Witnessing student humanitarian work in Haiti helped inspire Jackson Sims to become a Yellow Jacket
First-year materials science and engineering student Jackson Sims grew up visiting the Georgia Tech campus, but gained a real appreciation for what a Tech education is all about when he saw some students putting their engineering skills to work in Haiti.
Find out what he was doing in Haiti, why he chose his major, what he plans to do with it, and what advice he has for new students in this Q&A.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up on a farm in Palmetto, Georgia, about 45 minutes south of the Georgia Tech campus. I grew up doing different things for my grand dad to help out. I really got instilled with a good work ethic that way. He kind of showed me the ropes and every once in a while he'd teach me something new, and then after a few minutes he'd turn me lose to see how I'd do. Usually it went pretty well.
How did you end up going to Haiti?
I grew up in a church family. That was how we got started on missions. One of the big things that drew me Georgia Tech was that I had seen students in Haiti who had started a solar project down there in a compound that I had worked in. I saw the effect that had in the community. I had been there one or two years before they completed the project and I was there again a year or two after, so I really saw the impact the project had on the village, and how much it had changed life in the compound. Seeing that Georgia Tech students could have that kind of impact really impressed me.
(Editor’s Note: The students were on a trip organized by Georgia Tech’s IEEE Power & Energy Society (PES) Student Chapter, led by faculty advisor and research engineer Frank Lambert from Georgia Tech’s National Electric Energy Testing Research and Applications Center (NEETRAC))
What is your major and what drew you to it?
I'm a materials science and engineering major. I'm still learning what it's all about since I’m only in my first year and haven’t really started major-specific classes. My junior year of high school someone from MSE reached out to me and kind of laid out what it was. I had considered mechanical engineering and aerospace, but they sold me on MSE. I like that it's smaller, and it has opened a lot of doors for me so far. Because of the size of the program, you really get to know the students and faculty.
How did growing up on a farm help prepare you for Georgia Tech?
Farming really gives you a different perspective on life. I grew up on a cattle farm, with horses, cows, and lots of hay to be bailed. It's a lot of work, and you really grow up with the attitude that there's always stuff that needs to get done, and you just get it done when it needs to get done. When you’re taking care of animals you can’t put things off until later. I think that approach has helped me as a student.
Coming from a rural area, what did you think of the Georgia Tech campus?
My dad played football for Tech back in the 80's, so I grew up a Tech fan, and we made lots of visits to campus. I knew what it looked like, but there's a big difference between living on a 240 acre farm and being in the middle of a major city. Growing up in a small town you'd see the same people all the time and say hi to everybody. Here it's different- it takes time to get to know people. That’s why I like being in a smaller program like MSE. It makes the size of Tech and Atlanta more manageable. It's kind of the best of both worlds.
What have the keys been to meeting other students?
I have an older sister who is in college and she gave me some good advice. She told me to keep my door open as much as possible the first few weeks, and that worked out well for me. I've gone to social mixers, and I've gotten involved with an organization called BCM, the Baptist Collegiate Ministry. They meet twice a week, so that's been a good way to connect with other people.
Your faith is obviously very important to you. How did you start going on mission trips?
We grew up very mission-minded. We did a lot of domestic stuff with our church, then friends of our moved to Mississippi and got involved in a church there. They went to Haiti with that church and when they came back they told us about it. That got us started on going down with them. We go for a week each summer at the beginning of the summer. When we're there we have a group dedicated to a construction project. We've built houses for families that were living in just awful conditions. The conditions are pretty bad in general down there, but we try to help the ones that worse off by Haiti standards. It's not unusual to see a family of seven just living under a tarp, or something like that. So we build houses for them. We usually have another group dedicated to running a medical clinic, and another group working with kids, going to their schools, or doing vacation Bible school.
What have you learned from those trips?
It's a life-changing experience. I remember the first time that I went- what stood out the most was going to church with them. We were up on a mountain in a village with no power and very limited resources, but the community had one generator and a little bit of gas, and they used it to power the speakers and lights during their church services. They have a different way of looking at life and at what's important. They're some of the happiest people I've seen, but they have nothing. They don't get trapped in the materialistic views that the world has. They've found true happiness in each other and in what God has given them.
Do you know what you want to do with your Georgia Tech education?
I'm definitely pursuing something service-oriented. I think that if you can help people, you should. That's how I was raised and that's what I think I should do in my life. I want to get involved in some company or organization that really gets out there and focuses on helping where they can.
What would you tell students curious about Georgia Tech?
Even though you're in the middle of the city you don't feel like it, so don’t let that scare you away. It feels homey. There's so much green space that you can forget you’re in the city until you look up and see the skyline. Classes are kind of hard, but you have to challenge yourself to make yourself better. There’s so much to learn- that’s why you come to a place like this. So far it has all been worth it.
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