What a Difference 30 Years Makes: Collaboration at Georgia Tech

It’s easy to claim 1990 was a momentous year. The Berlin Wall fell that year. The Human Genome Project began. NASA launched the Hubble Space Telescope. And at Georgia Tech, three new colleges emerged: the College of Computing, the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts, and the College of Sciences.

The College of Architecture, as we were known then, welcomed these new peers with an overture of collaboration. Thirty years later, we have several jointly-appointed faculty with these colleges, as well as an impressive roster of shared academic programs.

As 2020 comes to a close, the Dean and John Portman Chair of the College of Design, Steven P. French, takes a moment to reflect on the difference between now and then. He looks back at the campus, the academics, and the leaders that helped make Georgia Tech and our brand of technologically-focused design education what it is today.

What was at Georgia Tech like in the early 1990s?

In the 1990s Georgia Tech started an aggressive building program that has truly transformed the campus.

Back then, I remember Tech campus looked like a collection of office park buildings floating in a sea of surface parking lots. Today, when you walk around campus, it is an inviting community with distinctive buildings and abundant green space. We have catalyzed the development of a world-class innovation district across the freeway in Midtown. In the Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design, we have the most sustainable building on any campus in the U.S.

As a professional city planner, I can tell you our campus is now a definite asset – not only to the students, faculty, and staff that do work here, but to the City of Atlanta as well.

Did you collaborate with the new colleges as a professor?

When I arrived in January 1992 four School of City and Regional Planning faculty had joint appointments with the School of Public Policy. Those faculty laid the foundation for a close working relationship between our two schools. We developed shared courses and eventually a dual degree program with Public Policy.

In my own research, I was a part of the Mid-America Earthquake Center.  I worked closely with faculty from Ivan Allan and Sciences as well as Civil Engineering a part of that effort.

Fast forward to 2020, and we have to shared degrees with the College of Computing; (we have a Music Technology focus in the Computational Media degree, and an Industrial Design focus in the Master of Science in Human-Computer Interaction) dual degrees in the master’s programs in City and Regional Planning and Public Policy; we have joint appointments with the School of Interactive Computing and the School of International Affairs; we developed close ties to the School of Psychology thanks to our research in evidence-based healthcare design.

How did the other colleges help Design?

The online Masters's degrees developed by the College of Computing have shown all of us what is possible in terms of online education. Those degrees have been one of the most important innovations at Georgia Tech over the past 30 years.

Ivan Allen has really highlighted the importance of the humanities at Georgia Tech. That has been positive in producing more well-rounding students and highlighting the applications of some of the more technical work that is done here.

The College of Sciences has set a high bar in terms of excellence and rigor of their research. They were even part of the team that recently won the Nobel Prize in Physics. The Covid-19 surveillance testing regime led by the College allowed Georgia Tech to continue a significant number of in-person activities last semester and will continue to be important next semester. 

Will economics and city planning gain traction at Tech?

You know, the first focus area of the Institute’s new strategic plan is “Amplify Impact”. I believe connecting our research more directly to policy at the state, local, and federal levels is key to amplifying our impact. 

I am very excited to work with Dean Husbands-Fealings as well as the new chairs in the Schools of Economics and International Affairs. The School of City and Regional Planning recently submitted a proposal for a new degree in Global Development with the Schools of International Affairs and Economics. This is just the latest example of our strong ties with Ivan Allen College, and those collaborations benefit our students immensely.

This is just one new way that we will be working more closely with Ivan Allen in the areas of economics and policy. Our Schools of Architecture, Industrial Design, and Music also work with the School of Literature, Media, and Communications on funded research and academic projects.

How will our colleges work on the new strategic plan?

Our new Strategic Plan calls on all the Colleges to increase the public’s access to Georgia Tech. The seven colleges will take the lead in providing access to Georgia Tech’s world-class educational offering.s 

The part our College plays in this endeavor is to provide holistic thinking and creativity -- these are the hallmarks of how we approach complex problems.  The College will continue to focus on creating a more sustainable built environment on campus and beyond. 

But we will also learn from our fellow colleges and incorporate new science and technologies into our designs. Our college is focused on user-centered design. Whether it’s a product we design, a building, a community, a city, an entire region, or a sensory experience, we are interested in improving the human condition. And at Georgia Tech, it’s natural that we use technology and research as tools to do that.

Media Inquiries

Ann Hoevel
Director of Communications
College of Design
E-mail Ann Hoevel