Fellowship brings fresh eyes to technology

With a degree in political science and a passion for sustainability, Isabelle Barnett entered the workforce with more questions than answers.

Headshot of Isabelle BarnettWorking in the public sector — Barnett had an internship with the city of Sandy Springs after graduating from Stetson University — she wasn’t sure what her next step would be. Then, she learned about the fellowship program offered through the Partnership for Inclusive Innovation, or the Partnership, at the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Enterprise Innovation Institute.

“My boss actually told me to apply for the fellowship,” she said. “I thought it seemed like a great program as a recent graduate with work experience in the sustainability field.”

The Partnership works to cultivate the next generation of innovative leaders and is one of 16 projects across the state collaborating with Georgia Artificial Intelligence in Manufacturing (Georgia AIM). Funded through a $65 million U.S. Economic Development Administration grant, Georgia AIM works to connect manufacturers with smart technologies through a network of partner projects across the state. These projects include K-12 education, technical colleges and universities, workforce education, and programs to connect manufacturers with new technologies.

PIN Fellows help expand this mission by tackling innovative projects in the public and private sectors. The one-year fellowships include six months in a public sector organization and then six months with a private firm. Through these experiences, PIN Fellows gain valuable expertise in a growing industry.

Barnett served as the inaugural Fellow in the Supply Chain vertical and was one of five fellows for 2023. She recently finished her fellowship with the Georgia Tech Supply Chain and Logistics Institute and Freudenberg Sealing Technologies: NOK (Freudenberg-NOK).

While Barnett’s work was focused on supply chain resources, her projects also touched on artificial intelligence. At Georgia Tech, this evolving technology is playing a larger role in transportation and logistics by allowing companies to shipping solutions in a virtual reality space. By running scenarios using AI, supply chain managers can implement more efficient ideas with greater confidence.

“I got really comfortable with AI. And as someone with a humanities background, I had no idea about a year ago that I would be getting this experience,” said Barnett. Many of the software tools she used in her private-sector job at Freudenberg-NOK incorporated artificial intelligence, and she learned to lean on this technology as she created plans to help the factory work more efficiently. For example, one project still in development involved a system to eliminate forklift traffic; this would also limit potential hazards caused by the equipment. She also investigated a variety of “power-off policies” to reduce energy consumption.

She also became familiar with the physical internet and digital twins through her work at Georgia Tech. “Sometimes I would do a bunch of research and ask AI to see if our answers line up. Sometimes AI was incorrect, but sometimes AI was useful in exploring how to structure something or how I could ask a question that’s clearer.”

The overall fellowship was an interesting deep dive in technology, said Barnett, which is what makes PIN Fellowships so unique. Her college years focused more on the humanities, which provided an interdisciplinary base. With the PIN Fellows experience, Barnett said she was able to build off that and spread her wings in a variety of STEM-related ways. “It’s really helped me diversify my skills and create a multidisciplinary mindset,” she said.

Along with building experience in artificial intelligence, Barnett was also able to pursue her passion for sustainability through the fellowship. Sustainability also means efficiency, she said, and working in the field of supply chain logistics was a good fit. These projects also benefitted employees and played a role in her career once the fellowship ended in December of 2023.

“You can think about how to make workers more efficient, but you also have to make sure the workers are treated well,” said Barnett, highlighting an added twist of the PIN Fellows program: the ability to test new waters and push boundaries. “So, that was my goal when I went to Freudenberg-NOK; I wanted to make sure that I worked on what I thought was necessary, too.”

Since completing her fellowship, Barnett landed a position with the City of Refuge in a workforce development-facing role. It’s an opportunity that blends attention to employees, sustainability, and technology — a unique twist to the skills she honed during her fellowship.

“While it might not be the traditional path the fellowship goes, I did get interested in what the fellowship was doing. And I work with a program that has coding and cyber classes, so I’m still in the tech-centered world,” she said. “It’s a really interesting career that I never thought I’d be involved with.”