Meet Jerry Grillo: Storyteller

Campus communicator enjoys camaraderie.
Grillo welcomes the challenge of "going to school" for almost every research story he writes. (Photo by Allison Carter)

Grillo welcomes the challenge of "going to school" for almost every research story he writes. (Photo by Allison Carter)

Jerry Grillo is a lifelong communicator. He wrote for his high school newspaper, studied journalism in college, worked for years as a newspaper reporter, sportswriter, and editor, and spent another 15 years as an editor for Georgia Trend magazine before joining Georgia Tech as a research communications officer and writer in 2014.

“My job is kind of like working for the community news service of an institution of tens of thousands of people with a bunch of alumni and students who are all interested in what's happening at Georgia Tech,” Grillo said. “So, in many ways I have approached it the same way I did other jobs I’ve had, which were community news oriented.”

He covers stories for the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering and for the office of the executive vice president for Research. He said his approach to writing is the same as his previous writing jobs in some ways, but the result and the goal are very different.

“We’re not out just covering the news,” Grillo said. “We take a journalistic approach to telling our stories, both those targeting our own community here at Georgia Tech, and those stories that are about Georgia Tech that we think are interesting to a wider audience. We always hope the media finds them interesting enough so that our story about, say, Alzheimer's research will be picked up by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Science Daily, or some other news outlet.”  

The process of going live with a story isn’t the same as it was when he was a magazine editor, said Grillo, who thinks of his writing for Georgia Tech as a hybrid between journalism and marketing. And what he’s marketing is scientific research, so there is a real collaborative process involved in getting it right.

“I want my sources to read what I write, especially when I’m talking to researchers who are working on biomolecular physics and the sort of topics that are over my head. I want to make sure I get it correct, and make sure they have a chance to review it so we have the science right,” he said.

The most rewarding part of his work is when he puts the final touches on a story and sends it to the researchers involved for approval. He enjoys the camaraderie and the Georgia Tech environment that fosters creativity. The most challenging part of his job is “going to school” for almost every story.

“It’s a ‘brain melting exercise,’” he joked. “I’m reshaping my brain to be a better brain each month. One week I’m doing a story on a researcher creating nanocarriers to deliver RNA drugs to a brain tumor. The next week I’m working on a story about how the chemistry in the liver works to process drugs,” he said. “I’m not a scientist and was never trained as a scientist. So, that’s a challenge, and it’s one I welcome.”

Away From Work

Grillo and his wife Jane have a 34-year-old daughter, Samantha, and a 20-year-old son, Joseph. Jane works for the school system as a parent mentor for the special education community and is a full-time disability advocate.

Grillo occasionally writes freelance stories and his first book, a biography of legendary guitarist and bandleader Bruce Hampton, was released recently. It’s a project that took eight years to complete.

“I took my time,” he said. “The first six years were mostly interviews and information gathering.” In total he interviewed 150 of Hampton’s bandmates, family, friends, and fans, and quoted about 90 of them in the book.

The Music and Mythocracy of Col. Bruce Hampton: A Basically True Biography (University of Georgia Press, 2021) talks about Hampton’s life and career, including how he died in 2017 — on stage at the Fox Theatre during an encore at his 70th birthday celebration. Released in April, it will debut as an audiobook in November.

“I knew Bruce well enough to know that he could hold the attention of everyone in the room, and he would tell stories accordingly. He was the classic southern storyteller,” Grillo said.  

He added that writing the book was quite a departure from his other work because it “required a lot of discipline that I typically don’t have,” he said. “When I’m off work, I like to be off work. I hang out with my family and do other things. But this work was never-ending.”

The experience taught Grillo that he can take a complex, meandering subject and boil it down to its essence without losing anything.

“That seemed like the real trick,” he said. “Along the way, I learned that I’m a pretty good writer.”


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