What is your next adventure?
After I graduate, I’m going to take some time off, to re-establish some balance in my life. I find the rigorous environment very attractive, but when you are always ‘go, go, go’ the way we are at Tech, you miss the forest for the trees. I’ve worked in engineering before and, long term, I see myself working in it again – this time, on autonomous spacecraft, like the New Horizons that flew past Pluto.
Did you have any previous co-op, internship, or research experience in this area?
After my first time at Georgia Tech, I got an internship at Case New Holland Design. That internship itself gave me the confidence I’d lacked before and would need to finish my degree. I saw that I could enter a work environment that was completely new to me and I could use what I knew to succeed. I also did research on aircraft flight health under the direction of Prof. Clarke. We developed a distribution system for sensors and data analysis tools that would help us collect real-time data on the plane’s health. For instance, if there’s a bizarre oscillation in the wing that you can’t directly observe, you want know about it so you can fix it before it poses a problem. The sensors we worked on would allow you to do that.
What about your next adventure are you most looking forward to?
What excites me most about graduation is that I have finally succeeded at Tech. I first enrolled in college at 15 – it was a technical community college. That helped me to get into Tech but it didn’t prepare me for the rigors of Tech. So I flunked out. I wasn’t the hot shot I’d thought I was. That brought me down a lot, and made me wonder, seriously, if graduation day would ever happen. The fact that I’m graduating, now, is like a new lease on life.
How did your educational experience at Georgia Tech help you to achieve your goal?
Georgia Tech was where I learned about success – and failure. Both have been valuable. When I left here, in 2011, it was because I’d flunked out. That was horrible. When I re-enrolled in 2015, I earned a 4.0 my first semester. Academically, I’ve held my own ever since, but I had to rethink my identity as a student. I got a lot of help from GT2100 – a class where they helped me to identify my academic problem areas and strategize ways to succeed. I also got some great support from the LGBTQIA Resource Center, which was started at Tech after my first time around. I began to see that the failure I’d experienced had torn me down so far that the only thing I could do was rebuild. I recreated myself.
What advice would you give to an underclassman who would like to follow the same path?
First and foremost, I think it’s really important to remember that you are not defined as a person by the grades you earn. After I flunked out, I carried a ton of shame. I thought I was the dumb kid, the one who wasn’t worthy of succeeding. When I came back, I realized that your performance in a particular class is not the only thing that matters. You have to invest in the opportunities that exist outside the classroom – go to office hours, get involved in research, get involved in a design-build-fly competition. You need to engage with professionals and teachers outside the classroom. The relationships I developed with professors and with my classmates when I came back were what defined my success.