With over 6,000 members, Georgia Tech’s Student Alumni Association (SAA) is the largest student organization on campus. SAA connects current students with Tech alumni to foster personal and professional growth. It also promotes philanthropy on campus, with all member donations going back to the students in support of a variety of causes. Since SAA's inception nine years ago, over $500,000 has been donated by SAA members.
Ilesh Jain, a fourth-year undergraduate in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE), served as president of SAA for the 2019-2020 academic year. He came to Georgia Tech on a scholarship funded by alumni, so the importance of alums giving back to students stuck with him throughout his time in SAA. His journey to the presidency was natural, starting when he joined the organization his fourth week at Georgia Tech.
Almost immediately, Jain began facilitating an SAA speaker series called Expert Jackets. Students are given the opportunity to meet an alumnus and hear their undergraduate and postgraduate experiences. “I was the guy introducing and talking with the incoming CFO of Coca-Cola. I was like, ‘Woah, I am a freshman, and this is one of the coolest things ever,’” Jain remembered.
Jain quickly saw the value of SAA and wanted to get involved in its leadership. His second year, Jain became both chair of member engagement and chair of Mentor Jackets. He then went on to be vice president of alumni connections his third year. “For me, it was very important to try different positions and see how each person fits into the overall mission of the organization,” he said. “It's very empowering for all of us — SAA leadership — to potentially make an impact on a significant portion of the student population, both undergrad and grad.”
One main goal Jain had as president was to understand what students wanted from SAA and to provide programming and events that matched the feedback. This focus on member engagement aimed to get members more involved in events SAA puts on. Meeting alumni has never been easier with SAA annually hosting over 100 events such as Dinner Jackets (an evening of food and conversation with alumni), Expert Jackets, Mentor Jackets, and more.
The Mentor Jackets program allows SAA members to have one-to-one contact with alumni in order to support their academic and professional development. One of Jain’s mentors, a biomedical engineer for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, had a big impact on Jain’s experience at Georgia Tech. Despite the differences in their fields, Jain learned about the nonprofit world and about thriving at Georgia Tech from his mentor’s insights.
Even though Jain’s senior year did not go as expected due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he didn’t let it slow him down. He, along with the rest of the SAA leadership team, worked to convert many events into remote versions and create new virtual workshops. SAA was able to host Expert Jackets and wellness workshops via video call. “We’ve really taken on the mentality that the show must go on,” Jain said.
More than ever, Georgia Tech alumni are providing support to the student body. From participating in webinars and virtual events to donating to the Student Emergency Fund set up for students who are financially affected by COVID-19, alumni are actively assisting students. For students, knowing that there is a huge community behind them helps alleviate some of the challenges generated by the pandemic.
“Everything on campus is impacted by alumni one way or another. Most buildings have an alumni name tied to it, and they made a big contribution to make sure the students get the right facilities,” Jain explained. With such a big impact, providing an outlet for alumni to support the campus is what makes SAA so important.
When asked which Georgia Tech alum stands out for him personally, Jain had a ready answer: John Young, AE 1952. “Knowing that at a Georgia Tech alum went to the moon and is one of the most recognized astronauts in the entire world boggles my mind,” he said. It is fascinating to Jain that such a notable alumnus was sitting in the same classrooms and walking the paths that Jain traversed.
As Jain moves onto the next chapter in his life, the roles will reverse, and he will become an alumnus supportingt the next generation of students. After graduation, Jain plans to stay in Midtown Atlanta and starting in January, work as a consultant for the Boston Consulting Group. Being phyically close to his alma mater, he plans on continuing his participation in SAA.
Jain said, “I am really excited to be a mentor through the Mentor Jackets program and host a Dinner Jackets event when I come back to Atlanta for work."