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The Georgia Tech Young Alumni Council is pleased to welcome Erica Louise Richards, HTS 15, to their team this year. Erica Louise, better known as Rica G., lives her life with passion, devoting her time to connecting youth with the power of education and art. Read below to hear in her own words how she’s making an impact on the community.
Q: Tell Us About Yourself:
ELR: My name is Erica Louise Neish Richards, but most people know me as “Rica G.” I am a first generation Jamaican-American from the Chicagoland Area. I graduated in the Spring of 2015 with my Bachelors of Science in History, Technology, & Society. Currently, I teach Hip-Hop based computer science at the Kindezi School in Old Fourth Ward. When I am not in the classroom, I am running my non-profit, The Cultivating Young People Harnessing Energy & Respect (CYPHER) Program. I don’t just teach through Hip-Hop, I live it. After graduation, I began building my brand as a spoken word artist and now, musician.
Q: Why did you decide to attend Georgia Tech?
ELR: In the sixth grade, I made the audacious decision that I would one day own the electric company so that my mother would never have to pay another light bill. I immediately researched the top colleges for my ideal major, and I knew that I was going to attend Georgia Tech to study Electrical Engineering. When I reached high school, I attended an event called “Welcome Weekend” hosted by the (then) Minority Recruitment Team. That experience solidified my interest in GT.
Q: What were some of the activities you were involved with as a student at GT?
ELR: If there was a degree for student involvement, I would have graduated a double major. I was actively involved with over a dozen campus organizations during my five years of undergrad. My participation in the GT Society of Black Engineers’ freshmen leadership component, Lambda Delta Rho, spearheaded my career as an active student leader. Working with the African American Student Union was definitely my most formative leadership experience. Although the bulk of my involvement was with the various Black Student Organizations, I managed to reach out into the broader Tech community through groups like Relay for Life, Lions Club, and Solar Jackets.
Q: How did you get involved in your current activities and employment?
ELR: Upon graduation, I served in AmeriCorps through Georgia Tech’s Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing. As the Tutoring & Afterschool Project Coordinator at Maynard H. Jackson High School, I was exposed to the highs and lows of life as an educator. During this time, I was also volunteering as a fifth grade English/Language Arts tutor and I realized how much of an impact I could have on students if I could get them engaged in learning at a younger age. I contacted the amazing Pre-Teaching Advisor, Susan Belmonte, and she helped me find my current position at The Kindezi School.
Q: How do you utilize skills and/or connections that you gained at GT today?
ELR: Every month I bring in people or resources from campus to share with our scholars. We’ve programmed robots from the College of Computing and learned about engineering from graduate students. Thanks to our collaboration with the GTSBE Pre-Collegiate Initiative, The CYPHER Program, Inc. brings dozens of middle and high school students to Tech’s campus every other Saturday. During CYPHER’s early days as an afterschool club, our students performed at an African American Student Union community service event, spoke at an event for The Diamond Campaign, and we recorded a mixtape in the Lewis H. Beck Multipurpose Room.
Q: Where do you pull your motivation from as an artist?
ELR: Motivation for my artistry stems from an insatiable desire to provide my audience with a sense of healing. Whether it’s a poem in my book, a spoken word piece, or a song, I tend to compose with the intentions of positively contributing to a community bigger than myself. I write for my students and mentees to encourage them to amplify their voices. I write to honor my mentors and role models. I seek to create projects that will serve as evidence that my life was not lived in vain.
Q: Where did you find inspiration as an artist while you were a student at Georgia Tech?
ELR: Being an artist at Tech was challenging to say the least. For my first performance, I read an original poem at the OMED Challenge 2010 Talent Show. Afterwards, one of my role models, Makeda Cyrus, told me to stick with it and that being known as a poet on campus would be good for me. Her words kept me encouraged. In addition to featuring at various events, I made it a point to look out for other artists on campus. We have a pretty supportive and tight knit community now that includes underclassmen, upperclassmen, and alumni. Whether it is through mentoring or attending a performance, the bonds I’ve developed within the GT Black artists’ community are essential to my individual growth as an artist.
Q: How have you continued to stay involved in the Georgia Tech community?
ELR: I am constantly on campus. You may have seen me in the Ferst Center opening up for Taste of Africa or attending the unparalleled What’s Going On Production 2017 . My main focus is connecting local K-12 students with college students and resources at Georgia Tech. This means anything from registering high school girls for the Black Women in STEAM Luncheon to bringing elementary school students to campus for a football game. Aside from that, I am committed to bridging the gap between young alumni and current students. Working with the Georgia Tech Black Alumni Organization and serving on the Georgia Tech Young Alumni Council allows me to build on this concept with an even bigger team. The end goal is to see more connectivity between Atlanta’s underserved youth and Georgia Tech’s brilliant student and alumni population.
Q: What advice do you have for other young alumni?
ELR: Be good to people. Be good to yourself. Act out of love as often as possible and know how to humble yourself.
In the summer of 2015, Erica Louise self-published Commentary on the Human Experience . In December of 2016, she also released an audio anthology, What’s the G. for? , and plans to release a music project this February.
The Das Media Group is a boutique digital strategy consulting company with a specialized focus on content and social strategy for emerging and established brands in leveraging authentic content and social engagement to build meaningful relationships and grow a company’s bottom line.
Q&A with Founder and CEO, Shinjini Das , IE 14
What inspired you to start your company?
SD: There is an imminent disconnect between brands keen to reach audiences via authentic, socially conscious, organic means, and the reality of marketing via digital media today, which is very hard sales driven, in that small businesses and established corporations are so keen to market their products via a constant stream of ads which often do not engage consumers with extreme personalization. I envision my boutique digital strategy consulting company as driving incredibly authentic 1:1 conversations with audiences and penetrating the core brand essence into the social consciousness to develop genuine and meaningful relationships with consumers globally.
What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered during the process of becoming a newly minted CEO in the media industry?
SD: Media and entertainment is an incredibly cutthroat industry with constant and 24/7 fluctuations, so this line demands extreme adaptability, a voracious appetite to learn new concepts, as well as an obsessive focus on analyzing both present and emerging global trends to forecast the projected state of the society. It is widely regarded as one of the most difficult industries in the world, but I am thrilled to leverage my Georgia Tech Industrial Engineering degree, business acumen, a killer work ethic (thank you Georgia Tech!), and an immense desire to write one of the greatest stories ever written!
With a rapidly changing country, what is your advice to women of all ages on persevering and staying focused on goals and dreams?
SD: Focus on building tangible substance in your life via higher education, intellect, concrete skills, passions, hobbies, and more. The more a young girl focuses on substantial activities and on becoming a producer not a consumer, e.g. writing articles instead of just reading them, coding games instead of just playing them, building websites instead of surfing the web, the more her intellect, self-confidence, and inner worth flourish as she becomes a woman. A young girl with vision becomes a woman with ambition, passion, poise, and unbreakable self-confidence who changes the world.
What are goals you have for your company in the next 3 years?
SD: Scale into an operational boutique digital strategy consulting company with still a specialized focus on leveraging social and content strategy for small businesses, emerging as well as established brands, to drive authentic meaningful 1:1 conversations with consumers globally and grow a company’s long-term bottom line.
What advice do you have for other female entrepreneurs who are trying to build their brand?
SD: Build a solid niche in an area which is ripe for disruption, meaning that focus on solving a tangible problem in an industry poised for high scale growth over the years in the future, because you want to be joining an industry whose prospects are growing not shrinking. Mesh your personal brand with your business because as an entrepreneur, you are inevitably the face of your business, and your business is an extension of your personality, so ensure to always represent both brands with class!
As the stars of hit shows like “Veep” and “Game of Thrones” walked the red carpet at this year’s 68th Primetime Emmy Awards, the team at Cartoon Network Digital was already celebrating its win. Justin Smith, CM 07, MS HCI 09, and fellow Tech alum Beau Teague, STC 97, MS IDT 99, helped lead the network to its first Emmy for Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media – User Experience and Visual Design.
“An Emmy is something I never even considered I would be able to win but I worked hard and found myself in the television industry where that was a possibility,” says Justin. “This is an enormous accomplishment in our industry, especially considering we are in the technology sector and not on-camera talent.”
The Emmy was awarded for the stunning user experience and design of Cartoon Network’s flagship app, which features both a traditional video on-demand component and what its developers call The Mix.
“This feature acts a bit like Pandora for video,” explains Justin referring to the music streaming and automated recommendation service. “It takes into account the shows it knows the user likes and creates a customized playlist consisting of the newest and best content from those shows, as well as a few others we think the user might like.”
After starting his career in web design, Justin followed the industry and its users into a larger focus on mobile app development. The move allowed him to focus more heavily on UX design and to apply a creative filter to a wide range of scientific elements – like cognitive science, behavioral psychology, ergonomics, and developmental biology.
Looking across the industry, Justin views UX design as a relatively nascent field with somebody new doing something interesting nearly every week, especially the kind of inconspicuous design that many users enjoy but do not recognize.
“The search-ability within the Google Photos service continually amazes me,” he says. “I was trying to find a picture of a table I had taken a while back and just searched ‘table’ and quickly found the image. That was with no tags or anything. That’s an amazing ease of use issue that is very useful to users when trying to search through a large data set via a medium (words) not native to the data set (images).” He also admires the UX design of apps like Duolingo, which features elements so simple and elegant that his 3-year-old daughter often uses it.
For Justin, the biggest principle of UX design is also the most obvious: know your user. After all, his team’s main challenge comes from designing for Cartoon Network’s core demographic, kids aged 6-11 years old. The team frequently partners with researchers to look into kids’ likes and tendencies, using everything from surveys to focus groups to one-on-one usability studies. “Our audience is constantly shifting so we definitely want to make sure we’re not relying on past research and assumptions.”
Justin credits the interdisciplinary experience he gained through Tech’s Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts for much of his success. “Coming out of a cross-discipline degree in Computational Media, I had to talk intelligently and confidently in both design and programming. You could favor one side or the other depending on your interests, but the major covered everything from visual design theory to coding in C.” His master’s degree in Human-Computer Interaction also focused on the intersection of Digital Media and Psychology.
“Tech was very tough on me at times but it made me stronger. When I’m being challenged is when I’m learning and growing the most and when I enjoy my job the most.” He continues, “We have some of the most impressive alumni of any university in the world. Don’t ever underestimate yourself and waste your talents. Find what you love and pour yourself into that. I’m not curing diseases, but I am making kids smile and that’s something I love. We all have different interests and talents and can play a part in creating a better world.”
Justin plans to stay with Cartoon Network’s UX design team and hopes to lead a larger creative team in the future. In the meantime, he will enjoy learning more about UX design everyday and watching “We Bare Bears” with his wife and two daughters on the Emmy award-winning Cartoon Network app.
Although always drawn to issues of access to care, Chibueze Ihenacho never planned on running his own medical device start-up. He, like many Biomedical Engineering students, hoped to go to medical school after getting out of Georgia Tech in 2014. Instead, he and his co-founder – fellow Tech alum, Yegor Podgorsky, BME 14 – got the idea for ARMR Systems as part of their senior design course.
Now two years old, ARMR provides what Chibueze calls “the next generation tourniquet” – the first wearable hemorrhage control system that integrates both apparel and hardware. It attempts to answer the question: what if every soldier, cop, or civilian could be a medic, whether medically trained or not, literate or not?
Essentially, the design helps responders to apply pressure more flexibly when confronting junctional hemorrhage injuries. Each year, traumatic bleeding in the groin, upper thigh, and axillary regions causes 90% of preventable military deaths among US troops. With their design, Chibueze and Yegor hope to bring system-level change to trauma care, both on and off the battlefield.
With his characteristic humility, Chibueze largely credits Tech’s entrepreneurial environment and a little luck for bringing together the problem, partners, and design that have made the start-up’s success so far possible. He says the energy around campus helped the team to approach senior design with the attitude “Let’s not waste our time… If we’re going to do it, let’s do it right.”
Chibueze also views Tech’s famous rigor as a source of empowerment when students and alums decide to tackle the hard stuff. Although access to care issues might seem unassailable, fellow Yellow Jackets have taught him to approach them like any other assignment: they are normal problems, and anyone can have the solution to a problem.
“Tech’s rigorous environment helps to dispel self-limiting ideas, like ‘I’m not a this or that kind of person.’ The community – especially around Tech Square – is uniquely open to the Greater Atlanta innovation scene. So, the Tech experience combines this active push to go out into the real world and a curriculum that teaches students to just figure it out when they face a problem.”
Taking on issues of access to care also isn’t just for biomedical engineers. “A lot of countries and people need these technologies. The big gap is how do we get it to folks,” he says. “There’s a lot of work to be done in slimming it down and adapting it to different environments. There’s a wealth of opportunity for the biotech generation – from a policy standpoint, from a technology standpoint, from a business standpoint.”
He credits classes outside of engineering with helping him to translate the technical aspects of the business, including classes on the history of chairs, issues of constitutional law, and healthcare management. “Pure engineering gives you the nuance of a mechanism, but Tech does a good job pushing other classes that give context to what we’re building,” he says. Today, ARMR’s strategy draws on a range of disciplines like apparel or fashion design, defense procurement and policy, and trauma care.
Like most start-ups, the next five years hold a lot of uncertainty for ARMR Systems. If their solution proves appropriate, the team believes this move from analog tourniquets to an integrated, wearable system will open other paths to improving access to trauma care. Beyond scale, there are opportunities in automation and pursuing the civilian health market in places like India or Nigeria – where the nearest trauma care provider may be hours away.
Looking back at the start-up experience, Chibueze views perseverance, humility, and possibility as the deepest lessons Georgia Tech provided him. When asked about the Institute’s rigor, he laughs and said, “If it weren’t for Tech… Well, let me just say, I wouldn’t be doing this at UGA.”
Most college graduates can probably point to an experience or an individual who played an instrumental role in helping them determine their path after graduation. For Julia Turner, it was a single question.
“One of the most serendipitous things to happen in my time at Tech was a conversation I had with someone in the School of Literature, Media and Communication,” she says. “I mentioned to an adviser that I was looking for jobs in publishing after graduation, and she said, ‘Oh, have you looked into some publishing institutes?’ It was an offhand comment, but it was probably the single most influential thing anyone said to me at Georgia Tech. That one moment probably was the biggest factor in where I am now.”
A 2012 graduate who earned a BS in Science, Technology and Culture, Julia later participated in the University of Denver’s Publishing Institute, where she met her friend and now business partner, Christen Thompson. When Julia moved to Charleston, SC, to work at The History Press after graduation, she reconnected with Christen over their shared love of books, publishing and independent bookstores.
“We kept talking about cool bookstores in Vermont or wherever, and how we wished there was a bookstore here in Charleston doing that kind of stuff,” she says. “There are a few booksellers in Charleston, but there’s not a huge selection of independent bookstores that focus on new books. Our dream of opening our own bookstore stayed on the back burner for a while. Then, around Christmas 2014, we just decided that either we’re going to do this or we’re both going to move on from Charleston. We had reached the end of our publishing career paths here, and so we decided to just do it. We started by pursuing the full-scale bookstore first as a bookmobile with low overhead and easy access to customers—start small scale and then build up.”
Thus was born Itinerant Literate Books , a bookmobile and pop-up bookshop serving the
Charleston area. The shop—a converted 1958 Yellowstone trailer—appears regularly at farmer’s markets, coffee shops and beer gardens around town. Customers are able to keep track of its whereabouts through social media and recurring engagements at specific locations.
Itinerant Literate Books regards itself as a general bookshop rather than one that caters to any particular niche or genre. The bookmobile also hosts special events, such as an all-day release party for the new Harry Potter book.
“We try to have a selection of books for every age group, from adults down to young adults, middle school titles, children’s books and early readers,” Julia says. “Then, from there, we try to pick books that we are excited about. More than anything, it has to do with what Christen and I are interested in reading and the recommendations we hear from other booksellers about what’s a great read or what sells really well.”
Another influence on the shop’s inventory was Julia’s experience as a student at Georgia Tech, where she says she read mostly nonfiction related to science, technology and psychology.
“It has really informed my reading preferences for nonfiction,” she says. “Personally, I have always preferred fiction, and now I’m more inclined to pick up something with science fiction than before I went to Georgia Tech. I believe it’s important to be as well-rounded a reader as possible—especially now that I’m interacting with and providing books to a wide array of customers.”
Overall, while Julia came to Georgia Tech knowing she wanted to go into publishing, she says her time here had a major impact on the way she’s looked at her career trajectory.
“I think Georgia Tech’s approach to liberal arts is different from most universities,” she says. “Seeing both liberal arts and technology educations at Georgia Tech was a really interesting juxtaposition that changed how I pursued opportunities after I graduated. I didn’t know quite how I was going to get into publishing, but I knew that was what I wanted.”
This influence and the crowd-funding provided by Georgia Tech friends and faculty – including Dr. Karen Head – have helped put Julia’s career plans on the road to success.
For fun summer reading, Julia jumps to two great recommendations:
• Eligible by Curtis Sittenfield – a modern interpretation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice set in Cincinnati, Ohio.
• Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman – a European bestseller about a passive-aggressive, socially awkward, absurdly pedantic busybody who finds herself managing a small-town football team.
If you’re looking for something more challenging and have an eye on self-improvement, she suggests:
• Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi – a Daily Show-feature novel about two half-sisters separated by forces beyond their control: one sold into slavery, the other married to a British slaver.
• Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson – a New York Times bestseller about the bright days of early adulthood, the promise and peril of growing up, and the friendships that shape our formative years.
Many students arrive at college with little certainty about what brought them there, or where they might wind up after they’ve completed their education. For Kelsey Rogowski, however, the journey to Georgia Tech seems as straightforward as can be.
Kelsey, a 2012 graduate who earned a bachelor’s degree in biology at Georgia Tech prior to completing a master’s in public health at Emory University, now works as a research coordinator at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center.
“Within my role, I am responsible for helping develop, coordinate and execute the various clinical trials that we offer our patients,” she says. “I am lucky enough to be able to interact with families who have a child undergoing a bone marrow transplant, and orient them to the various research studies that are available. Within our field, we rely heavily on the clinical trials and research that has previously been done in order to develop the most effective protocols for our patients, while aiming to minimize the adverse effects that come along with the process.”
While her educational background certainly prepared her well for her current work, Kelsey’s passion for helping others and reaching out to underserved communities was fostered during her childhood.
“When I was young, my father started a community baseball organization for children with special needs,” she says. “I would spend Saturday mornings running the bases with kids, most of whom were older than me, who just wanted to play baseball like other kids.”
Kelsey continued to volunteer for special needs organizations, and her interest in service was also encouraged through her participation in the Girl Scouts, but her current volunteer work was borne out of personal experience.
“As a teen, I attended Camp Kudzu, a camp for children with type 1 diabetes,” she says. “As I became more and more involved, I saw my friends take two different paths in their diabetes management. Some excelled and thrived under the pressure of being a young adult in college and juggling diabetes, life and more. Others fell through the cracks in the system—their diabetes suffered because of lack of support, education and resources available for young adults with type 1 diabetes.”
She says that her experience at Camp Kudzu was ultimately what led her to pursue her career in public health, and specifically to work with young people. Kelsey has also volunteered at Camp Kudzu for eight years.
“Having experienced the benefits of a strong community of friends and supporters affected by type 1 diabetes, I enjoy having the opportunity to give back,” she says. “I volunteer with weekend programs for kids and teens, babysit kids with type 1 diabetes and serve as a mentor and counselor for teens who are going off to college and learning to be counselors.”
Kelsey also volunteers with Camp Sunshine, an organization that serves children and families affected by cancer. Camp Sunshine offers year-round programming, and Kelsey says that she sees the importance of a strong community and support system for cancer patients, which further enhances the work she’s able to do at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
Given the size and scope of the healthcare field, the challenges new professionals face in acclimating to the demands of the industry can be considerable. Kelsey recommends that young alumni take advantage of their communities, both at Georgia Tech and in their fields of employment.
“Just like our wonderful community here at Tech, I would advise people to learn from others’ experiences and network,” she says. “The healthcare field is a large and complex world, but so many of the people in it are willing to mentor and teach the newest members who are willing to learn. By asking around and shadowing, an inquisitive mind and passionate drive can set you up for a strong and impactful career.”
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.”
When Jason Santamaria came to Georgia Tech, he wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about beer. Now, the co-founder of Second Self Beer Company spends his days running the Atlanta-based company and growing its footprint throughout the state of Georgia. In fact, Second Self recently contracted with Kroger to sell its products, including its popular Thai Wheat and Red Hop Rye, in stores in Atlanta, Athens and Savannah.
Jason graduated from Georgia Tech in 2006, earning his degree in Management. During his time on campus, he was a member of Pi Kappa Phi, and also ran a kitchen (where he attributes getting his feet wet in the food/beverage industry). After graduation, he worked in technical sales for IBM, but an interest in craft brewing—developed during his time at Georgia Tech—led him to partner with fellow alumnus Chris Doyle, Mgt 07, MBA 11, and pursue their joint dream of starting their own company.
“We decided to call the company ‘Second Self Beer’ because it was like our second identity,” Jason says. “This is who we wanted to be. Chris and I were really drawn to the craft beer scene because it’s always changing. People are always trying to find something new.”
The craft beer industry prides itself on being unique and very locally oriented, as well as focused on producing smaller quantities of beer than its larger national counterparts. Second Self, for example, was producing only about 1,800 barrels per year until a facility expansion earlier this year, which increased its annual capacity to 4,400 barrels.
“Our recent expansion is actually what got us into Kroger,” Jason says. “We were able to go to our investors and demonstrate that our beer is popular enough and demand is high enough to justify adding a canning line.”
Second Self has plans to increase its barrel capacity even further, to 5,500 per year—a plan developed through the company’s connections at Georgia Tech. A group of eight industrial engineering students won best senior design project this spring for their work with Second Self. Their project involved running simulations for rearranging pallets and equipment and utilizing facility space in a way that would maximize efficiency.
“It was great to work with students from Georgia Tech,” Jason says. “That group was really knowledgeable, and they were able to take our business plan, look at the equipment we’re planning to buy and come up with a plan to get us to a higher capacity. I was really impressed.”
Working with the industrial engineering students was merely the latest chapter in Second Self’s history of using its connections with Georgia Tech. In addition to Jason and Chris, the company’s lawyer, accountant, business consultant and investors are all Georgia Tech alumni.
This summer, Second Self will be opening a new tasting room, where enthusiasts will be able to sample new beers before they’re available in the larger market. Jason says the company also hopes to be able to host more events in their facility, including weddings, receptions and private parties.
While Second Self has seen tremendous success and growth, the company faced some real challenges getting started. The company didn’t open until 2014—about four years after Jason and Chris first had the idea to go into business. But thanks to hard work and determination, Second Self is now in a position where it’s looking to expand its reach outside of Georgia.
Jason is quick to credit his time at Georgia Tech for much of the company’s success, and encourages current students to build on the connections they’re making in school.
“When we started out, we realized pretty quickly how much we needed to learn about the craft beer industry,” he says. “Not just the industry itself, either, but the brewing process and the whole business side of things. Thanks to Georgia Tech’s alumni network, we were able to connect with our business consultant and investors, and every step of the way, those relationships have helped us work through the challenges of starting and running our company.”
Although climate change is considered one of the most critical issues of our time, many people find it hard to comprehend, and harder still to make any kind of difference. But these challenges are not stopping Emily Pechar from putting her education and experience to good use.
Emily earned her degree in International Affairs and French at Georgia Tech, graduating in 2010. After graduation, she worked as a human capital management consultant at Deloitte before enrolling in Duke University’s environmental policy program, where she is currently working on her doctorate. She sees a direct relationship between her studies at Georgia Tech and her current focus on climate change policy.
“I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do when I started at Georgia Tech,” she said. “I knew I was interested in international negotiations and diplomacy, but I didn’t have a specific focus. Then my sophomore year, I took an honors seminar on climate change policy, and it was heavily focused on practical experience. I got a hands-on look at how hard it is to change attitudes, institutions and structures to respond to the threat of climate change. That course is what really got me interested in the behavioral aspect of environmental policy—how do people feel about environmental policies, and how do we change attitudes to get people to be more supportive of these policies?”
Emily’s research focuses primarily on climate change policy and the ways in which people respond to climate change on a psychological level. She leads the UN Climate Change Negotiations Practicum at Duke and, thanks to her involvement and drive, has had the opportunity to take part in some of the major climate change summits of recent years.
“I have gone to the international climate negotiations for the past couple of years, helping students learn about them, understand them and experience them by partnering with different clients while we are there,” she said.
Most recently, Emily attended the 2015 United Nations Conference Climate Change Conference (known as COP 21) in Paris.
“I was really impressed with COP 21,” she said. “It left a lot of open questions, but I think we accomplished way more than I, or almost anyone else, expected, especially after what happened in Copenhagen in 2009,” when similar discussions resulted in failure. “Just the fact that we have
commitments from the entire international community and everyone is on board is a big difference from any of our previous agreements.”
As she approaches graduation and starts thinking about her career path, Emily is enthusiastic about staying in academia, preferably at a school with a strong focus on teaching.
“I have really developed a love of teaching and sharing what I know about international environmental politics with other students, watching them grow and mentoring them to find good decisions in this field,” she said.
It’s not every day that a student arrives at Georgia Tech with a clear picture of what he wants to do and where he wants to go, as well as the determination and drive to get there on his own. But Luke Snider wasn’t like many students.
After earning his degree in management in 2009—he graduated in three years, with honors, and also lettered in football—Luke went to work in Atlanta as a financial advisor at Merrill Lynch, where he works closely with his father, a 35-year company veteran, as well as his younger brother. This was the realization of a lifelong ambition.
“I’ve always been a math and finance person,” he said. “I always assumed I would work at Merrill Lynch with my dad. I didn’t really know what stock investment was until I went to Georgia Tech and learned about it. As I’ve gotten into it more, I’ve found I enjoy working with people, with families, to figure out how their money can work for them and their future.”
That “people side” of the financial industry is something Luke wasn’t expecting from his work, but it’s something he enjoys.
“A lot of what I do is about sitting down with people and talking about their finances,” he said. “It’s really more about talking about family dynamics—how do they see their money? It’s not just what I call ‘money crunching,’ which is what I thought I would be doing coming out of Georgia Tech.”
Still, it was the strong foundation provided by his finance classes at Georgia Tech that allowed Luke to hit the ground running in the family business and confirmed his conviction that he wishes to remain in the industry for life.
Luke’s experience at Georgia Tech has motivated him to maintain a connection to the school community through his involvement in a number of alumni organizations. He has mentored several students through the Student Alumni Association, served as president of the Georgia Tech Business Network, served two years on the Gold and White Honor Gala Committee and also spent two years on the board of the Georgia Tech North Metro Alumni Network.
As Luke continues to build his career on the skills and lessons he took away from his time at Georgia Tech, he encourages current students to remain focused on their studies.
“When times are hard and you don’t really see the light at the end of the tunnel, just put your head down and keep going,” he said. “Keep working hard, and don’t give up. Keep finding the problem and finding the answer, even if it’s really difficult.”
He also reminds young alumni to live within their means and keep it simple, even after landing their first jobs—and to remember to give back to the Georgia Tech community.
“If you’re not doing any mentoring,” he said, “definitely do that and share some of your experience about what life is like after graduation—and not just what life is like after you get your first job, but what it’s like five years down the line. Pour back into the students at Georgia Tech to better prepare them for the real world. They make our degrees stronger.”