Elle Moritz and Jason Zhang, second-year students at the Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business, were assigned a project to study sustainable transportation in Budapest as part of their 10-week internship with the Leadership for Social Good (LSG) Study Abroad Program. At the time, they had no experience in sustainability, transportation, or urban heat islands (UHIs). By the time the program ended, they had delivered their strategic recommendations to the mayor of Budapest.
The two, plus Maggie Meller, a fourth-year student in the School for Materials Science and Engineering, were assigned to work on a transportation study for The Clean Air Action Group (CAAG), an NGO in Hungary that is part of a national federation of more than 60 NGOs. The CAAG is dedicated to creating sustainable transportation, energy policies, urban developments, and other green initiatives and has worked to make Budapest a more walkable and bikeable city.
They had no prior experience working with an NGO and did not know how to make transportation more efficient in a city with a population of over 1.7 million. Their experience with the LSG Study Abroad Program taught them not only about NGOs and non-profit organizations but also about UN Sustainability Development Goals (UNSDGs) and themselves.
“Most students join the program with little to no social sector work experience, but they bring valuable skills, curiosity, and willingness to learn new things to their projects. The main guiding principle for matching students with organizations is ensuring we can create value for the partner. The learning and growth opportunity for the students is available in all these projects - whether it is applying existing skills in a global setting or developing expertise in an entirely new field,” said Dori Pap, managing director, Institute for Leadership and Social Impact (ILSI).
The students worked with mentors in the CAAG and were tasked with studying a section of Budapest and creating an action plan to make certain streets more walkable and bike-friendly.
“The main belief of the CAAG is that everyone has the right to clean fresh air, and so the project we worked on was trying to improve the pedestrian and biking experience,” said Zhang.
The three students had to figure out how to conduct their project and ended up assigning numbers to streets and assessing them using a point system they created.
“They gave us an outlined section of the city, and then we just walked and used Google Maps to plot our destinations. I used my iPad, took the screenshots of the streets, and numbered them all. Then I made different annotated maps and color-coded them all. We just had to be creative,” Moritz described.
They walked and biked every street in their sector, measuring the distance between parked cars and sidewalks and providing examples of green spaces already being used in the city.
“Maggie would hold the measuring tape because we’d have to measure the width of the sidewalks. Jason would navigate, and I would have the iPad,” said Moritz.
They had to bike the same streets they walked on, and Moritz and Zhang both recalled harrowing experiences sharing the road with drivers.
While they weren’t working on the study, they were busy attending lectures from different speakers or visiting other European cities.
“I learned a lot about time management,” said Zhang. “We would have classes in the mornings, and in the afternoons, we would be free to do internship work or our homework, whatever else we decided to do that day. We had time to sightsee and explore the city, go to different countries, and ensure we completed our project.”
One of the program's perks is allowing students downtime to explore other European cities, and both Moritz and Zhang took advantage of the opportunity.
They liked that the program was small and that they could stay in one place, allowing them to get to know the city more. They also enjoyed seeing Eastern Europe and the beauty it offers. And they learned a lot about themselves.
While Zhang learned more time management skills, both learned the importance of communication, especially when working on projects with others whose native language isn’t English.
“I learned what type of a communicator I am, how important it is, and the best ways to communicate with others. I'm also an athlete, so I don't know many non-athletes, and getting to know people I wouldn't normally interact with was great. I made really good friends, and all of us in the program still talk pretty frequently,” said Moritz.
Meller learned more about not being afraid to explore new opportunities.
“The biggest lesson I learned from the program is to embrace other cultures and to not be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone,” she said.
The experience also allowed Moritz and Zhang to expand their academic goals. The program offers courses that can be applied toward a minor in Leadership Studies, and both decided to pursue the minor.
Moritz responded quickly when asked what they’d say to someone interested in the program.
“I would just say don't let expectations define what you think about something. I ended up loving what we did,” she said. “I loved our mentors, and we ended up doing something really cool; writing a formal report and emailing it to the mayor of Budapest. That was so awesome.”
Meller also enjoyed the project and the experiences she had with the LSG Study Abroad Program.
“I would absolutely recommend this program to others. As an engineering student, it was an amazing way to round out my education while gaining international experience.”
The early application deadline for the LSG Study Abroad Program is November 1, 2023.
For more information, contact Dori Pap.