Georgia Smart Community Growth Workshop Speakers


Pat Wilson  - Commissioner, Georgia Department of Economic Development

Pat Wilson was appointed Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD) by Governor Nathan Deal in November 2016. As Commissioner, he leads the state agency responsible for creating jobs and investment opportunities in Georgia through business recruitment and expansion, international trade and tourism, as well as the arts, film and music industries. Pat is responsible for leading the GDEcD team in planning and mobilizing state resources for economic development. Under Governor Deal and Commissioner Wilson’s leadership, Georgia was named the No. 1 state in the nation in which to do business for the fourth consecutive year in a row by Site Selection and Area Development magazines. GDEcD was also rated as the nation’s best state-level economic development organization by the International Economic Development Council (IEDC).
Mr. Wilson previously served as Chief Operating Officer of GDEcD from January 2011 until his appointment as Commissioner. As COO, he managed the daily operations of the agency, directed long-term strategy, managed the agency’s legislative priorities and served as the department’s liaison with the Georgia Congressional delegation and federal government partners. In addition, Pat served as Executive Director of the Georgia Allies.
Mr. Wilson joined GDEcD as Deputy Commissioner for Global Commerce in 2010. Prior to that, he served on the staff of Governor Sonny Perdue as the director of government affairs. In that position, he led efforts to promote Governor Perdue’s legislative agenda at the State Capitol and managed federal affairs for the state of Georgia. He previously served as director of federal affairs for the state, opening the Washington, D.C. office in 2005. There he worked to promote the state’s agenda with the U.S. Congress and federal agencies as the Governor’s representative to the Georgia congressional delegation.
Prior to his work in state government, Mr. Wilson was director of governmental affairs for Greenberg Traurig, LLP, in Washington. He served under the late Sen. Paul Coverdell and under then-Rep. Nathan Deal, now Governor of Georgia.
He is a Franklin Springs, Georgia native, and holds an undergraduate degree in political science with a focus on international relations from the University of Georgia. He and his wife Melissa and their two children, Padgett, 11, and Carter, 7, reside in Sandy Springs.

Tim Echols  - Commissioner, Georgia Public Service Commission

Tim Echols serves as a commissioner with Georgia’s Public Service Commission, elected to this statewide office in 2010. His primary job is energy regulation. When Tim took office, Georgia was 34th in solar power. Now, seven years later the state is 4th in the nation in approved solar. Tim's commitment to promoting clean energy has resulted not only in millions of solar panels being installed but an increase in electric vehicles with Georgia now ranking fourth in the nation in electric vehicles.
Tim created the Clean Energy Roadshow that has traveled the state every summer for the last seven years. This educational event travels to cities helping commuters, businesses and municipal governments evaluate alternative fuel for their transportation and residential use.
Tim also led the effort to provide the Salvation Army and two other agencies with $5 million to help low income seniors in Atlanta with heating assistance. That program continues today.
Tim has tried to lead by example. He added solar hot water heating to his Athens home just before being sworn-in. He bought a natural gas car, a propane van and owns two electric cars. Tim has supported and approved new carbon-free nuclear energy sources for Georgia that will provide baseload power for generations. He also supports recycling the nuclear waste and using the remaining energy resident in those fuel rods as the most sustainable course of action for the state and nation. Tim represented the United States at the World Nuclear Exhibition for the last four years.
When Tim is not managing Georgia's energy portfolio, Tim also has been at the forefront in fighting sex trafficking and advocating for the youngest of Georgia’s citizens. He created the "UnHoly Tour" which helps policy makers see first-hand the harms of sex trafficking. The tour is credited with rescuing two children in Atlanta.
Tim, who earned a Master’s degree in Non-Profit Organizations, considers the charities in our state a great resource. Tim founded “TeenPact” and grew the mock legislative youth program for teens to 38 states in his tenure. He continues to serve on the Board of Directors.
Tim and his wife, Windy, have been married 33 years and they have seven children and now live in Jefferson, Georgia.

Dr. Chaouki T. Abdallah  - Executive Vice President for Research, Georgia Institute of Technology

Chaouki T. Abdallah began his college career at the Faculté d’ingénierie (ESIB) of the Université Saint-Joseph, then obtained his Bachelors of Engineering (BE) degree from Youngstown State University in 1981, and his MS and Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1982, and 1988 respectively. He joined the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) department at the University of New Mexico (UNM) where he is currently professor of Electrical & Computer Engineering. Between 2005 and 2011, he was the ECE department chair and became the Provost and Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs of UNM between July 2011 and December 2016. On January 2017 he became acting President, then interim President in June 2017, and finally the 22nd President, a position he held until February 2018 when he returned to his position as Provost. Professor Abdallah was the first recipient of ECE’s Lawton-Ellis Award for combined excellence in teaching, research, and student/community involvement. Professor Abdallah also received the School of Engineering senior research excellence award in 2004 and was the ECE GardnerZemke Professor between 2002 and 2005. He received the 2017 UNM Staff Hero award for his “advocacy for staff during difficult financial times and for his support of Staff Council.” He served as director of ECE’s graduate program from 1999 through 2005. Dr. Abdallah was a visiting professor at the Universita Degli Studi di Roma, Tor Vergata, Rome, in 2005. He has published eight books (three as co-editor and five as co-author) and more than 300 peer-reviewed papers, generated more than $9 Million in external funding, and his current h-index stands at 36. Professor Abdallah continues to conduct research and to teach courses in the general area of systems theory with focus on control, communications, and computing systems. His research has been funded by NSF, AFOSR, NRL, national laboratories, and by various companies. He served as the general chair of the 2008 CDC, the premier IEEE conference in Decision & Control, which was held in Cancun, Mexico. Professor Abdallah is a senior member of IEEE and a recipient of the IEEE Millennium medal. Professor Abdallah is fluent in English, French, and Arabic.


Debra Lam  - Managing Director, Smart Cities and Inclusive Innovation, Georgia Institute of Technology

Debra Lam is the Managing Director of Smart Cities and Inclusive innovation for Georgia Tech, a newly created role to drive smart cities and urban innovation work across the university and beyond. Prior to this, she served as Pittsburgh's first ever Chief of Innovation & Performance where she oversaw all technology, sustainability, performance and innovation functions of city government. She crafted the city's first strategic plan for innovation, Inclusive Innovation Roadmap. She has been a receipt of various awards, including one of the top 50 Women in Technology nationally. She has worked and lived in New York, the United Kingdom, China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. She is a graduate of Georgetown University and University of California, Berkeley. 

Greg McCormick  - Director, Georgia Smart Communities Challenge, Georgia Institute of Technology

Greg McCormick is the Director of the Georgia Smart Communities Challenge, a smart communities grant challenge for the state of Georgia, championed by the Institute for People and Technology at Georgia Tech and sponsored and supported by a team of community organizations and industries in partnership with Georgia Tech. Mr. McCormick is a Senior Research Engineer at GTRI and holds an MBA, Master's, and Bachelor's in Aerospace Engineering from Georgia Tech


Nancey Green Leigh  - Associate Dean for Research, College of Design; Professor, City & Regional Planning, Georgia Institute of Technology

Nancey Green Leigh is the Associate Dean for Research in the College of Design. She develops and administers competitive initiatives to support individual and collaborative research by college faculty and affiliated researchers. She oversees the college’s seven major research units. She also is engaged in building research connections within Georgia Tech between the College of Design, other colleges and Interdisciplinary Research Institutes, as well as to external funders and collaborators in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. She is the author of over 50 articles and three books, Planning Local Economic Development, 6th edition (2017 with E.J. Blakeley) adopted for courses in a wide array of universities; Economic Revitalization: Cases and Strategies for City and Suburb (2002 with J. Fitzgerald); and Stemming Middle Class Decline: The Challenge to Economic Development Planning (1994). She was co-editor of the Journal of Planning Education and Research from 2012 to 2016 and was elected a Fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners in 2008.

John Avery  - Director, Advanced Technology Development Center, Georgia Institute of Technology

John Avery is a serial entrepreneur who was part of four startups. A tech startup veteran with broad experience in data and wireless voice technologies, John was co-founder and chief technology officer of Convergence Corp., a maker of software that connects wireless devices to the Internet. Amazon acquired the company in 1999. Following that acquisition, he joined Amazon as engineering manager. In 2001, John became an early employee of Mobliss, a mobile applications and messaging solutions company in the entertainment space. He later became the company’s chief technology officer. Japan’s Index Corp., a developer of mobile phone content and information and other media services such as video on demand, acquired Mobliss in 2004. He holds six patents.
Most recently, he was engineering group manager of Panasonic Automotive Systems’ Panasonic Innovation Center at the Georgia Tech campus. At Panasonic, John oversaw the innovation center’s development projects in next-generation automotive systems including, infotainment, bio-sensing, machine vision, deep learning, and heads-up displays.

Sarah Kirsch  - Executive Director, Urban Land Institute Atlanta

Sarah Kirsch is a 20-year veteran of real estate, land use, and community development. She currently serves as Executive Director of ULI Atlanta, one of the most active district councils of the Urban Land Institute (ULI). ULI is the oldest and largest network of cross-disciplinary real estate and land use experts in the world, with a mission of providing leadership in the responsible use of land and in creating and sustaining thriving communities worldwide. Under Sarah’s leadership, ULI Atlanta has been focused on advancing inclusive walkable urban places with a specific focus on housing affordability and the connections between transit and land use. Sarah began working with ULI Atlanta in 2012 as Director of Leadership and Livable Communities.
Prior to joining ULI, Sarah spent twelve years with RCLCO (Robert Charles Lesser & Co.), the nation’s leading independent real estate advisory firm. She is actively engaged in her community, currently serving on the City of Atlanta Zoning Review Board, the Morris Brandon Foundation Board, and as an elder on session at First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta. Ms. Kirsch is a native of Atlanta and continues to live in the city where she and her husband are raising their three sons. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Public Policy from Duke University’s Terry Sanford School of Public Policy.

Michael Watson, M.P.P.  - Sr. Advisor, Mayoral Engagement & Livable Communities, AARP

Mike is a Sr. Advisor on the Livable Communities Team at AARP where he works closely with AARP state offices, volunteers and key stakeholders to encourage towns, counties and cities to be more livable for all ages.
Mike leads AARP’s National Mayoral Engagement strategy which engages mayors and local officials to help drive greater impact in communities nationwide. He also provides strategic guidance and technical expertise to communities that are members of AARP's Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities and leads AARP’s Livable Communities grant program, the AARP Community Challenge, which has provided $2.1 million to fuel 217 projects across the country since 2017. Mike also works to engage mayors and municipalities on autonomous vehicles and future mobility options.
Mike has also co-produced three editions of the book series "Where We Live: Communities for All Ages," serving as Managing Editor for the 2018 edition. Prior to his current role, Mike served as an advisor to AARP's Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer, providing strategic advice and expertise on retirement policy, family caregiving and livable communities. Before joining AARP, Mike served as a lobbyist on Capitol Hill for an advocacy organization focused on issues affecting older adults. Mike holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Wingate University and a master’s in public policy from the University of Maryland.

Iris Tien  - Assistant Professor, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Georgia Tech

Iris Tien is Assistant Professor in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering. She has a unique interdisciplinary background that encompasses traditional topics of civil engineering, sensing and data analytics, signal processing, machine learning, probabilistic risk assessment, stochastic processes, and decision making under uncertainty. Dr. Tien has conducted research on wireless sensor networks in the monitoring of structures under seismic hazard as well as in gait analysis for the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. She holds a Ph.D. in Civil Systems Engineering and an M.S. and B.S. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from UC Berkeley.

Jason O’Rourke  - VP of Public Policy & Federal Affairs, GA Chamber of Commerce (Moderator)

Jason directs the Chamber’s internal think tank, the Georgia Chamber Center for Competitiveness, and also handles federal affairs. Prior to joining the Chamber, Jason worked as a consultant on political campaigns of all sizes in Georgia and Alabama. He was the Political Director of the 2012 Non-Metro Atlanta T-SPLOST referendum, as well as the campaign manager for the successful 2012 Georgia Charter Schools constitutional amendment. He previously served in the Washington D.C. office of Congressman Doug Collins, and began his career with the Council for Quality Growth. He currently serves on the Alumni Board of the University of Georgia School of Public & International Affairs.

GA Smart Community Leaders and Researchers

Randall Mathews  - Emergency Management Coordinator, Chatham Emergency Management Agency

Randall Mathews is an Emergency Management Coordinator for Chatham Emergency Management Agency (CEMA). During his tenure at CEMA, he has developed and implemented numerous plans and procedures and has also responded to numerous events including two hurricanes, several small tornadoes, a plane crash, missing persons, and hazardous materials incidents. His work developing and implementing a Social Vulnerability Analysis to prioritize damage assessments earned him the 2018 International Associated of Emergency Managers Technology & Innovation Award. He graduated with a B.A. in Emergency Management from Savannah State University (2014).

Kim Cobb, PhD  - Director, Global Change Program; Georgia Power Chair; Professor, Earth & Atmospheric Sciences; ADVANCE Professor, College of Science, Georgia Institute of Technology

Kim Cobb’s research uses corals and cave stalagmites to reconstruct tropical Pacific temperature and rainfall patterns over the last decades to millennia. She received her B.A. from Yale University in 1996, and her Ph.D. in Oceanography from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in 2002. She spent two years at Caltech in the Department of Geological and Planetary Sciences before joining the faculty at Georgia Tech in 2004. Kim has sailed on six oceanographic cruises and led five caving expeditions to the rainforests of Borneo in support of her research. Her papers regularly appear in high-profile journals, including 5 papers in Nature or Science. Kim has received numerous awards for her research, most notably a NSF CAREER Award in 2007, a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers in 2008, and a Sigma Chi Best Paper Award in 2013. She sits on the AAAS Climate Science Panel, the international CLIVAR Pacific Panel, and the international PAGES-CLIVAR Intersection Panel.

Russ Clark  - Senior Research Scientist, School of Computer Science, Georgia Institute of Technology

Russ Clark is a senior research scientist in Georgia Tech's School of Computer Science. He engages hundreds of students each semester in mobile development, networking, and the Internet of Things. He is the co-director of the Georgia Tech Research Network Operations Center (GT-RNOC), which supports research efforts across campus, and principal leader of the Convergence Innovation Competition, which pairs students and industry sponsors on novel projects. He is active in the startup community, including roles with the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps program. Dr. Clark received the B.S. in Mathematics and Computer Science from Vanderbilt University in 1987. He received the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Information and Computer Science from Georgia Institute of Technology in 1992 and 1995. For the years 1997-2000 he was a Senior Scientist with Empire Technologies, a network management software company.

Rebecca Keefer  - Planner, Clark Patterson Lee; Special Projects Manager, City of Chamblee

Rebecca Keefer, a planner with Clark Patterson Lee, has over 9 years of experience in the areas of community planning, design development, zoning administration, sustainability, and public outreach. Rebecca, a graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology, received her Master of City and Regional Planning degree, as well as a Bachelor of Science in Architecture. Rebecca works for the City of Chamblee as the Special Projects Manager, where she administers grants, manages planning projects, and oversees small construction projects.

Ellen Dunham-Jones  - Professor, School of Architecture, Georgia Institute of Technology

Ellen Dunham-Jones is a Professor in the School of Architecture and Director of the Master of Science in Urban Design degree. She is an authority on sustainable suburban redevelopment and a leading urbanist. Dunham-Jones serves on several national boards and committees, is former Chair of the Board of the Congress for the New Urbanism, lectures widely and conducts community workshops. In both her teaching and research, she focuses on helping communities address 21st century challenges including autonomous vehicles and coping with climate change and suburban blight.

Steven Carter  - Chief Information Officer, Technology & Communications, City of Albany

Steven Carter is a US Air Force veteran with more than 25 years of experience in the fields of information technology, corporate leadership, and developing high performing teams. He is an innovative thinker with strategic vision and is proving the value of Information Technology within the City of Albany, Georgia. In his capacity as CIO, he sets priorities and direction in the areas of project management, cybersecurity, network operations, telecommunications fiber infrastructure management, internal service delivery, applications acquisition and management, telephony and communications management, and business continuity as part of disaster recovery. This includes policy development, technical analysis, assessments, strategic direction, standards development, and supporting the business initiatives within each business unit. Prior to coming to Albany, Steven was at the San Diego County Office of Education in San Diego, CA as the Executive Director of Technology where he was responsible for the security, operations, applications, and communications networks that supported 43 school districts and more than 500,000 students. He has a diverse background building and leading both private and public-sector technology teams. He has an Master of Business Administration as well as a bachelor's degree (Summa Cum Laude) in Computer Information Systems with a minor in Business from Liberty University. He is also a Certified Government Chief Information Officer (CGCIO) through the Georgia Municipal Association and the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia. He currently facilitates several courses for local and state politicians, city and county managers, and technology leaders in the areas of cyber security and emerging technologies in governments.

Omar Isaac Asensio, PhD  - Professor, School of Architecture, Georgia Institute of Technology

Omar Isaac Asensio is Assistant Professor in the School of Public Policy. His research focuses on big data and public policy. He conducts field experiments and uses evidence from big data to make causal inferences about incentives and behavior in areas such as energy, transportation and urban sustainability. His research has been published in general interest journals such as Nature Energy and PNAS. He is winner of the 2015 ONE-NBS Research Impact on Practice Award by the Academy of Management ONE Division. At Georgia Tech, he is also affiliated with the Institute for Data Engineering and Science (IDEaS), the Strategic Energy Institute, and the Climate and Energy Policy Laboratory (CEPL).

Tom Sever  - Deputy Director for Traffic Engineering, Operations and Maintenance, Gwinnett County Department of Transportation

Tom Sever is a Deputy Director with Gwinnett County Department of Transportation. Tom graduated from Georgia Tech with a Bachelor of Civil Engineering in 1993. After working in the private sector, he joined Gwinnett County in 2000, became the Traffic Signal and ITS Section Manager in 2007 and was promoted to Deputy Director in late 2017. Tom oversees both the Traffic Engineering Division and the Traffic Operations and Road Maintenance Division. Together, these Divisions are responsible for the maintenance and operation of over 720 traffic signals, the County’s ATMS/ITS network, 2,600 centerline miles of roadway and over 2,500 miles of sidewalk and other associated infrastructure. He is a registered professional engineer in the state of Georgia and a member of Georgia Section ITE and ITS Georgia.

Angshuman Guin, PhD  - Senior Research Engineer, School of Civil & Environmental Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology

Angshuman Guin is a Senior Research Engineer in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering. He is a transportation system engineer with 12 years’ experience in freeway operations, intelligent systems, transportation safety, and traffic simulation and data management. Dr. Guin’s current research is focused on SmartCity mobility, connected-and-autonomous-vehicles, freeway operations, ramp metering, and traffic simulations and is working projects for the National Science Foundation, Federal Highway Administration, GDOT, and GRTA.

Community and Proposal Development

Leigh Hopkins  - Senior Project Manager with CEDR, Enterprise Innovation Institute, Georgia Institute of Technology

Leigh Hopkins, AICP, is a Senior Project Manager with the Center for Economic Development Research (CEDR) at Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI²). Leigh transfers her expertise in economic development research and analysis into practical solutions to complex community problems and helps create competitive climates for communities and businesses to grow and thrive. She has managed the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership (IMCP) initiative for the 15-county Northwest Georgia region for five years, and the development and implementation of the first Advanced Manufacturing Strategy in the state. Leigh also co-managed a project to gauge the feasibility of developing an “innovation district” near Atlanta’s Westside, intended to spur collisions between industry and academia to create the environment for technological innovation and new partnerships. Leigh is an active member of the American Planning Association (APA)/Georgia Planning Association (GPA) and has held an American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) certification since 2010. She participates in regular professional development courses through membership with IEDC and GPA, and is also an active member of the Georgia Economic Development Association (GEDA).

Christopher Le Dantec, PhD  - Associate Professor in the Digital Media Program, School of Literature, Media, and Communication, Georgia Institute of Technology

Christopher Le Dantec is an Associate Professor in the Digital Media Program in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication at the Georgia Institute of Technology. His research is focused on the area of digital civics emerging from the intersection of participatory design, digital democracy, and smart cities. He is specifically interested in developing community-based design practices that support new forms of collective action through the production and use of civic data. After earning his Ph.D. in Human-Centered Computing in 2011 from the Georgia Institute of Technology, where he advanced theoretical and practice-based approaches to bridge the digital divide experienced by homeless families in the U.S., he has worked closely with the City of Atlanta and a range of community-based partners to explore new forms of civic participation through community-centered design inquiry. His research has direct impact on how policy makers and citizens work together to address issues of community engagement, social justice, urban transportation and development. In addition to publishing in a range of ACM conferences, he is the Community+Culture forum editor for interactions magazine and the author of Designing Publics (2016, MIT Press).

Yanni Loukissas, PhD  - Assistant Professor in the Digital Media Program, School of Literature, Media, and Communication, Georgia Institute of Technology

Yanni Loukissas is an Assistant Professor of Digital Media in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication at Georgia Tech, where he directs the Local Data Design Lab. His research is focused on helping creative people think critically about the social implications of emerging technologies. His forthcoming book, All Data Are Local: Thinking Critically in a Data-Driven Society (MIT Press, 2019), is addressed to a growing audience of practitioners who want to work with unfamiliar sources both effectively and ethically. He is also the author of Co-Designers: Cultures of Computer Simulation in Architecture (Routledge, 2012) and a contributor to Simulation and its Discontents (MIT Press, 2009). Before coming to Georgia Tech, he was a lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, where he co-coordinated the Program in Art, Design and the Public Domain. He was also a principal at metaLAB, a research project of the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society. He has taught at Cornell, MIT, and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. Originally trained as an architect at Cornell, he subsequently attended MIT, where he received a Master of Science and a PhD in Design and Computation. He also completed postdoctoral work at the MIT Program in Science, Technology and Society