes or projects to be taught or carried out the subsequent term. A design workshop will follow for those who are selected. Courses will be offered in many majors, with opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students. Faculty, staff, or students interested in submitting a proposal for future semesters should contact DiSalvo at

Tech’s Serve-Learn-Sustain initiative launched this year to provide students with a multitude of learning and co-curricular opportunities designed to help them combine their academic and career interests with their desire to improve the human condition. It envisions Georgia Tech students who graduate prepared to use their expertise to create sustainable communities. The initiative grew out of Tech’s recent reaffirmation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

The Commerce Club, founded in 1960 to serve Atlanta’s corporate, political, and cultural community, established the Commerce Club Foundation with the distinct purpose of partnering with charitable organizations in an effort to identify, cultivate, and support emerging civic leaders. The grant to Georgia Tech is part of the Foundation’s inaugural sponsorship program.

"The Commerce Club Foundation is very excited to be working with Georgia Tech on its Public Service Pathway," said John F. Brock III, chairman of the Commerce Club and co-chair of Campaign Georgia Tech. "The program builds on the Commerce Club's historical commitment to civic engagement by reaching a new generation of community leaders."