It’s not at all uncommon for Georgia Tech alumni to look back on their college experience and marvel at how their education led them to an amazing opportunity—but it’s a little less common for these epiphanies to occur in Antarctica, with a slice of pizza in hand. Such was the experience of Matt Meister, however.
“We were out in the field one day in the middle of one of our missions,” he remembers. “I got my lunch out of my pack, and I spent 15 minutes looking out at the Transantarctic Mountains, just thinking how crazy it was that I was at the bottom of the world eating a slice of pizza on the Ross Ice Shelf. It was something that I will never forget.”
A 2015 graduate, Matt earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and now works for Acuity Brands Lighting as an engineering leadership program specialist. Through a connection he made at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, Matt began working with Dr. Mick West in 2013 on an underwater vehicle project, upon the conclusion of which Dr. West asked him to be involved in the development of Icefin, a project made possible through grant funding from Georgia Tech’s Dr. Britney Schmidt .
Icefin is an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) that is being used to study glacier and ice shelf formation on Earth. This knowledge will then be used to study other planets and moons, with ice formation on Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter, being the current focus. Matt took a year off from his undergraduate coursework to be involved in the Icefin project.
“Working on Icefin was one of the greatest opportunities I could have asked for as a young engineer,” he says. “I was able to lead the mechanical design, which forced me to look at the project as a whole, and not just small bits and pieces like most undergrads. I also had to manage the budget allocated for the design, as well as plan for any field failures we might have encountered while we were on the ice. It was a real test of my project management skills, and it forced me to get a solid project timeline in place so I could ensure that we had a functioning vehicle before we left for Antarctica.”
After completing his stint in Antarctica, Matt returned to Georgia Tech to finish his studies. Shortly after graduation, he took his current position at Acuity. The Atlanta-based company specializes in indoor and outdoor lighting.
“Of everything that I learned working on Icefin, I think the project management and time management skills were the most valuable for my current role,” Matt says. “I can have up to five different projects that I’m working on, and if I don’t plan my week accordingly, those projects would start to fall behind.”
Acuity’s leadership program involves six-month rotations in various aspects of the business, including new product design, certifications and manufacturing. Matt also spends time working on internal projects, largely in research and development, and hopes to take the lead on product design projects. He says he’d also gladly work on another advanced research project like Icefin sometime in the future.
“I’ve loved working for Acuity thus far and am looking forward to broadening my engineering expertise through my next few rotations,” he says. “I know my passion for engineering will take me in many different directions, and with my education and the opportunities I had at Tech, I know anything is possible.”
Thinking back on the connections that led to his experience in Antarctica, Matt says that current students and young alumni should always remember to take advantage of the opportunities presented through Georgia Tech.
“I think that, as alumni from Tech, we’ve all had very unique experiences because we went
to such a great school,” he says. “You should not be afraid to use your previous experiences in the professional world just because you are young.”