About The Innovation District

Where Chattanooga’s entrepreneurs, academics, and creatives collide. 

Events Calendar

Discover activities and events in the area.

Resiliency Checklist

Everything you need to prepare your organization for a crisis.

Small Business Supports

Helping small business owners across the region.

The Edney Innovation Center

The front door to the Innovation District of Chattanooga.

Tech Goes Home

Expanding access to technology and teaching digital literacy.

Digital Access Committee

Bringing together partners to close the digital divide, together.

HCS EdConnect

Home internet at no cost to thousands of families.

Connected Communities: Orchard Knob

The OKC leverages the collective support of partner organizations to tackle the whole picture of health and wellness in the historically underserved neighborhood.

Chattamatters

Answering the most basic and most complex questions about life in Chattanooga

EMPACT Program

Preparing residents for the jobs of tomorrow, and today. 

Chattanooga Smart Communities Collaborative

Working together to identify our region’s challenges and create solutions.

Environmental Sensors

Collecting and analyzing air quality data from across our region with US Ignite.

Education (4K Microscope & Lola)

High-tech tools in Hamilton County’s classrooms.

Community Connectivity

Expanding access to the internet in homes and neighborhoods.

Social Determinants of Health & our 2023 Morehead-Cain Scholars’ summer study:

From left: Aditi Sengupta, Colin O'Hagerty, Flavia Nunez Ludeiro, and Mark Dingfelder.
Members of the Urban League of Greater Chattanooga's team pose at a community event.

When four Morehead-Cain Scholars from UNC Chapel Hill first came to Chattanooga this summer, they were eager to explore the disparities in air quality across Southern communities. Particularly with the wildfire smoke that spread across the United States from Canadian blazes, the topic seemed incredibly timely for their 8-week program, hosted through a local partnership with The Enterprise Center and Lyndhurst Foundation. 

“But then we got here and realized ‘It’s not just about air quality, because that’s so tied to building quality, which is so connected to housing and affordability,'” said Colin O’Hagerty, one of the four scholars in the 2023 summer cohort. “It was really enlightening. … Nothing we ever do in life is cut and dry, but this summer’s realization felt particularly ambiguous for us.”

The Morehead-Cain Civic Collaboration experience embeds undergraduate scholars in cities across the country for eight weeks every summer, to learn about challenges communities are facing, conduct research and contribute to the work being done. Chattanooga was a pilot city for the program in 2016 and has since hosted five classes of scholars, with teams developing projects around topics like digital equity, entrepreneurship and transportation.

Shortly after arriving, O’Hagerty said, he and three other rising sophomore scholars – Aditi Sengupta, Flavia Nunez Ludeiro, and Mark Dingfelder – realized they needed to broaden their scope of work to a more holistic view of the [health] challenges faced and opportunities available.

“We all came into this with such different majors and that meant we all came about this project in different ways,” Nunez Ludeiro agreed.

Ultimately, the team decided to cultivate an ongoing dialogue through their July presentation that focused on Chattanooga’s ecosystem of resources, how those resources are shared, and how collaboration impacts data outcomes and effects change.

“We realized how interconnected this work really is,” Dingfelder said, using this summer’s poor air quality as an example to articulate how, on a neighborhood level, additional disparities like lack of vehicle access or reliable bus infrastructure further impacts the health of individuals both short- and long-term.

“I even was impacted personally, as someone who loves to run but has asthma,” Sengupta said, adding that having a pre-med scholar in her group helped keep her lungs from overexposure during her time here.

You can view their full presentation here and give feedback here. Or, keep scrolling to learn more about 2023’s Chattanooga team …


Aditi Sengupta

Charlotte, NC

Major: economics, political science (pre-law focus)

 

Why she became a Morehead-Cain Scholar:

“I enjoy looking up lawsuits and policies in my spare time – it’s what I do for fun as well as because it’s practical to know. I want to advocate for others in my career, probably in the civil rights or education policy space.”

What shaped her perspective:

“My focus was how we can use data to better tell our stories. … It’s about taking the raw data and converting it in a powerful way – and Chattanooga nonprofits have so many powerful stories to tell. I wanted to explore how to optimize that.”

“Something that really stuck with me through our time here was a quote from Tim [Moreland] with the city [of Chattanooga]. He explained that we ‘need to start using data as a compass and not as a grade.’ … It’s so true and it will always stick with me that we tend to see data as a measurement of whether or not we’re doing our job, but really it’s about how we can always do better in the future.”

What’s next:

“The sense of collaboration in Chattanooga is just so, so unique. I just couldn’t have imagined going to these places and learning about them in such depth by myself. … I will take what I learned here and apply so much of it to whatever I decide to do. I know advocacy is in my future and I’m really interested in civil rights and education policy.”

 

Colin O’Hagerty

Hillsborough, NC

Major: environmental health science

 

Why he became a Morehead-Cain Scholar:

“I was in band all through high school and I really pivoted when I took my first music class in college. I still play trombone but I realized how passionate I am about public health … This summer has really affirmed that the environmental impact on health is both really interesting to me and also critically important for all communities. … It’s something everyone is talking about and there really is so much space for change.”

What shaped his perspective:

“Everything is a social determinant of health and in the same way, everything is also all an environmental factor. … As we as a society look to combat the challenges of our day in terms of climate change and social justice, you can’t just approach that from one lens. This summer has really reinforced for me that just an academic lens isn’t enough; you can’t just look at it from a private or public sector lens or what-have-you. It really takes everyone and considering all the stories from everyone.”

“Some of my pre-made assumptions were very wrong and I learned so much about the social good side of business and how genuinely it can be done in a community-oriented way. It’s been very interesting to learn through Chattanooga’s history of resource building how public-private partnerships can either leverage each others’ strengths or bog each other down.”

What’s next:

“Without this program I never would have experienced the nonprofit consultancy space. It has also taught me how to begin to engage with a community or demographic you may not belong to and how to navigate that in an equitable and appropriate way.”

“I want to incorporate both the data and the human side of environmental health in my work, so I really see myself pursuing more environmental justice work.”

 

Flavia Nunez Ludeiro

Miami, Fl.

Major: business with a conflict management minor (pre-law focus)

 

Why she became a Morehead-Cain Scholar:

This scholarship was a chance for me to spread my wings on my own, for the first time, really. I asked so many people what I should do and they — fortunately — all told me I really had to ask myself what I wanted and it has set such a precedent and trajectory for me to find myself and what I want.”

What shaped her perspective:

“I was born in Cuba and moved to the suburbs of Miami when I was four years old and never really left until I was 18, so I say I’ve lived in the United States but … it was still a bubble. I had never really even just walked anywhere by myself until I came to downtown Chattanooga.”

“I focused on case studies around bus infrastructure as well as housing infrastructure and how it relates to air quality to really demonstrate the breadth of impact.” 

What’s next:

“I actually wasn’t very familiar with the nonprofit space and how it operates before my time here. It really helped me see all the different ways businesses and organizations can operate together for the good of the community. It’s opened my eyes to this world in such a way.”

 

Mark Dingfelder

Chapel Hill, NC

Major: neuroscience (pre-med)

Why he became a Morehead-Cain Scholar:

“It’s made me much more of an extrovert to come to Chattanooga — especially because it’s so connected. And, I’ve asked to pet every dog I see on the street.”

“I really enjoy hands-on aspects of medicine, whereas Colin approached the work from his environmental lens and I think we’ve all learned so much about how to collaborate with peers as we’re still getting to know each other and a new city and all the work the many organizations here do.”

What shaped his perspective:

“My portion of this summer’s project was about how to address overlap in underutilized resources. The most impactful, for me, though, was volunteering for Cempa and learning how they address so many components of why people struggle.”

“We kept hearing that ‘This is just the right sized city,’ and we definitely all experienced that through our ability to connect so deeply with so much of the work being done here.”

What’s next:

“With my major, I’ve got a lot of years of school left. I’m going into neuroscience because … the talking to people, the helping people side of medicine is what calls to me most. This experience really pushed me to remember the humanity of everyone I come in contact with … and also that there are community resources working to offer creative solutions.”

 

Find out more about the Morehead-Cain Scholars program here. Or, read more about past research teams and their work on CARTA infrastructure and Smart City innovation.