New Cohort of Johns Hopkins Students Join Innovation-Focused City Hall Teams as Summer Scholars
June 21, 2024
New Cohort of Johns Hopkins Students Join Innovation-Focused City Hall Teams as Summer Scholars
June 21, 2024

Johns Hopkins embeds nine graduate students across the Americas to support transformative public innovation in work related to climate equity and neighborhood revitalization.

By Colin Murphy, Senior Writer

Some college assignments are much more than just a group project. For nine Johns Hopkins graduate students, this summer will offer one of the most impactful assignments ever – to help mayors transform services for their teams and, in turn, their residents. 

Through the Bloomberg Center for Public Innovation at Johns Hopkins, the 2024 cohort of Public Innovation Summer Scholars will work alongside mayors and city leaders in Albany, New York; Baltimore, Maryland; Birmingham, Alabama; Cincinnati, Ohio; Fortaleza, Brazil; Raleigh, North Carolina; and San Francisco; California. 

The JHU students will bring expertise from the Bloomberg School of Public Health, the Carey Business School, the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, the School of Advanced International Studies, and the Whiting School of Engineering to partner with mayors and local leaders to address challenges and opportunities in climate equity, public health outreach, community development, racial wealth growth, and economic opportunity.

“The Summer Scholars program offers a unique opportunity for Johns Hopkins students to immerse themselves in the public innovation work happening within city halls,” said Amanda Daflos, Executive Director of the Bloomberg Center for Public Innovation at Johns Hopkins. “Their contributions will not only enhance the innovation capacities of their host cities but also advance our mission of fostering future innovation leaders in public service.”

The Center’s Summer Scholars program has grown from its inaugural five-student cohort in 2023, adding new cities, new innovation challenges, and students from a wider range of graduate programs at the university.

The 2024 cohort will be working on public innovation projects in a variety of focus areas in their host cities:

Revitalizing Vacant Properties

Albany, New York

Sataish Sheryar 

MBA candidate, Carey Business School
MPH candidate, Bloomberg School of Public Health

Zonya Qi 

MA candidate, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences
Skyline of Albany, New York

In Albany, New York, Sataish Sheryar and Zonya Qi will work to revitalize Albany’s South End neighborhood by addressing the neighborhood’s approximately 160 vacant and deteriorating properties. Building on the City of Albany’s progress as a recent participant in the Center’s Love Your Block program, Sheryar and Qi will analyze property data, understand legal processes, and engage community stakeholders to create a framework for neighborhood revitalization that the city can scale and use to guide future development strategies.

“Government needs a tweak to make it more human-focused and data-backed, and that’s what public innovation is,” said Sheryar. “Albany has a very rich history, including a history of redlining, which is a problem they’re boldly trying to solve through adaptive use of their vacant properties. This is a challenging task, but the fact that they want to develop a framework with the community’s involvement really excites me.”

Said Qi, “I am excited about applying my skills in research and analysis, and also policy analysis, to tackle some real-world challenges. For me, public innovation is having professionals on the ground to improve residents’ lives and provide residents with the best.”

Tackling the Legacy of Redlining

Baltimore, Maryland

Victoria Haworth

MBA candidate, Carey Business School  
MPH candidate, Bloomberg School of Public Health
View over Paterson Park in Baltimore, Maryland

In Baltimore, Victoria Haworth will join the city’s innovation efforts addressing vacant properties rooted in the city’s legacy of redlining. Working with the city’s Innovation Team (i-team) – led by Inaugural Bloomberg Public Innovation Fellow Terrance Smith – and the Department of Housing and Community Development, Haworth will help create a Community of Practice to share knowledge about the redevelopment of vacant properties, a key component of Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott’s ambitious 15-year vision to eliminate vacant properties and revitalize neighborhoods throughout the city. 

“Local government is such a special place to be really connected with people and impact lives,” said Haworth. “I am excited to work on the vacant housing problem and to address the complexity of the issue in a way that’s creative and thoughtful and that addresses people’s needs.”

Advancing Sustainability and Resiliency

Birmingham, Alabama

Kshitij Gannavarapu

MS candidate, engineering management, Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering
Skyline of Birmingham, Alabama

Kshitij Gannavarapu will leverage his engineering and management expertise to enhance long-term resilience and sustainability in Birmingham, Alabama. Working with the city’s Office of Resilience and Sustainability, which will be complemented and supplemented by the city’s new i-team as part of Birmingham’s participation in the Bloomberg American Sustainable Cities initiative, Gannavarapu will develop indicators to monitor progress on Mayor Randall L. Woodfin’s vision of addressing climate impacts, pollution, and racial equity. 

“In local governments, a lot of new innovation initiatives are taking place, and we are in a position to take actions for equity and sustainability,” said Gannavarapu. “Given my technical and management background, I can help [Birmingham] take those initiatives and move forward towards equity.”

Thinking Globally and Innovating Locally to Advance Climate and Wealth Equity Initiatives

Cincinnati, Ohio

Purva Khana

MA candidate, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies
Skyline of Cincinnati, Ohio

Purva Khana will join Cincinnati’s Office of Environment and Sustainability to advance Mayor Aftab Pureval’s visionary plans for climate action and racial equity. With Cincinnati starting a new i-team this summer through the city’s participation in the Bloomberg American Sustainable Cities initiative, Khana’s background in international relations will bring a global perspective to local challenges, driving innovative public projects that align with the Green Cincinnati Plan and the Cincinnati Financial Freedom Blueprint to address climate change and racial wealth equity, respectively. 

“I have experience working at the Indian parliament, and this is an opportunity for me to gain some hands-on experience working with local government,” said Khana. “I hope to learn a lot more about how we can make Cincinnati more sustainable and equitable.”

Improving Solid Waste Management, Increasing Economic Opportunity, and Enhancing Recycling 

Fortaleza, Brazil

Shae Nicolaisen

MSPH candidate, Bloomberg School of Public Health

Noah Martin

MA candidate, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies
Skyline of Fortaleza, Brazil

Fortaleza, one of the Center’s inaugural Summer Scholars host cities in 2023, will welcome two Scholars this summer. Shae Nicolaisen and Noah Martin join Fortaleza through the Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Global Health Established Field Placement program. Nicolaisen will join Fortaleza’s IPLANFOR Institute, the city’s planning institute, to support the implementation of the city’s new Innovation Law (INOVAFOR). Leaning on her public health and policy expertise, Nicolaisen will play a crucial role in developing rigorous evaluation methods for innovation projects piloted under INOVAFOR, which aims to address public policy challenges through start-up initiatives such as randomized control trials for cash transfers to women micro-entrepreneurs in the textile sector and public safety interventions in high-violence neighborhoods. 

“Public innovation today is taking what we know from research and learning how to translate it into meaningful action for people in practice,” said Nicolaisen. “I’m really excited to be working with BCPI, the leader in the public innovation field, and on the front lines of what’s impacting people’s day-to-day lives.”

Also in Fortaleza, Martin will join Fortaleza’s LABiFOR Innovation Lab as a Summer Scholar to enhance the city’s solid waste management system. Martin will leverage his international studies background and his experience in the private sector to support LABiFOR’s efforts to develop innovative policies and tools that formalize and optimize waste management practices, particularly through the Re-Ciclo program, which integrates waste pickers into the formal recycling economy. By observing and mapping the city’s recycling processes, assisting in the deployment of technology for data collection, and contributing to the development of a recycling credit system, Martin will help LABiFOR create impactful, sustainable solutions that align with Fortaleza’s commitment to social inclusion and environmental resilience.

“Public innovation requires thinking outside the box in terms of strategies for improving the lives of citizens, including taking inspiration from the private sector and engaging with the community to find what they need most,” said Martin.

Strategizing and Innovating the Community Climate Action Plan

Raleigh, North Carolina

Akansha Anbil

MBA candidate, Carey Business School
Skyline of Raleigh, North Carolina

Akansha Anbil will join Raleigh’s Office of Strategy and Innovation (OSI) as a Summer Scholar to assist in implementing the city’s Community Climate Action Plan (CCAP) as part of the city’s participation in the Bloomberg American Sustainable Cities initiative. Working in partnership with the Office of Sustainability, Anbil will focus on identifying and reducing barriers to community engagement by developing effective outreach strategies and empowering residents with knowledge about climate risks such as flooding and extreme heat.

“What excites me about working in local government is there are so many impactful policy changes that can be implemented in smaller city frames,” said Anbil. “Public innovation involves equity and diversity and making spaces for the perspectives of people who normally don’t have space in society. It’s important for every city, and I’m excited to help implement that in Raleigh.”

Developing Innovative Tools to Improve Housing and Homelessness Outreach

San Francisco, California

Sai Sindhu

MA candidate, engineering management, Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering
Skyline of San Francisco, California

Sai Sindhu will join the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Innovation as a Summer Scholar to help address the city’s pressing issues of housing and homelessness. Sindhu’s work will focus on the development and launch of a digital tool for outreach staff addressing homelessness. This tool will integrate and visualize records from various city departments, such as the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, Human Services Agency, and Fire Department, with the aim of improving outreach teams’ ability to understand individuals’ conditions and provide personalized, effective care.

“What excites me most about working in local government is the opportunity to make a tangible difference in people’s lives. Local government is about finding practical solutions to everyday issues that directly impact the community,” said Sindhu. “The idea of collaborating with diverse groups—from city officials to residents—on innovative projects that can improve public services and address real needs is incredibly inspiring to me.”

Learn more about the Summer Scholars Program at the Bloomberg Center for Public Innovation at Johns Hopkins University at

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