The Class of 2020 Tells Us What's Next

The Class of 2020 Tells Us What's Next
The Annual Graduation Feature of the Aerospace Engineering School at Georgia Tech.


They are a relentless bunch, the December cohort of the Class of 2020.

For the past 8 months, they've been exploring bold new concepts in rotorcraft design, electric propulsion, big data and small satellites --  all from their apartments, dorm rooms, and - in some cases -  their parents' house. Most of them will tell you that it would be nice to share a pizza with their classmates. It would be better still to indulge in an impromptu debate about lab results that didn't involve video technology, sweaty masks, or the unmistakable scent of alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

But, true to the Georgia Tech brand, they knew they could do this. And they did: slogging through online classes, interviewing potential employers by Zoom, visiting new worksites via video, and  - before they collected that all-important sheepskin - talking to the AE Communications Department for the December 2020 installment of What's Next?


Dr. Eugene Mangortey
Eugene Mangortey
Ph.D. AE '20

What is your next adventure?

I will be going to the Federal Aviation Administration's Technical Center in New Jersey where I'll be working with big data, machine learning, and analytics. One thing the FAA is trying to do is to improve the way it deals with a lot of data that is coming into them in different formats on a daily basis. We need to bring it all into one area to extract, process, and analyze. Our team will put it all on one platform and we'll devise tools to analyze it, real-time.

What about your next adventure are you most looking forward to?

I've always been excited to learn new things. This will give me that opportunity. I'll learn how to use new technology and software and I'll be learning more about the FAA's systems. What I really like about this is that I will directly see the impact that my work has on the aviation industry. My contribution won't be some small task that languishes on some forgotten computer. The fact that I have an aerospace background and a computer background is even better. The aerospace industry needs to incorporate more big data, analytics, and machine learning into what they do. I have the ability to make that happen because I can see both sides - the front-end and the back end.

Did you have any previous co-op, internship, or research experience in this area?

Over the past year I've worked a the FAA's Technical Center while I've been working on my dissertation. Prior to that, I did a summer internship at the same location. This has been fantastic because when I had a question that related to my thesis, the only thing I had to do was to walk down the hall and ask one of my work colleagues. I have Dr. [Dimitri] Mavris to thank for that. Another advisor might have said I had to be on campus to complete my doctoral thesis, but he just said "If you think it will push you forward, do it."  And that's what I did. My dissertation looked at the application of machine learning and big data to the areas of airport operations and flight safety.

How did your educational experience at Georgia Tech help you to achieve your goals?

The research opportunities are amazing. In my case, I started grad school not knowing exactly what I wanted to do, but the research I was able to do, and the people who mentored me along the way, they made all the difference. Olivia Pinon Fischer has been my mentor from the very first day I joined ASDL. She's encouraged me, with fantastic research projects - work that sharpened my critical thinking and comprehension of the material. She pushed me to publish my work,  and she encouraged me to do something a lot of masters students don't do -- a master's thesis - which made my Ph,D. thesis a whole lot easier to complete. I owe her a lot.

The 19-year-old Eugene who came to Tech as an undergrad was fascinated by planes. As a child I lived next to an airport in Ghana, and I grew up crazy about them. I even knew their schedules. The Eugene who just earned his doctorate likes to solve real world problems, and that's what I'm going to be able to do at the FAA.

What advice would you give to an underclassman who would like to follow the same path?

For undergrads, I'd say don't be afraid to jump into undergrad research. I discovered ASDL as an undergrad, and that's how I got interested in undergraduate research. If I hadn't done that, i don't know what I would have done.
Secondly, I did two semesters abroad - at Georgia Tech Lorraine -  and that's actually where I made my closest friends.
Also, be open-minded about exploring other research areas and go out of your way to explore those new areas when you identify them. For me, I was open-minded because, honestly, I didn't know where I wanted to focus. And it meant that I did some research on the side, just because I was interested.


Shravan Hariharinan
Shravan Hariharan,
B.S. AE '20

What is your next adventure?

I will be starting an internship at NASA JPL focusing on entry, descent, and landing [EDL] for the Mars Sample Mission. That's the mission that will be returning to Mars to retrieve the samples that the 2020 Mars Rover will collect. I'm still applying to different graduate schools, but the plan is to enter graduate school this fall. I wanted to stay busy working on something interesting in between.

What about your next adventure are you most looking forward to?

EDL is something I've wanted to do for four years, so this internship is really exciting. They are placing me at the intersection of systems engineering and mechanical engineering, so I'll get to work on both the early portion of the mission and the later parts. For the last three semesters, I've been doing some EDL research, so it will be exciting to see how all of that research applies to an actual engineering project.

Did you have any previous co-op, internship, or research experience in this area?

Internships have been a defining factor in my undergraduate experience. I completed 5 internships - at NASA Langley, Northrop Grumman, Spin Launch, and two rotations at Blue Origin.

At NASA Langley, I was a research intern working on the photo sieve telescope. At Northrop Grumman I was an advanced program systems engineer working on the ISS resupply mission to optimize data processing between the space craft and Earth. At Spin Launch, I was a mechanical engineering intern. At Blue Origin, I did one rotation working as a propulsion engineer for the new Glenn Rocket. On my second rotation, I was a fluid systems engineer working on the human landing system for the moon 2024 mission.

This internship was really cool. I was the only intern working on a small team that included Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Draper, and Blue Origin. I worked with the smartest people I'd ever worked with. I walked out of every meeting understanding new concepts so much better and really getting a better idea of what I want to work on, long term: systems architecture. I'm really interested in working on the early stages of the mission design, where you get to consider so many options and systems. But, before I can be a jack of all trades, I need to have a deeper technical expertise in a few areas. So I can see that path forward. I want to deepen my understanding of thermo-fluid design and fluid management. 

I realized pretty early on in my internships that I liked working on projects more than studying, but the internship experience really underscored how important studying is. All of the fundamentals and the theory you get in class. And every single day of every internship I had, I found I had to use something that I'd learned about in class. It didn't look the same, but that's how you learn. In class you get problem sets with confined constraints where there's usually only one way to solve them. In industry, the problems you get are open-ended, and might involve multiple disciplines. There could be multiple right answers. You are looking for the best one.

At Tech I studied to learn the concepts, not to get the grade, so I really liked these challenges. There were certain internships where I was opening up my textbooks all the time to get a handle on a problem.

My research experience with Prof. Dec over the last three semesters has focused on designing a flexible heat shield that can be used in Mars entry application. Mars has an annoying atmosphere where it's thin enough to not show you down enough on your descent, but it's thick enough where things can get very hot if you move too quickly. The exciting thing about this type of research is that every single thing relates to different knowledge bases within aerospace engineering, so you really have to think big. The great thing about Professor Dec is that he is very well versed in the specifics. He doesn't just tell you things; he also explains why they are important and how they fit into the big picture. He also let me poke around the problem, exploring different things on my own. I always knew he was there to guide me.

How did your educational experience at Georgia Tech help you to achieve your goals?

I would say it's the tremendous opportunities that Tech has offered me from the beginning. I'm being intentionally value here because there are so many opportunities that Tech offers outside the classroom - to work on design project teams, to do research with professors, to join service organizations. I had the ability to shop around, to see what different groups could offer. I was president of the NASA Student Launch team for one year, where we built a rocket. I was also vice president of Sigma Gamma Tau and now I'm vice president of SAESAC. Every time I tried out something new, I met great people along the way.

What advice would you give to an underclassman who would like to follow the same path?

Try everything and talk to everyone. Really.

As far as trying everything: my freshman year, I applied to 200 internships and I got rejected by almost 200 internships. The one that panned out was NASA, and that worked out great. But I also learned that rejection is part of the process. Talking with other students, I saw that we all face it. And what it means is, you've just got to find a way to turn the 'no' around into a 'yes.' For me, I kept looking for ways to improve my knowledge and my skills...and I was met by faculty who welcomed me, encouraged me.

I'd also say that it helps to talk with another student who's been there before. Talking to older students really helped me. So, when I joined Sigma Gamma Tau, we founded a peer mentoring program.


Ashleigh Bunch
Ashleigh Bunch, B.S. AE '20

What is your next adventure?

I'm moving to Seattle, Washington to work for Honeywell Aerospace as a systems engineer focusing on human factors.

What about your next adventure are you most looking forward to?

Quite legitimately: I'm getting my dream job.

I worked in Seattle in 2019 and fell in love with the city. My whole vibe just fits with Seattle. I love the coffee. I love the thrift stores. It's just the right place for me.  And I'm so excited to get a job as a human factors engineer because I worked with Honeywell in this area before. They are an awesome company.

Did you have any previous co-op, internship, or research experience in this area?

I had two internships. In the summer of 2019, as a Brooke Owens Fellow, I worked in Seattle for Amazon Prime Air as a systems engineer. I had free range to try other things, though, and that's how I found my love of human factors engineering. When I returned from that fellowship, I worked hard to expand the Brooke Owens Fellowship so that more students from community colleges would know about it and be able to participate. This past summer, I had an internship with Honeywell Aerospace in Seattle, but, because of COVID, I worked remotely from Atlanta. This time I was officially a human factors engineer. I was looking specifically at the cockpit design, optimizing the interface that the pilot sees.

As far as research goes, I wasn't drawn to doing research until I got involved, this semester, with the FIDO Lab (Facilitating Interaction for Dogs with Occupations) which is run out of the College of Computing. I was focusing on the design of the user interface for touch screens.

How did your educational experience at Georgia Tech help you to achieve your goals?

Two things, definitely, stand out.

First, on the education front, Georgia Tech clearly gave me the best education I could have hoped for. I came in as a chemistry major, but halfway through my first year, I realized that was not me, so I started asking my friends what they were studying. One of them suggested I look into aerospace engineering, and it was perfect. In addition to earning my degree in aerospace engineering, I earned a minor in psychology. I loved the classes and they really applied to what I wanted to do. Psychology is so niche, but so necessary to human factors engineering.

The second thing I'd have to point out is the extra-curriculars. I've been super involved as a drum major in the Georgia Tech Marching Band. The support I had through that role allowed me to grow and to stand out as as a person. It's just so starkly different from the world of a typical AE student, and it was just what I needed. I didn't get involved in the Maker Space or the Design Build Fly or any of the typical AE clubs. Those are all great things, but for me exploring my interests outside of the AE School made me a more balanced person, more empathetic. It was one of my band friends who pointed me to the AE School when I wanted to change majors. And it was one of my band friends who pointed me to the Brooke Owens Fellowship. 

What advice would you give to an underclassman who would like to follow the same path?

In general, for any incoming freshman, I'd say: find something you are passionate about - whatever that may be -- and go for it. And especially for women: don't let anyone tell you to not do something. I had someone tell me that there aren't a lot of smart women in aerospace engineering. It was meant to discourage me, but I turned it around into a challenge: I was going to be the smartest woman in aerospace engineering and - more than that - I was going to uplift all the women I know to be the same. My friends are like me on that point: you 'd be lucky to hire any one of us.


Dr. Brian Eberly
Brian F. Eberle, Ph.D. AE '20

What is your next adventure?

I am moving to Boston to take a position with Draper Laboratory as a senior GNC [guidance navigation and control] analyst. I never interned there or co-opped, but they liked what I presented. I interviewed there remotely.

What about your next adventure are you most looking forward to?

I'm motivated by the technology I'll get to work on -- either an autonomous un-manned space shuttle or the human lander, a vehicle that will be used on the moon. I don't know which, yet, but, hey, I can't argue with those choices. At Tech I studied rotorcraft autonomy and handling - an experience that helped me to develop control experiments and flight dynamics experiments. As I was ending my degree, I took a step back to think about what I wanted to do, post-grad, and spacecraft controls just grabbed me. And the thing is, having a strong aerospace engineering controls background made me more attractive to Draper, so I'm getting a chance to explore an area that's very exciting to me.

Did you have any previous co-op, internship, or research experience in this area?

As an undergraduate at Tech, I did three rotations as a co-op with GE Aviation - one in New York, another in Massachusetts, and another in Ohio. I was working as a design engineer for a military jet engine. My biggest take-away from that experience was that the people who had the jobs I wanted to do all had advanced degrees.

While I was co-opping one semester, I was in a preliminary design role where we worked on a theoretical engine. At the time, I did a design study that I knew would have an impact on what engine GE would bid for the next generation air dominance vehicle. Of course, I was guided by engineers with master's and Ph.D.s and they were carrying the weight. But working on a project that would drive novel technology advances, well, that really got to me.

As a graduate student, I got to do research with Dr. [Jonathan] Rogers, who, like me, has a pilot's license. From the moment we met, we had a mutual respect for the knowledge and intuition we each brought to flight dynamics as pilots. And that respect led him to place me into research that would challenge my knowledge and passions. I focused on auto rotation- a maneuver that is performed in the event of engine failure in a helicopter. I was developing algorithms to automate the maneuver and developing pilot cues that would help the human pilots land the vehicle safely.

How did your educational experience at Georgia Tech help you to achieve your goals?

Tech provided me with an environment that was full of tremendous people -- faculty who encouraged me to think bigger, to dream bigger. And they believed in challenging me. I definitely lowered my head and plowed through a lot of very challenging material.

The other thing Tech did was it opened up international study. I studied abroad at GT Lorraine, and also in Germany (I minored in German). Studying abroad really opened up my world, and, again, it made me dream bigger. When I went to France, it inspired me to pick up the German language again - I'd studied it high school. If you learn another language you can experience a whole other world, another culture. That just changes how you see yourself and your own dreams. You can't help but dream bigger.

What advice would you give to an underclassman who would like to follow the same path?

We talk a lot about the doors that Tech opens, and that's really true. What I would add to that is this:  you have to decide what you want to do with those opportunities and consider what you need to do to make your dreams happen. That means you take the time, step back, and reflect on what you, personally, want to make of all the opportunities that you'll have.

For me, when I came to Tech, I didn't know what I wanted to do. I didn't know how to define what success would mean for me. I started out in mechanical engineering, and, as an undergraduate, I would have been happy to end up working for a gravel company. But along the way, I began to ask myself which of the opportunities I was offered really fit me. That gave me the direction I needed to work all the way through to a Ph.D. I would advise anyone to take the time to do the same.


Dr. Nathan Brown
Nathan Brown, Ph.D. AE '20

What is your next adventure?

I've accepted a position as a physicist with Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico. I’ll be performing experiments with the Z machine, a device that creates one of the highest energy-dense environments in the world. The extreme conditions created by Z enable scientists to study a host of interesting fields, including plasma physics and quantum mechanics. I’ll primarily be using Z to study quantum physics.

What about your next adventure are you most looking forward to?

I am excited to transition from engineering to physics. There are parts of the aerospace engineering program at Tech where we do a lot of math and physics - that's what I really liked. Now I will be doing it all the time. I’m also excited to live in New Mexico – it’ll be nice to be close to in-laws and snowboarding.

Did you have any previous co-op, internship, or research experience in this area?

I don’t have any direct experience in my new area, but I do have plenty of co-op, internship, and research experience. I worked four semesters as a structural and thermal engineer on projects like the James Webb and Space Launch System with ATA Engineering, Inc. I also helped design a novel gridded ion thruster as an intern with L-3. My research at Tech has included ballistic missile defense system optimization, plasma thruster testing, plasma-material interactions, and optical plasma diagnostics. Most importantly, these experiences gave me confidence to explore new areas and taught me how to learn – those attributes will help me most in my new job.

How did your educational experience at Georgia Tech help you to achieve your goals?

My classes provided a firm foundation in science and math, but my most important educational experience was my advisement. Professor Mitchell Walker taught me how to do research: find important questions, design experiments, and disseminate results. But, maybe more importantly, he believed in me and pushed me to achieve more than I thought I could. Much of who I am as a researcher is a direct result of his training.

What advice would you give to an underclassman who would like to follow the same path?

I’ll give you the same advice I gave to my younger brothers, who also attended Tech. [laughs]

Take advantage of all the experiences Georgia Tech provides: work as a co-op or intern, do research, and engage with the world-class professors. If all you ever do is school work, you won’t know what you want to do with your career. My experience in research and industry showed me what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.


Ashley Barnes
Ashley Barnes, M.S. AE '20

What is your next adventure?

I've been interviewing at different companies, looking for a systems engineering position in the space industry but I am open to different things. I am planning to move to the San Francisco Bay area.

What about your next adventure are you most looking forward to?

I'm keeping my options open, but what I'm most interested in is space systems - working on a space mission that needs systems developed, moving the technology forward. I love taking on problems and solving them to the point where you can see a system functioning optimally. The other thing is, after spending most of my life in school, it will be nice to have a more normal schedule. In academia, you get used to working some strange hours, and I'm looking forward to having an actual weekend, when I can count on doing my laundry.

Did you have any previous co-op, internship, or research experience in this area?

As a master's student, starting in the Fall of 2019, so much of my time has been taken up by COVID. But, as a member of ASDL (Aerospace Systems Design Lab), I got two Grand Challenge projects last Fall that kept me busy. And they ended up being reviewed by a lot more evaluators from industry than the usual end-of-year reviews because it was all done virtually. During one of my final presentations, there were 60 people watching me.

In one of my projects, I used model-based systems engineering (MBSE) for a project called DEAL - Digital Enterprise Across the LIfecyle - we had to bring more technology into the engineering lifecycle. I met monthly, online, with our sponsors from Rolls Royce, and then had an end-of-year review, where they asked me to explain all of my work. They wanted us to develop an efficient product lifecycle. We used Magic Draw, a software program, to produce requirement models, descriptive models, functional models, and use-case models.

How did your educational experience at Georgia Tech help you to achieve your goals?

At Princeton, where I did my undergraduate degree, I'd completed classes and done the homework, but I didn't feel like I knew what it was like to be an engineer. When I came to Tech, I wanted to develop more confidence in my professional engineering abilities. Now I feel like I have an edge over a lot of engineers coming out of college.

At Tech, my research projects have fully engaged me. When my partner came out to visit me during the year, he was really impressed by what he saw. I was going to meetings in different labs and discussing projects with sponsors. It was a fast pace, similar to what working engineers do. I had deliverables I had to produce, as opposed to just being a student who took classes. And at the end of the year, when I had to give presentations to the sponsors, I was really nervous at first - I wasn't used to talking to working engineers - but the nervousness went away because I had a lot to report.

What advice would you give to an underclassman who would like to follow the same path?

I'd definitely say, be pro-actively organized. Be social. And be optimistic.

Sometimes a lot is going on, and it seems overwhelming. You start to panic about what you should do first.  What helped me was to have a booklet where I wrote down all of the things I needed to do -- and all of the things I needed to do to get them done. If I got assigned to a group project in the beginning of the semester, I was that person who said "Okay, let's meet." Because if no one is taking the initiative, it's up to you to take it. You can calm yourself by realizing that if you take action now, you'll be less crazy later on. 

What I mean by social is this: it's a big transition going from undergraduate where you are with all your friends all the time, to graduate school, where you don't have time to be around everyone all the time. You need to find a good middle ground.  I made friends with the people in my lab and we went through things together, eating lunch together, having fun. Whatever. You need to have some social life.

About optimism. I noticed that when things got tough, we tend to split into two different ways of handling things. Some would just work and not do anything else. They tended to spiral down. Then there are others who realized that, well, we're all going to finish this, so why not be optimistic about the outcome? If you are working hard,  you will finish, so don't let yourself spiral down. Take care of your mental state with the same energy as you bring to to getting that project done. If you need extra time to get it done or you need some other sort of help, ask for it.


Ali Talaksi

Ali Talaksi, M.S. AE '20

What is your next adventure?

I am moving to Cape Canaveral, Florida to work for SpaceX as a launch engineer.

What about your next adventure are you most looking forward to?

For me, SpaceX is at the pinnacle of innovation in space exploration. That's why I wanted to get a master's degree: to be able to work and contribute to the most innovative research in my field.

Did you have any previous co-op, internship, or research experience in this area?

Research-wise, I was very lucky that Dr. [Glenn] Lightsey  asked me to come work with him again [in the Space Systems Design Lab] for graduate school. I've been working with him on the Lunar Flashlight, a CubeSat that will fly to the moon on the NASA Artemis mission in 2024. I've been the lead mechanical design engineer, developing a green liquid monopropellant. Most liquid propellants are volatile and not safe for humans, so what what makes this 'green' is its factor of safety. We'll be demonstrating the technology with Artemis - the first interplanetary CubeSat mission use a a green liquid monopropellant. I've had to work with NASA Marshall and NASA JPL, which has been very rewarding. It's taken everything that I learned as an undergraduate and a graduate student and forced me to apply it in a fast-paced, demanding environment. 

I also worked with Dr. Lightsey as an undergraduate, working on another CubeSat, RECONSO, as a part of the structures subsystems team. I was

How did your educational experience at Georgia Tech help you to achieve your goals?

The best thing Tech did was to challenge me to work through the most uncomfortable moments in the learning process. When you are uncomfortable, and then you work through it, it gives you this belief that you can do it again. So when you come up against another hurdle, you start to look at it like the next milestone you are going to hit. You know you'll be able to do it. I am so grateful that the educational environment encouraged this.

The professors are incredible, and I had the best advisor [Glenn Lightsey]. I'm so thankful that he brought me into his research lab to work with him. 

What advice would you give to an underclassman who would like to follow the same path?

Two things:

You shouldn't let your educational pursuits stop you from being you. And give 100 percent to whatever you are doing.

For me that meant doing things I enjoy that didn't relate to school at all. I played soccer before because I liked it. And I played here, too, on the Tech team. So I wasn't always bogged down by the stress of my studies. I had an outlet. And when I returned to the lab, I was ready to give it 100 percent.


Nathan Cheek
Nathan Cheek, M.S. AE '20

What is your next adventure?

Once I wrap up my research in December, I’m looking forward to a much-needed break. I will use some of this time to finish a research paper related to my work on the Lunar Flashlight Propulsion System. I’m considering a few options for work in the new year, including an aerospace company in the Los Angeles area and an engineering company in Silicon Valley.

What about your next adventure are you most looking forward to?

I’m excited about the opportunity to go out and build something new and exciting. And I’ve always lived in Georgia so the possibility of living in a new place is very intriguing. At Tech I’ve dedicated a high amount of my time to school, research, and projects, so I am looking forward to a chance at a healthier balance of my time once I graduate.

Did you have any previous co-op, internship, or research experience in this area?

As a graduate research assistant in the Space Systems Design Lab, working under Dr. [Glenn] Lightsey, I’ve had a wonderful opportunity to lead the development of the Lunar Flashlight Propulsion System controller. Lunar Flashlight is a JPL mission that aims to insert a cube-sat into orbit around the moon.I’ve had a mind-boggling range of opportunities on this project.

While I’ve done a lot of the work on the flight hardware and firmware we’ll be delivering, there’s a huge amount of supporting work to produce the end-items. This means working with the mechanical structures team to ensure we are working within the right volume constraints and ensuring that we can actually integrate the parts once they’re manufactured. It means designing and manufacturing test equipment that allow us to debug and perform functional testing of the controller. It also means carrying out environmental tests where we ensure the electronics can survive their journey into and through space.When you launch a payload into orbit, you have to worry about the vibration from the launch vehicle.

I learned how to perform random vibration testing to ensure that the controller will continue to operate after it reaches space.We also want to make sure that the electronics can stand up to the vacuum and extreme temperatures of space.

Fortunately, our lab has a thermal vacuum chamber so I was able to learn how to thermally cycle the controller under vacuum, showing that it can withstand the temperatures we expect. And something I learned years ago when I was part of the Yellow Jacket Space Program (called “Project K17” at the time) was that while space is cold, electronics can actually get very hot since there’s no convection to remove the heat. So we had to do some stress testing on LFPS to ensure our electronics will survive even when they are driving lots of power-hungry equipment.

One thing about sending a satellite to the moon compared to a low earth orbit is there is much less protection from radiation the further you get from earth. Back in January I flew to JPL with a prototype controller I’d designed,and a colleague and I tested how it reacted to powerful levels of radiation similar to what the satellite will see in space. We were able to quantify the degradation and show how our design met the operating requirements for the mission. I was also fortunate enough to intern with JPL this summer, albeit remotely at Georgia Tech, where I continued to support the Lunar Flashlight project by performing interface testing and creating a flat sat, among other things. This flat satis a test fixture that allows us to apply electrical loads and sensor inputs to the controller just like if it was in a real spacecraft, testing that it operates like we need it to.Overall,I’ve had some great engineering learning experiences while working with the Lunar Flashlight project, and that has definitely set me up for success in what comes next.

How did your educational experience at Georgia Tech help you to achieve your goals?

Georgia Tech is really unique in the number of opportunities available. A big part of this is the over 400 student organizations on campus.

I was a bit overwhelmed when I arrived since there were so many amazing-looking projects that I could get involved with. Over the course of a few semesters, I finally settled down on a reasonable number of student orgs to be involved with.I believe the most important part of my educational experience at GT was my work on HyTech Racing, the Formula Student Electric team at GT. I joined HyTech as a freshman in 2014, where I started by writing microcontroller code to control the vehicle. It was a very small engineering team at the time, maybe a dozen people.

Over the next 5 years I continued to get more and more involved in the project, going from leading software development to leading the entire electrical team to leading the entire organization as team president. Over the same time period, we grew the team from about 1 dozen to over 100 student members. During both of my years as team president, we took home the first-place prize at the Formula Hybrid student engineering competition.On thisteam I learned so much about engineering, project management, and logistics.

I think a lot of engineering students don’t realize how much project management, logistics, and business matter, but HyTech taught me the importance of these. One example is how I learned to properly traverse Georgia Tech’s at times complicated procurement system. Alongside this, I built an ordering system for tracking our spending to ensure we effectively utilized our budget.

I also built an automated system for tracking shipments to our team, ensuring they got from campus to our off-campus workspace. It turns out that as an engineer, understanding how to procure things and get them to your team in a timely manner is critical to success, and this is applicable at basically every company.

What advice would you give to an underclassman who would like to follow the same path?

Join an engineering student organization. Seriously. I think the best thing about Georgia Tech is the huge number of student-led engineering projects that undergrads can work on. If you join one of these organizations and really put in the work, you will learn so much more than students who just come to GT to take classes.

Another thing is to really read your emails. Most of the great opportunities for me at GT started with an email. I joined HyTech Racing after seeing it on one of those weekly student event emails. I got my graduate research assistantship after seeing an email posting about it. I think a big part of finding success in life is staying informed about the opportunities around you. So don’t fall victim to information asymmetry while at GT; good things will come to you if you read your emails.

Finally, understand that things don’t always go perfectly. I’ve learned some big lessons on every project I’ve done at GT, and while they sting in the moment, you have an opportunity to emerge as a better engineer each time.But make sure to help others learn from these mistakes! If you’re on a team, build out documentation and processes to ensure that the next person who comes along doesn’t fall into the same trap. If you develop the skills to share your knowledge with others in a way they can use, you can really make a difference wherever you go in life


Ted Vlady
Ted R. Vlady, B.S. AE '20

What is your next adventure?

This spring I will be joining ASDL [the Aerospace Systems Design Lab] as a research assistant focusing on propulsion. This summer, I'll do my third rotation at GE Aviation.

What about your next adventure are you most looking forward to?

I think my bachelor degree has set me up with a lot of knowledge. I  am excited to apply it in research. I've already been assigned to a Grand Challenge project. I'm excited to see what sort of impact I can make.

Did you have any previous co-op, internship, or research experience in this area?

Sophomore year, I found an ASDL undergraduate research project on the AE website, and I followed up with it. I ended up working on low-cast attributable aircraft drones that can be thrown away. We were focusing on different manufacturing considerations. From that, I realized that that was not a field I wanted to pursue.

The next year, I found another project, funded by NASA, working on a hybrid electric regional business jet. We were modeling a novel propulsion systems. Again, it was not exactly what I wanted, but I was getting much more interested in the field. Next, I started working on the Aerospace Propulsion Outreach Program,  where we were challenged to come up with modifications for a micro gas turbine engine.It was a lot of component engineering and testing. My work on this project was cut short by COVID, but I applied for a PURA (Presidents Undergraduate Research Award) grant to finish it up. I actually got a paper out of it.

My first internship was at Honeywell in Phoenix, Arizona, where I worked on an air conditioner pressurization systems as an environmental control systems engineer. My second internship was with GE Aviation, in Hookset, New Hampshire. This time I was working as an environmental health and safety intern, which wasn't related to AE, but it was a good opportunity to see the product from a different perspective. I did a second virtual rotation with GE this past summer. it was more of an online school, though. My third rotation with GE will be this summer.

How did your educational experience at Georgia Tech help you to achieve your goals?

The AE undergraduate program is great, but it didn't give me the business perspective of engineering. I enrolled in [Georgia Tech's ] Denning Technology Management Program, which introduced me to important topics - accounting, finances, marketing -  that I knew I'd need to understand if I want to be in engineering management.

Business skills were helpful in my Capstone Research project, where I was teamed up with two students from Industrial Engineering, and a business major. For a year, we were working on a project that would make Caterpillar more competitive in the space market. I ended up helping the business major craft a business argument for our concept, and, eventually, even with the COVID pandemic interrupting everything, we came up with a 15-page paper and a virtual presentation that Caterpillar liked. I do feel that part of the reason they liked it was the business skills I was able to bring to it. I'd never kept track of costs or built a business case before, but with the Denning program,  I had the ability to do both of those things for a corporation.

Besides the skills I got from both programs, I'd have to say that Tech also made me comfortable with being uncomfortable. In any engineering project, things happen that you don't expect. That causes stress. You've got to get used to working through a problem with that stress hanging over you. At Tech, you learn to do that.

What advice would you give to an underclassman who would like to follow the same path?

Don't be afraid to reach out and see if you can do something different. With the PURA grant that I got, I got the application done in a few days. And when I ended up getting it, that meant I could continue with an AIAA engine design project.

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