Day One

First Day - Fall 2016

September 15, 2016 | By Kristen Bailey and Steven Norris

With the semester now underway, the campus community has settled into a rhythm for the fall. Three weeks ago, new students and faculty members wondered what this semester would hold and what life at Tech would be like.

We followed eight Yellow Jackets the first day of fall semester to see what excited them, what made them nervous, and what the day brought.


(Click the phones to jump.)

text - kathy tran

Kathy Tran was born in Vietnam, but her family immigrated to the Atlanta area, where she attended high school. Now, she’s enrolled as an honors freshman studying computer science.

6:45 a.m.

Up before the sun and climbing Freshman Hill. “I walked my schedules beforehand to know where the buildings were,” Kathy says.

photo - sunrise on campus street

7 a.m.

Even as a freshman, Kathy has already figured out that coffee is a primary beverage of choice for Yellow Jackets. Paired with some almonds, it is a perfect early morning pick-me-up before 8 a.m. math in Klaus.

8:55 a.m.

Back-to-back classes. Physics in 10 minutes. 

10 a.m.

11 a.m.

Class No. 3 after a short break in her dorm room. “So far the morning has been nice,” Kathy says. “It was mild in temperature, and the sun was just right! I love the spaciousness of campus and the abundance of plants despite it being in the city.”

12:15 p.m.

Lunch with her roommate at Woody's on West Campus.

2:06 p.m.

Kathy uses some down time to look over her schedule and get her bearings in the Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons. It is a perfect place to get a few things done before her next class, which just happens to be in the same building — her second computer science course of the day.

4:46 p.m.

Courses done for the day and time for a quick selfie and swapping stories with friends.

5:15 p.m.

Back at the dorm, Kathy finds an anonymous note to help brighten her day stuck to her door.  It reads:

Q: What did the receiver say to the radio wave?
A: Ouch! That megahertz!
Have a great first day! You’ll kill it!


7:43 p.m.

A late dinner at Brittain Dining hall is the perfect chance to reconnect with friends. Kathy is joined by a couple of new friends she made along the way.

8:31 p.m.

“At night after walking back from dinner, the atmosphere was very peaceful with the street lights, the soft color of dusk, and the mild wind, so the scene really caught my eyes. I also noticed how safe I felt on campus at night,” Kathy says.

9:57 p.m.


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text - lauren terry

Lauren Terry is coming to Georgia Tech from a small private school close to the Georgia state line. She’s majoring in chemical engineering. She lucked out and didn’t have to schedule an 8 a.m. course — that means getting to sleep in a little bit longer!

8:30 a.m.

It’s out the door for her first day of college! And Lauren is prepared. “I had everything organized weeks in advance,” she admits.

8:45 a.m.

Negotiating Freshman Hill with her roommate, Sarah.

8:55 a.m.

A quick selfie with a friend before the first of three classes of the day. Up first on Lauren’s schedule: chemistry.

10:02 a.m.

After chemistry, it’s right to math.

11:15 a.m.

After chemistry, a break for lunch gives Lauren the opportunity to meet up with a few friends.

11:32 a.m.

11:55 a.m.

Then it’s right back to more math! "I planned to walk the entire day, so comfortable shoes were important,” Lauren says.

1:11 p.m.

Classes done for the day, Lauren meets up with a couple of friends in Starbucks. She’s got a busy night ahead of her.


2:25 p.m.

It’s back down Freshman Hill to Glenn Hall. She’s going to review what she picked up in her three classes today and then get ready for Panhellenic recruitment.

“The first part of the day wasn’t as stressful as I expected,” Lauren says. “I visited campus several times so I know my way around pretty well. It is so hot.”

4:55 p.m. 

Lauren and her roommate are recharged and ready for recruitment — the process by which prospective sorority rushes learn about all of the sorority options on Georgia Tech’s campus. So it’s back up Freshman Hill again … this time a little more dressed up. 



6:02 p.m. 

Lauren and Sarah keep heels in hand — that way they can change into them in a moment’s notice. There’s a fair amount of walking in store as they are led from the Student Center to all of the sorority houses on campus. It’s a long night ahead, and the recruits are asked not to use their cell phones for the duration of the evening. This evening of recruitment is preference night, where Lauren will pick the sorority she feels most drawn to.

11:45 p.m. 

“I am really excited for this semester,” Lauren says. “I plan to get involved in a sorority and get involved in student government.”

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text - sebastian rubio

Sebastian Rubio is a transfer student from Broward College in Florida. He is originally from Colombia and is focused on becoming an astronaut.  “During my time in community college, I worked full-time so I didn’t have time to enjoy college the right way,” Sebastian says. “Studying here is like another opportunity for me to enjoy college the right way.”

7:39 a.m.

Sebastian is up early to pick up a muffin from the Wesley Foundation on campus. While he’s at Georgia Tech, Sebastian is looking not only to focus on academics but to find a good spiritual home. The night before, he packed his backpack with all of his supplies for the day, including his five-pound laptop.

7:55 a.m.

It’s off to math, followed by CS 1371.

9:32 a.m. 

A quick photo op by the Campanile for mom on the first day of school, thanks to the Parents Program. (Don’t worry, mom. We’re taking good care of him!)

10:05 a.m.

It’s Sebastian’s first class at Georgia Tech and it’s physics — a popular core class.

It just so happens that Sebastian is sitting two rows in front of Naz Aktas [get to know Naz below]. “I printed all of the syllabi and skimmed through them before going to sleep last night,” Sebastian says.

11:16 a.m.

Sebastian has lunch at the Christian Community fellowship. “I got to meet new people here, and it was a highlight of my day,” he says.

11:57 a.m.

It’s back to Clough Commons for the second class of the day, CS 1371. “My insecurities and nervousness about starting school have all gone away,” Sebastian says. He immediately finds a classmate with whom he can strike up a conversation in Spanish.

1:15 p.m.

2:04 p.m.

Sebastian heads to the Georgia Tech bookstore in Tech Square to pick up reading materials.


3:13 p.m. 

Sebastian stops at the Chapin Building which houses Georgia Tech’s Office of Minority Education and Development. It's an organization where Sebastian hopes to find ways to encourage other students. “I hope to inspire other minority students and also the whole student body to work hard to achieve their dreams.”

6:06 p.m.

Dinner at the Baptist Campus Ministry.

7:30 p.m.

Sebastian makes some new friends at the Christian Campus Fellowship’s paint party. Students try their hand at calculating a perfect trajectory to launch darts by hand and obliterate paint-filled balloons.

10:00 p.m.

“I came here with the dream of becoming an astronaut, and I believe that it is possible with hard work and determination,” Sebastian says.

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text - harshith kayam

Harshith Kayam comes to Georgia Tech from the island nation of Bermuda and has achieved the kind of involvement typical of our incoming freshman. Perfect SAT scores in reading, writing, and math? Check. Trumpet in the concert band? Check. Competitive public speaker? Check that, too. And if that weren’t enough, he found the time to design and build a remotely operated underwater robot. Coming from a small island and an even smaller high school, Harshith admits feeling a little overwhelmed, but he's ready to rise to the challenge.

6:45 a.m.  

Waking up for early morning breakfast at Woody’s. Walking down 6th Street on West Campus. “I ate at Woody’s right as it opened and headed for math about half-an-hour early,” Harshith says.



7:55 a.m.  

Math at the Instructional Center. First class ever at Georgia Tech followed right up by CS 1371.  “After graduating from a class of 52, a lecture hall of 300 students was quite a change!” Harshith says.

10:30 a.m.  

“Google Maps has been my friend today,” Harshith says, sitting in Howey Hall early for his physics lecture. “I walked around campus to check exactly where my classrooms would be so I wouldn’t get lost and I wouldn’t be late.”

11: 57 a.m.  

1:04 p.m.

One word to describe campus? “Astonishing,” Harshith says. “I will never get tired of seeing it every day.”

1:48 p.m.

Harshith is getting a little bit of advice from an upperclassman while waiting for his first engineering class at Georgia Tech in the Love Manufacturing Building.

3:31 p.m.

It’s back at Caldwell Hall for a little down time and meeting his peer leaders. “I forgot your names already,” Harshith admits. “It’s ok. First days can be tough,” says Sherwin, his PL.

6:00 p.m.

Physics Lab

8:05 p.m.

Working out at the Campus Recreation Center, Harshith finds a treadmill to put in a couple of miles on.

8:15 p.m.

Still running! That’s Harshith on the very front treadmill.

9:52 p.m.

“I’m very happy with my courses and have already met a load of incredible individuals from all over the world,” Harshith says. "Georgia Tech can definitely provide the tools I’ll need to build a beautiful and exhilarating future.”

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text - naz

Naz Aktas is studying industrial engineering and comes to tech from Wilmington, North Carolina.

7:01 a.m.

Breakfast at Brittain. “I packed my bookbag the night before,” Naz says.

7:45 a.m.

It’s up Freshman Hill for Naz and her friends to get to their 8 a.m. math class. “It was a long walk to the IC but we didn’t want to risk missing a bus or getting to class late on the first day!” she says.



10:06 a.m.

Second class of the day is chemistry in Clough Commons.

It just so happens she’s in the same class as Sebastian, who's two rows in front of her.

1:01 p.m.

Naz barely makes it before her German class is set to start. “It was my biggest challenge of the day. It was in a building I hadn’t been familiar with from visiting campus or during FASET,” she explains. Good thing the instructor was running a little late, too.

2:38 p.m.

Late lunch with a friend at North Avenue.

4:11 p.m. 

“Campus is pretty big, but it’s still possible to walk most places,” Naz says. “That’s comforting if I ever miss a bus.”

5:26 p.m.

6:01 p.m.

“It’s so humid!” Naz says. “I’m used to humidity back home, but this was something else.”

7 p.m.

Naz auditions for the Georgia Tech symphony.

9:15 p.m.

Naz’s audition means a late return for a dinner of oatmeal and some chill time with her roommate, Maria.

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text - jen hom

Jen Hom is preparing for her first day in front of a classroom of Tech students. She moved to Atlanta in June and was greeted with the unpleasant surprise of summer in the South.

“Everyone says it’s going to be hot, but it’s really hot,” says Hom, who walks to campus from her new home near Piedmont Park. She came to Tech after spending a year at the Institute for Advanced Study, four years at Columbia University, and growing up near Boston.

Though she has taught before as a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia, she is excited to see the faces that will be in her Intro to Multivariable Calculus class for the semester.

“I’ve heard great things about how the students here are energized and motivated, so I’m excited to meet them,” she says.

After spending lunch with colleagues and attending a seminar, she makes her way to the lecture hall in the Howey Physics Building.

As Hom puts it, teaching is the time that faculty members, who often spend years on research problems, feel progress every day. 

“We say that mathematicians are smart people who feel stupid all the time — you’re working on problems you don’t know the answer to,” she says. “Progress can be slow. When you’re teaching, you know the problems and how to find the answers.”

Per usual, Tech students do not disappoint.

“They were attentive, asked good questions, and I got through all the material that I wanted to cover,” Hom says.
She ends the day with members of her new math community at her colleague Dan Margalit’s home. There, it is a gathering of old and new Tech faces for dinner: Hom, Margalit, a postdoctoral fellow, a graduate student, and the speaker from their lunchtime seminar — who just happens to be a Tech alumna.

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text - tomas zegard

Around 7:30 a.m., Tomas Zegard starts his day off-campus with coffee. He spends a few hours working from Dancing Goats, a couple miles east of campus on North Avenue, before making his way to the Mason Building for the afternoon.

The postdoctoral fellow has been brought to Tech with a mission to set up new equipment and operations in the Origami and Rapid Prototyping Lab, where he’ll conduct research with Glaucio Paulino, the Raymond Allen Jones Chair in Civil and Environmental Engineering, and his team of students.

Yang Jiang, graduate student in civil engineering, and Tomas Zegard

Zegard worked with Paulino at the University of Illinois, where they both spent several years, so coming to Tech has been familiar in many ways. He’s only been here three weeks, but he’s settled into a routine. Every day begins with coffee and includes a 3 p.m. meeting with one of the graduate students he is helping advise.

“Today is pretty much the same as every other day, but the building is already more crowded,” he says.

Zegard is only at Tech for a semester before he’ll move back to his home of Chile with his fiancée. Today, though, they get to celebrate an anniversary in Atlanta, with dinner at Holeman & Finch.

With a short timeline, Zegard has established a few specific goals: Set up the lab. Counsel students. Find the city’s best espresso. Enjoy the people.

“It’s really about establishing connections,” he says. “I’m not going to take anything tangible with me, so I just want to meet and enjoy getting to know people while I’m here.”

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text - matt ventresca

After spending the morning navigating car malfunctions and getting to campus, Matt Ventresca finally makes it to the Old Civil Engineering Building. In his new office on the ground floor, he spends the morning unpacking a towering pile of boxes. By 1 p.m., he has at least gotten his bookshelves arranged.

Up until now, Ventresca has lived exclusively in places along the shore of Lake Ontario in Canada. He arrived in Atlanta a week ago.

“It’s been a little ominous but exciting,” he says. “Despite being across a border and many miles away, it’s felt like a very natural transition.”

Ventresca is here to research brain injuries in sports from a sociological and cultural perspective. It’s the ideal place for his studies, given that Georgia Tech also has researchers studying the biological implications of such injuries. He’s eager to collaborate with different types of researchers to study instances where the scientific and cultural issues of injuries intersect.

This semester, he’s getting his research underway and working toward participation in a sociology of sport conference in November, but he’s eager to get teaching in the spring. He’ll teach two courses that are part of the Sports, Society, and Technology minor.

“I’ve always taught big classes of around 200 people, and these are capped at around 30 or 40, so that will be a new experience,” he says. “When you come into a new place, especially a new country, you need to find out what the students are thinking. I learn as much from them as they do from me.”

Living off the Eastside BeltLine trail, Ventresca is able to get a bike ride in amidst his other activities for the day. As a sociologist and new Atlantan, he can’t help but also study the campus and Atlanta culture as he gets to know the city.

“I’ve definitely felt the friendliness people talk about,” he says. “There’s an energy here, and a lot of people who want to make the city, and the world, a better place.”

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