Eric Van Holm
Ph.D. in Public Policy
I’m originally from Sacramento, California. I did my undergrad at University of California, Santa Cruz in politics and then went to California State University, Sacramento to get a master’s degree in public policy part-time while I worked for the government.
I’ve always been focused on making a contribution to public well-being, but I never really intended to do graduate school until it came time to apply. The recession somewhat pushed me into getting a master’s degree, and it was only in my second year that I began to think that I could make a career of research. I’ve struggled to develop a single coherent research track, and that’s because I wasn’t motivated by a single problem to enter my doctoral program; rather, I entered because I enjoy tackling problems, and I often follow them in very different problems areas.
I’m in the joint doctoral program in public policy at both Georgia Tech and Georgia State, so I take classes at both universities but my office space is housed at Georgia State. My advisors have been at Georgia State, but both universities have been great at supporting my research. It has allowed me the opportunity to access resources and research at both schools, and I’ve developed projects reflecting that. Makerspaces are generally a science and technology topic, whereas urban redevelopment and stadiums are more focused on urban and regional studies. It has been very beneficial to collaborate with professors at both colleges on projects concerning these topics. [Note: According to Makerspace.com, “Makerspaces are communities where you can share your DIY process, search for inspiration, and connect with fellow makers.”].
The Georgia Innovation Internship has also been an instrumental part of my graduate school experience. It was through the program that I’ve been able to develop a research agenda around makerspaces. The intensive internship helped to accelerate my research, and the daily and weekly support from Jan Youtie, a principle research associate in the Ivan Allen College School of Public Policy, and Alfie Meek, the director of the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s Innovation, Strategy, and Impact team, helped to improve it immeasurably.
In 2014, I was selected for the Georgia Innovation Internship based on a proposal to broadly study how the digital economy was changing local economic development. The selection committee really seized on the idea of makerspaces in my proposal, although I’ll admit I’m not sure I knew what they were at the time. Most people still haven’t heard about the maker movement, so my first summer in the program was spent trying to build up a firm definition of what a makerspace is and how they were organized at that time.
During the following summer, I was able to extend this understanding to substantive research questions, such as how makerspaces can contribute to local economic development. Economic development is actually a clear goal of these organizations across Georgia, but my research is really the first to systematically study how the public can benefit from the proliferation of makerspaces. Makerspaces are still new, but they focus on encouraging the public to test their product ideas and explore open and accessible product development and manufacturing.
Abbas Barzegar, an assistant professor in religious studies at Georgia State, pulled me into studying the potential connections between the maker movement and the Syrian refugee crisis. He heard about my research and thought that the model of access to tools, shared knowledge, and fewer restrictions on product design was a potential way to help refugees rebuild what they had lost. I traveled to Turkey as part of a team studying different aspects of the refugee crisis, and I was able to see how maker-esque development, which I now call DIY development, is already evident in refugee communities.
My dissertation explores urban redevelopment in the areas surrounding minor league baseball stadiums. Much of the research on the topic suggests that facilities for major league teams are a poor government investment, but those findings have not prevented cities of all sizes from building stadiums and arenas. My dissertation extends the understanding of sports stadiums and urban redevelopment into the context of minor league baseball. The 200 minor league baseball teams play in cities ranging from Burlington, Iowa to New York City, creating a fascinating sample of cities to study for redevelopment projects that generally range in cost from $10 million to $60 million.
I demonstrate that minor league stadiums contribute to local economic development by targeting low-value neighborhoods and attracting more affluent residents to the area after construction. I am currently furthering that research to understand factors underlying successful projects in two cities in order to guide government policy when considering similar investments in the future. I presented chapters of the research at the Southern Political Science Association and Urban Affairs Association in January and March 2016, respectively.
I’m a big baseball fan, which contributed to me studying baseball stadiums for my dissertation. My love of the game doesn’t mean I necessarily think stadiums are the best investment for governments, but I’m thankful my research has allowed me to travel throughout the country visiting them. I also read, which sounds like school work, but during my senior year of undergrad I discovered it was possible and even helpful to read for pleasure, and I’ve never stopped. As a master’s student, I actually read a biography of every U.S. President as part of a New Year’s resolution. In addition, my wife and I really enjoy completing religious pilgrimages. During our honeymoon, we walked about 250 kilometers to Canterbury in England. I walk about 3 miles to work, which helps me to keep the pilgrim spirit in my everyday life.
I would encourage Ivan Allen College students, whether they’re undergraduates or graduate students, to read widely and take odd classes. My grades improved when I started reading outside of classes, and you’ll be amazed how much it enriches what you’re learning to be feeding yourself other ideas. Also, when possible, take classes that feed you odd ideas. You’ll get bigger insights when you can connect those distant ideas back to your major.