Meet some of the new engineers finishing their degrees this fall.

Friday, 16 December 2022
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Over the course of three Commencement ceremonies Dec. 16 and 17, the College of Engineering will send 1,400 new graduates out into the world. They’ll carry the Georgia Tech banner with them wherever they go, using their knowledge and experiences to help solve society’s most pressing problems.

We asked a few Clark Scholars and students who’ve been involved in programs in the Center for Engineering Education and Diversity (CEED) to share a piece of their story ahead of graduation.

They talked about how they’ve grown in their years at Georgia Tech and what they’re taking with them as they move on to new chapters in their lives.

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Gabrielle Brim

Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering

Gabrielle Brim is working on her grad school applications and interviewing for short-term research positions, so the exact contours of her post-Commencement life are still taking shape.

She’s fine with that — a perspective she’s honed throughout her college years in talking to the people around her about their own journeys. Their experiences and advice have helped her carve out her next steps without worrying that every career detail (or detour) is planned out in advance.

“I always thought that, post-college, the path was linear. But from my discussions with many faculty and many people who have already graduated, what they ultimately ended up doing or wanted to do was never linear,” Brim said. “So, I have adopted that perspective that the path is not meant to be linear. You go through this journey of finding what you like, what you don't like, and ultimately what you're passionate about.”

Brim’s discovery of her own passions — biomaterials and bioengineering — echoed the twisting paths she heard about from so many others.

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headshot of Gabrielle Brim in commencement regalia

She developed an interest in engineering in high school, though she didn’t know where to focus. She knew someone in the dual-degree program between Georgia Tech and Spelman College, and suddenly an interesting new path opened to help her explore engineering more deeply.

Brim earned a bachelor’s in math at Spelman, and along the way met a chemistry professor with an engineering background and a research lab working on microgel particles for disease sensing. A new path materialized again when her faculty mentor suggested Brim had an aptitude for research, so she should consider graduate school.

At Georgia Tech, Brim explored medical device design and other biomaterials research experiences. She also has served as a tutor and teaching assistant — roles she didn’t expect to have, much less enjoy. And so, after she earns her Ph.D. and builds her career experiences, could that open another pathway in the zigzag of life?

“I definitely want to get some industry experience in the biotechnology field,” Brim said. “And after working in industry, returning to academia could be the way I give back to the communities that helped me.”

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A group of students wearing lab coats and goggles in a lab

Gabrielle Brim (center) had several research experiences, including working in Andrés García's lab.

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a group of students with mascot Buzz in front of a poster at the Capstone Design Expo

Brim (third from left) with her Capstone Design teammates. They designed a new kind of heated blanket to prevent patients from losing body heat prior to surgery.

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John Respert in cap and gown holding a Georgia Tech pennant

John Respert

George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering

Comfort in the uncomfortable.

That’s what John Respert has been thinking about as his time at Georgia Tech winds down. When he arrived after high school, he knew he wanted to make connections, find a co-op position, and build on those experiences to earn a full-time job offer by the time he turned his tassel at Commencement. But he didn’t always know how he was going to turn his goals into reality.

He’s learned that’s OK.

“I don’t necessarily have to have everything completely figured out ahead of time. It’s good to prepare for those things that I can prepare for, but uncertainty is something I have to count on,” Respert said. “Sometimes these moments really push me out of my comfort zone, but I had to learn to expect and accept that. Based on my experiences, achievements, and surprises during my time at Tech, I have learned to trust that things will work out.”

That included using the network he built through on-campus work-study and research opportunities to land a co-op “at just the right time,” he said. It was Fall 2021, and Respert was preparing for an internship with a local company. The position fell through at the last minute, and he had to scramble to sort out his class schedule and find another opportunity. A friend in the Delta Air Lines co-op program helped him connect with a recruiter, and he earned a position. Now he’s leveraged that co-op into a full-time job in cabin interiors with Atlanta’s hometown airline.

Of course, not everything ended up the way Respert imagined — but that was just another lesson in trusting that things will work out. In his first year, he set his sights on becoming a Prototyping Instructor in the Flowers Invention Studio and studying abroad. Neither happened.

“I did become an employee with the Digital Fabrication Lab on campus, where I was able to satisfy my goal of learning how to operate and create with all of the cool machinery Tech has to offer,” Respert said. “I also wasn’t able to study abroad during college due to Covid, but my career is set up to provide plenty of opportunities for traveling around the world.”

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John Respert in the lab with a 3D printer

Respert in the Digital Fabrication Lab. One of his early goals at Georgia Tech was to work in a makerspace and learn how to create with the advanced machines available to students.

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Bijée Jackson

George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering

Bijée Jackson left her family in Jamaica when she came to study mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech. But she quickly found another on campus — many others, actually.

So leaving campus this month for the next chapter of her life is emotional.

“I found and made so many good connections here. My family's not here, so everyone here is my family. Everyone here,” Jackson said. “It's going to be very hard to leave the people who have been here for me for the last five years.”

Jackson said she has gotten involved in everything she could think of in an effort to develop professionally, create social connections, and advance diversity in engineering. She’s a resident assistant, a student ambassador, and a member of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority. She has been mentored through the Peer 2 Peer Mentoring Program in the College’s CEED program and participated in the center’s programs since she arrived on campus. She also was involved with the Caribbean Student Association and the Society of Black Engineers. And she served on the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council in the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering.

Each experience — each of those families — added something new to Jackson’s perspective, she said: “I think all of them embody learning something new, coming out of your box, and just being open to new experiences and new opinions.”

Jackson carried the same sense of exploration into her professional pursuits, too, taking to heart the advice of a mentor at Cummins who told her to diversify her experiences. That led to summer internships at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and Procter & Gamble (P&G). After she leaves her families at Georgia Tech, she’ll officially join P&G as a packaging engineer.

First, though, she’ll reconnect with some more family, the one in Jamaica, where she’s planning a good long visit.

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Bijée Jackson in commencement regalia standing next to the Georgia Tech marker

“I found and made so many good connections here. My family's not here, so everyone here is my family. Everyone here. It's going to be very hard to leave the people who have been here for me for the last five years.”

BIJÉE JACKSON

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Simrill Smith in front of the Atlanta skyline at dusk
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Simrill Smith in commencement regalia and roller skates

Simrill Smith

School of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Simrill Smith came to Georgia Tech with the goal of gaining a global education — the details would fall into place later.

“I’d had experiences living abroad in high school that were really transformative,” Smith said. “Studying environmental engineering and minoring in global development, I wanted to have global experiences that could help shape my understanding of how the world handles urbanization and sustainability.”

Smith is a Clark Scholar, and the program provided her with enrichment funding to travel abroad three times over 4.5 years, including to Japan, Georgia Tech-Europe, and South Korea.

“There are always opportunities here. We are a premier research institution, and there are so many opportunities to do things and get funding."

SIMRILL SMITH

One overseas experience, Smith recalled, brought new discoveries back to her research in Atlanta. After her first year, Smith traveled with the Japan Summer Program in Sustainable Development. With students from the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and the College of Computing, she worked on a research project focused on high-probability, high-consequence disasters and preparation strategies. The experience, Smith said, was unforgettable.

“Getting to be in Japan and learn how they build resilience in their society, and then coming back home to apply that in research, has been awesome.”

Studying abroad also brought special personal experiences for Smith. Classes were largely virtual when she was in South Korea, so Smith traveled to more than 10 different cities around the country and had opportunities for lots of adventures — like bungee-jumping.

Smith is also a Gilman Scholar, a program run by the U.S. Department of State that provides financial support for study abroad. She said international education may be more accessible than some students think.

“There are always opportunities here,” Smith said. “We are a premier research institution, and there are so many opportunities to do things and get funding. That’s a major benefit I’ll miss when I move on from here.”

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Mackenzie Sicard

H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering

It’s a marathon, not a race.

To Mackenzie Sicard, that phrase — shared during her transition to president of Outdoor Recreation at Georgia Tech (ORGT) — has been the motto of her time in college.

“It’s something I almost wish I had heard earlier in my Tech career. I think the marathon mindset applies to college life,” she said, “and it’s good to remember to pace yourself and do something you might find enjoyable as a break.”

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Mackenzie Sicard hangs from a cliff in rock climbing gear in her commencement regalia

For Sicard, the break can consist of hiking, rock climbing, and trekking through the outdoors. ORGT has been a place for her to pause from a hectic class schedule, and it’s been a source of inspiration for her as a leader.

She remembers a key moment when she knew she could be a strong, confident leader: The summer before her sophomore year, Sicard was selected to lead a Tech Trek with two other instructors to Alaska — rare for a second-year. At that point, she’d only been backpacking twice, and she recalled being nervous about her skills.

On the trail, she was tasked with leading her student group to a meeting point where they’d find the other instructors. She was searching for the nearest trail intersection, but when she did, something felt wrong. With the encouragement of her students and the willingness to take a risk, Sicard led her group to another part of the trail where the instructors were waiting for them.

“I definitely felt challenged and knew the decision I made had a big impact on the rest of the day,” she said. “I trusted myself that something wasn’t right and fixed it. I felt like a competent leader after that. It’s not that you necessarily have to know everything, but you know to trust yourself and your intuition.”

Sicard has drawn inspiration from that day time and again, she said.

“It inspired me throughout the rest of college. It helped me in school to trust my ideas more and trust that I understood things in class,” Sicard said. “It’s that moment that you feel like you can do things and feel good about yourself.”

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Victoria Lynn in commencement regalia next to the Georgia Tech marker

Victoria Lynn

School of Civil and Environmental Engineering

A “twist of events” is what Victoria Lynn calls her time at Georgia Tech.

“Georgia Tech was my dream school,” Lynn said. “I thought my whole college career would be taking four years of classes, being on campus every semester, then graduating and working a full-time job.”

None of those expectations exactly came about the way she expected. But the unexpected has proved meaningful nonetheless.

Lynn knew she wanted to come to Georgia Tech to study civil engineering, and support from the Clark Scholars Program made her move to Atlanta a reality.  

Lynn had planned to study in China after her second year. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit, and all programs were cancelled. Classes went online, and Lynn found herself at home in Mississippi — certainly not in her plan. Yet she appreciates now what she learned in those long months.

“I learned that it’s okay to be alone, and there are always a lot of people supporting me,” Lynn said. “It’s so important for me to be independent yet reach out to people who might be considered ‘busy’ when I need help. They’re so open to talk to you and help you.”

Meanwhile, new opportunities were brewing: the Clark Scholars Program helped her land a civil engineering internship in Atlanta, and she was able to return to her new home.

That internship, she said, offered valuable experience as she charted her future career plans. She realized the physical construction side of civil engineering wasn’t exactly what she wanted to do.

In Spring 2022, Lynn tried again for a study abroad experience — this time to Yonsei University in South Korea. And in another twist, she found a new passion for business during the program, she said. When she got back to Georgia Tech, she started a minor in international business, language, and culture. Now she’s moving to Houston in June to work in importing for international business.

Lynn said she looks back on her unexpected college experiences and sees them as catalysts for meaningful growth. She’s not where she expected 4.5 years ago, but Lynn said the twists of experience got her right where she needs to be.

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Mariah Washington

School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Mariah Washington’s years at Georgia Tech have been replete with mentors — peers, advisors, friends, her faith community.

It was Edge mentors in OMED: Educational Services in her first year who showed her the importance of extending grace and support. It was an academic advisor who vouched for Washington after a tough fall semester in her second year, ensuring she would keep her scholarship. It was her sisters in the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority who demonstrated the value of loyalty and service. And it was a graduate advisor in the sorority who helped Washington see her own potential as a leader, positioning her to serve as the chapter’s president this year.

It was also a peer mentor during her freshman year, Charles Van-Hein Sackey, who shared the piece of advice that has guided her ever since.

“He told me to make sure to ‘be intentional and define your peace,’” Washington said

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Mariah Washington headshot
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Mariah Washington with her sisters from the Nu Beta Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated after they won the 14th Annual NPHC Stepshow this year. "This was definitely a highlight of my time at Tech," she says.

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“I didn’t initially comprehend this at first. I was a first-year trying to navigate rigorous academics, find a community, and most importantly, eat at least twice a day. He told me that through experience, I would understand. Four and a half years later, I live by this advice and try to instill it within my community.”

Washington said she is surprised looking back at how mentorship has been a significant pillar of her college experience. It started from the moment she came to campus and continues with Washington now taking the role of mentor. She’s a works with chemical engineering students in the CEED Peer 2 Peer program. She’s also helping guide first-year students as an Edge mentor and supporting incoming students through the OMED Challenge program.

“My Edge mentees over the past three years and my Challenge students have brought me overflowing love and poignancy,” Washington said. “Overall, Tech has taught me my God-given gifts of serving others and the beauty that comes with it.”

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Related Content

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Center for Engineering Education and Diversity

Georgia Tech remains a national leader in producing a diverse population of engineers and the College of Engineering’s Center for Engineering Education and Diversity (CEED) is a key component of that effort. CEED proudly collaborates with other Georgia Tech offices and student organizations as well as alumni, national organizations, corporations, the K-12 community, and other universities to create and support a diversified engineering workforce.

Clark Scholars Program

In 2018, the A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation partnered with Georgia Tech to financially support students who exhibit strong academic and leadership potential. The Clark Scholars Program is one of Georgia Tech’s signature academic programs, combining engineering, leadership, and community service.