Almost 200 Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering seniors are set to graduate this May. Each one has a unique story to tell. Here are four of them.
Electrical engineering major Benjamin Chang is all about upholding Georgia Tech traditions and spreading school spirit to new Yellow Jackets. His college career has been punctuated by his involvement in several extracurricular organizations that spread the Georgia Tech love to new and current students alike. Chang started working with FASET (Familiarization and Adaptation to the Surroundings and Environs of Tech), which is an orientation program for new students and their families, during the summer after his sophomore year. From there, he steadily became involved in more activities such as Wreck Camp, an extended orientation experience for new students designed to help jumpstart the college experience, and GT 1000, The Georgia Tech first year seminar.
When he isn’t helping new students get acclimated to the Tech experience, he is busy spreading school cheer to the student body, alumni, and the greater Georgia Tech family through the Ramblin’ Reck Club, an organization of students founded in 1930 that is committed to the education and promotion of Tech spirit, history, and tradition. In addition to organizing spirit-related events and upholding Tech traditions like Homecoming and T-Book, the Reck Club performs one of the most important functions on campus: maintaining the Ramblin’ Wreck.
This year, Chang added Georgia Tech Cheerleading to his portfolio of spirit-related commitments. In between his extracurricular activities, he managed to squeeze in co-op work with NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The challenge of participating in so many activities combined with coursework taught Chang valuable time management skills as well as how to be a team player. Through it all, his Reck Club family helped him inject moments of fun into times that would have otherwise been stressful.
Chang is still deciding between graduate school or working in industry, but regardless of his future path, he’s sure to keep his beloved alma mater close to his heart for the long haul.
“I love this school and I want to help others develop the same love for this school that I have. We’re only at Tech for so long, I want people’s experience here to be positive and memorable when they look back as alumni,” Chang said.
Electrical engineering major Chris Timperio spent much of his time in college building a global community through the game of lacrosse. Now his legacy stretches from Georgia to Europe and includes an opportunity to play in the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) World Lacrosse Championships.
Attracted by the fast pace and high level of concentration required, Timperio’s passion for the sport started in high school. When he moved from New York to Savannah, Georgia to attend Armstrong Atlantic State University (AASU), he noticed that lacrosse wasn’t as popular in the South. He was disappointed to find that AASU didn’t have a team, but felt he lacked the influence and know-how to change things.
“I was thinking there wasn’t any possible way this kid from New York could just come down and start a team,” Timperio said.
He quickly put his urge to start one on the backburner in order to acclimate to his new environment and focus on schoolwork. Once Timperio settled in, he joined a local club called Savannah Schlitz where he gained new skills and enjoyed the camaraderie of working with a team toward a common goal. With that experience under his belt, he felt confident enough to take the plunge and see what it would take to start a team at AASU. He paired up with another northeastern transplant named Gregory Muller and they jumped into the process.
“We studied the ins and outs of creating a sport club team, recruited players, talked to administrators, scheduled fundraisers, wrote a constitution, and petitioned for the new AASU lacrosse team to become a registered sports organization. From the time we started the process to the time I left Armstrong to transfer to Tech, the team had grown to more than 20 players with funding from the school for uniforms, equipment, and travel,” Timperio said.
Moving from AASU to Georgia Tech, Timperio went from a big fish in a small sea to being swallowed up by rigorous courses and a well-established lacrosse program.
“I knew the workload at Tech would be tougher than AASU and the lacrosse program would now be in the big leagues. It was definitely humbling going from the top of your program to starting out at the bottom. However, this gave me a new motivation to work even harder and make a name for myself at Tech,” Timperio said.
During his junior year at Tech, Timperio spent a semester abroad in Metz, France at the Georgia Tech Lorraine campus. While there, he had the opportunity to meet and train with lacrosse teams from all over Europe including groups in Rome and Belgrade, as well as German teams from Kaiserslautern, Saarbrucken, Trier, and Munich. Over a weekend trip to Serbia, Timperio met and played with the Belgrade Zombies. He became fast friends with the group as they played lacrosse and toured the city. At the end of the weekend, the Zombies invited Timperio to play with them for their induction into the FIL World Lacrosse Championships.
After graduation, Timperio plans to work in RF engineering at Space X. But regardless of his professional commitments, the friendships and community he has built with lacrosse will endure. He has a firm date on the calendar to reunite with the Zombies in Manchester, England for the 2018 Championships. He also hopes to pass his love of the game on to the next generation by coaching a youth team.
Erin Hanson has a tattoo of Karel J. Robot, the first program she learned from her high school mentor, computer science teacher Bambi Hertel. It is a permanent testament to Hertel’s passion for programming and teaching as well as a reminder to keep moving forward, no matter the obstacles. The tattoo and her teacher’s impact on her were made all the more poignant due to Hertel’s passing from lung cancer last year, combined with her own health struggles.
Hanson took every course offered by Hertel in order to soak up everything she had to teach. By the time Hanson enrolled at Georgia Tech, it was a no-brainer that she would major in computer engineering. She has excelled in her studies due in part to the foundation laid by Hertel.
“Academically, I feel mediocre compared to a lot of the kids I encounter in ECE. The accomplishments that stick out the most to me are very small moments in the grand scheme of the six years I've spent here: that one time I got 100% on my thermo test, or the one semester that I managed to pull off straight A's,” Hanson said.
Despite her humility, Hanson’s accomplishments earned her the prestigious Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship from the Department of Defense (DoD). The award targets scientists and engineers with an aptitude for conducting theoretical and applied research. It covers the full cost of tuition, plus a monthly living stipend. In exchange, an equal time commitment in the form of civilian work is owed to the DoD.
“That award lifted a tremendous financial burden. It was better than any grade I could have gotten,” Hanson said.
During the spring of 2014 while enjoying academic successes and a new found financial safety net, Hanson began experiencing sharp pain in her lower abdomen. An ultrasound revealed a grapefruit-sized mass on her ovary. Surgery to remove the mass was done right before spring break. The pathology report came back and she was diagnosed with stage two ovarian cancer. Chemotherapy was recommended immediately.
“All I could think was ‘Oh my God…I’m never going to graduate.’ I tried to bargain with the oncologist. ‘I can’t do chemo now. I have an internship in Ohio and then only 12 credits left. We can do chemo after I graduate. He was not amused,” Hanson said.
Surgery and chemotherapy meant Hanson missed a good bit of school. Physical recovery was hard, but the mental strain has taken even more of a toll.
“They don’t really tell you how much it can mess with your brain,” Hanson said.
She recalled a final she had to take during the course of treatment and described it as “nauseously grasping at straws that aren’t really there.” Even now she says her brain isn’t at 100%, but the compassion of her classmates and professors has made her battle easier and taught her to be vulnerable.
“I desperately wanted to remain this self-sufficient, independent person, but it wasn’t always possible. There’s a lot to be said for asking for help and admitting your shortcomings,” Hanson said.
Hanson is now in remission and will head to Dayton, Ohio after graduation to fulfill her civilian career duties under the SMART program with Wright Patterson Air Force Base. From there, graduate school may be in the cards.
“After all,” Hanson said with her customary dry wit, “I now have a killer adversity essay for my applications.”
Zack Danielak remembers being captivated by the dissection of a boom box in 3rd grade. At such a young age, Danielak had no real understanding of technology, but the puzzle it presented was intriguing. The fact that he comes from a long line of engineers combined with this “light bulb” moment in third grade led him to study electrical engineering. As he began to uncover the mysteries of technology in class, he also started performing his own kind of magic as a member of the Georgia Tech Cheerleaders. And while his love of engineering played out like destiny, his other great passion happened almost as a fluke.
Danielak, who was interested in weightlifting during his freshman and sophomore years, ran into a friend at the gym who happened to be on the cheerleading squad.
“He told me that if I like lifting weights, I should try lifting people! So I went to an open practice and loved it right away,” Danielak said.
As a member of the White Squad, Danielak cheers at home football games and women’s basketball games as well as competing against other universities at Cheersport Nationals. His favorite moment cheering was when he did his first back flip at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
One of 12 men on a 38-person squad, Danielak is the only ECE student and spends a lot of time with his female teammates both during practice and at games. Not only is the sport challenging and fun, it is also a refreshing contrast to his classes, where the ratio of men to women is decidedly higher.
“Being part of a team with so many successful, athletic, and intelligent female engineers is motivating and inspiring. Our team has one of the highest percentages of athletes in STEM fields and on the Dean’s List, due in no small part to the drive and ambition that these women bring to the team,” Danielak said.
In addition to being inspired by his fellow engineering teammates, he also acknowledges other benefits of the sport.
“I now have the confidence to shine through interviews, as well as lots of experience working under pressure, making quick decisions, and working with a team through thick and thin,” Danielak said.
After graduation, he hopes to work in the automotive industry and focus on hybridization and electrification. With the confidence that comes from performing in front of crowds of fans in Bobby Dodd Stadium combined with a world-class education in electrical engineering, look for him making waves with eco-friendly cars in the future. And while his life may take him far from Tech, he hopes to come back and attend as many football games as possible to cheer on the Yellow Jackets from the stands instead of the sidelines.
Last revised August 1, 2017