Two Ivan Allen Students Invited to Join Prestigious Scholar Program 

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Ioanna Maria Spyrou snatches moments of quiet to work at night when her seven-month-old daughter is asleep. 

Marjorie Hall is taking a sabbatical from her job of 15 years to become a full-time student again.

And both women's hard work and flexibility paid off when Spyrou, a second-year Ph.D. student in the School of Economics, and Hall, a first-year Ph.D. student in the School of History and Sociology, were accepted into the highly competitive inaugural class of the Brooks Byers Institute for Sustainable Systems (BBISS) GRA Scholar Program. “I kind of rearranged my life plan for the next few years, a little bit,” said Hall, “because it seems worth it.” 

In Fall 2021, the fully funded two-year program will bring together seven Ph.D. students to “work, study, and train as an interdisciplinary team" to become the next generation of leaders in sustainability. Though they come from different schools at Georgia Tech, each student’s research is related to sustainability, so they will collaborate with each other and the faculty member who nominated them. 


A Different Voice 

Shatakshee Dhongde, associate professor of Economics, nominated Spyrou because of her curiosity, passion for her work, and the interdisciplinary perspective she will bring to the program.  

“I think one important strength — what I highlighted of Ioanna Maria's research — was that, in an engineering-dominated field, she's going to have a different voice,” said Dhongde. “She's coming as a trained economist; she's good with quantitative analysis, she has insights into how the data will look ... so she can be a good partner to someone looking at quantitative analysis in any type of research that they are doing in those fields.” 

Spyrou’s research focuses on developmental and environmental economics, studying how moderate natural shocks — such as a drought or an earthquake — affect children’s health and education in developing countries. She applied to the BBISS GRA Scholar Program because of its focus on real-world policy applications. Her goal is to have an impact and create change, “but to reach that policymaking,” said Spyrou, “you need all of that research to be strong and solid.”  


Looking Back to Move Forward 

Hall is also interested in real-world policymaking, but as a historian, she’s using lessons from the past to help shape the future. Her research examines how environmental science has shaped technology throughout history.  

“How do we manage to distill environmental science into policy in some way that then shapes change?” she said. “How has this process worked in the past? How have we made things more sustainable? How have we moved the ball when it comes to how we interact with the environment and how we utilize natural resources, and how can we use those lessons going forward to help us make better decisions?” 

Steven Usselman, the H. Bruce McEver Professor of Engineering and the Liberal Arts, nominated Hall because she is “a keen reader and analyst,” he said. “She gets to the essence of things and is not shy about offering criticisms.” 

Hall applied to the BBISS GRA Scholar Program because she knows how critical an interdisciplinary approach is to solving the world's environmental problems. Like Spyrou, Hall hopes that the new perspectives and diverse connections will help her change the world — no matter how small that change may be.  

“We are facing such huge existential challenges as a species, and my biggest hope is that I can make the tiniest of contributions towards it,” said Hall. “It's going to take so many smart people working together. I would like to be able to make a teeny, tiny contribution to what all of us are doing as humans to try to keep this planet livable and comfortable for the next generations.”  

Spyrou and Hall will join Bettina K. Arkhurst, Katherine Duchesneau, Meagan McSorley, Udita Ringania, and Yilun Zha in the inaugural Fall 2021 cohort of the BBISS GRA Scholar Program.  


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  • Created By:dminardi3
  • Created:06/14/2021
  • Modified By:dminardi3
  • Modified:06/14/2021