Lee Burrell, MS SCE 2012, found ISyE’s top-ranked program a bit intimidating – at first.
By Lee Burrell, MS SCE 2012
“There are very few monsters who warrant the fear we have of them.” – André Gide, French author and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature (1947)
I’m confident that at the essence of every student’s experience at Georgia Tech is the fact that our prestigious institution pushed the boundaries of our comfort zones beyond what we previously thought possible.
My experience of how Tech’s College of Engineering stretched, pulled, yanked, and drove me to be better – personally, professionally, and academically – began on my very first day.
That day started in a packed and ice-cold conference room in the ISyE building, across from the CRC.
As I sheepishly strolled into the room, it finally hit me that I was at the No. 1 industrial engineering program in the entire country (for 23 years in a row, I was keenly aware). I was as tense as someone deathly afraid of heights naively stepping out onto the ledge of the Chicago Skydeck.
My palms felt like a soaked yellow Georgia Tech basketball jersey. My mind raced around in circles like Jeff Gordon’s car at Atlanta Motor Speedway, with questions exploding like those little popper fireworks being thrown on the ground.
What happened if I failed out? How did I even get in? Maybe I should have just gone to the University (sic) of Georgia.
So what does one instinctively reach for when faced with uncertainty and crippling fear? Familiarity, of course! I quickly hashed out a plan to seek someone, anyone, who was feeling as I was – I surely could find someone feeling these same uncomfortable emotions, right? – and we would together wallow in our certainly ill-fated decision. A genius plan, I thought, under the circumstances.
Although I was admittedly a little rusty in my advanced math skills, I was able to calculate after a quick scan of the 42 fresh-faced strangers in the room that I was, in fact, the only one visibly panic-stricken – that or my new friends were all professional poker players. My genius plan was crashing faster than the stock market in 2008.
There I sat, just a country boy from the South with a slight drawl in a room full of sagacious and worldly people, certain I had gotten myself into something that was clearly over my head.
Oh well, I thought – I’m not going down without a fight, fear be damned.
One by one I mustered the courage to introduce myself to these strangers, getting to know each of them.
Like magnets being drawn together, it was these same strangers who quickly became my closest comrades as we toiled over countless sleepless nights on the treacherous front lines of global logistics problems. Our time spent together both in and out of the classroom allowed me to gain a better understanding of vastly different countries and cultures, loves and languages, histories and hopes, and interestingly enough, myself.
Beyond the classroom, I mustered the wherewithal to join numerous campus groups, make new friends through weight training and intramurals (and win the graduate basketball championship, it must be noted), suspend myself on the on-campus ropes courses, and apply my startup to Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center startup incubator (and get accepted). And ironically enough, I wasn’t too shabby in the classroom either. That failure that I feared so much never came to pass; I was able to pass every class, making my mother proud by graduating with a respectable 3.45 GPA.
Since graduating in 2012, I’ve worked on global logistics projects for some of the world’s top companies in a multitude of industries. From Singapore to San Francisco, China to the Czech Republic, India to Indiana, I’ve used the skills I learned at the College of Engineering to positively influence the 3Ps (People, Profits, and Planet).
I’ve also been able to call amazing cities like Chicago, Detroit, and now Calgary home. Each time I’ve relocated for a new role, I’ve moved into cities where I knew no one and had no idea how things might turn out, similar to my first experience at Georgia Tech. Yet each time I’ve met amazing people, gained lifelong friends, had amazing experiences, and grew as a human being.
Over the course of all my new and sometimes scary adventures since that fateful first day at Tech, I’ve come to realize that the unknown is not a cause for fear, but a potentially incredible opportunity to be embraced.
We all experience doubts at times, but what might we miss if we concede control to the monster called fear that lives within each of us? I certainly would have missed out on one of the most enjoyable and enriching experiences of my life – becoming a helluva engineer.
This article first appeared in the Summer/Fall 2014 issue of the Georgia Tech Engineers Magazine.
Industrial and Systems Engineering