By Michael Pearson
Twenty-one years after arriving at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Regents’ Researcher Helena Mitchell is stepping down from her role as the executive director of the Center for Advanced Communications Policy (CACP).
But she is not leaving her work behind, not just yet, anyway. Mitchell plans to remain as principal investigator on the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center for Wireless Technologies, a multi-institution interdisciplinary center that has generated $14.5 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Education since 2001.
Under Mitchell’s leadership, the CACP, which includes the Wireless RERC, has expanded to include 10 full-time employees and 30 affiliated researchers, engineers, and staff, and a portfolio that spans a broad range of technology policy issues, including wireless technologies, accessible technology, emergency communications, STEM education, workforce development, and more.
All the while, a rapidly shifting technological landscape has kept things interesting, Mitchell said.
“The stimulating part has been the combination of the technology rapidly evolving and the type of people that that attracts to work for us,” she said. “The years have flown past, from beginning as an Eminent Scholar to my current position as a Regents’ Researcher. I love my work and the incredible team members that make up CACP, my colleagues at the School of Public Policy, and throughout Georgia Tech.
Prior stops included FCC, Georgia Research Alliance
Before becoming an academic, Mitchell worked as the director of television and radio at Rutgers University and then at the Federal Communications Commission, where she first served as chief of the Emergency Broadcast System and led its transition into Emergency Alert System. She went on to work as the associate chief for strategic communications in the Office of Engineering and Technology.
The Georgia Research Alliance then named her the state’s first female Eminent Scholar in 1997, and she worked there for three years on distance learning initiatives and education-related policy issues. She then came to Georgia Tech as a fulltime researcher in 2000 with a broad mandate from then Georgia Tech President G. Wayne Clough to “work on anything policy related.”
She started at the Georgia Center for Advanced Telecommunication Technology, which oversaw projects including spectrum management issues, efforts to broaden federal policies that limited the scope of next-generation devices, a mobile lab that demonstrated a system for delivering high-bandwidth internet connectivity to schools.
She founded the CACP with the idea of blending policy and regulatory perspectives from her time at the FCC and Executive Branch policy at the Department of Commerce.
The years since have seen CACP grow into a nationally recognized voice in technology policy. The Center, which has generated a total of more than $26 million in funding, is frequently cited in federal regulatory and policymaking decisions. Its researchers are currently working on a variety of projects, including the development of a “smart sleeve” to provide assistance to people with disabilities and a project to deliver American Sign Language alerts during emergencies.
“I cannot say enough wonderful things about CACP,” Mitchell said. “The team is, and has been, amazing through the years. We have shared insights, talents, and created a stimulating place for creative engagement. In addition, it has been fulfilling to witness my students become professionals in academia, law, government and industry and, most importantly, to say that we at CACP made a difference in their lives.”
A search for Mitchell’s successor is under way.
A Bright Future
Kaye Husbands Fealing, professor and chair of the School of Public Policy in the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts, which houses the CACP, said the center has a strong team in place and is set up for a bright future.
“Dr. Mitchell really made a huge impact on not just how the center is run, but how it is perceived nationally and internationally,” Fealing said. “We are grateful and truly admire what she brought to the CACP, the School of Public Policy, and Georgia Tech broadly, and we look forward to replacing strength with strength and watching as this important center continues to flourish for years to come.”
Mitchell said that she, too, is excited for the CACP’s future.
“We are entering an exciting and ever evolving technological ecosystem,” she said. “I am optimistic that the new executive director will be as committed as I have been to growing a strong center, expanding research capacity, students involving and building on the diverse portfolio that makes us unique and valued by government and industry.”
Mitchell will remain as the principal investigator on the Wireless RERC until 2021, working to help nurture some projects to completion and to continue working with graduate students.
She eventually hopes to shift her attention to writing historical fiction.