“To be honest, being an engineer at Georgia Tech and also being heavily involved in the arts is not an easy task,” said Danielle Mathis in a recent interview. “You have to make time for the things you love.”
A fourth-year student in the Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE), Mathis is passionate about the arts. She began singing in her Macon, Georgia church choir at the age of three, completed a finishing school program for singing, modeling, and acting in grade school, and attended an International Baccalaureate fine arts school throughout high school.
When it came time to apply for college, Mathis was familiar with Tech because her father is a mechanical engineering alumnus of Georgia Tech. In addition to the family connection, Mathis was interested in Tech because of its Midtown Atlanta location and the proximity to great music. “When I was a freshman and had a lab report due, right after turning in that lab report, I would go to a concert,” she remembered. “You have so many opportunities to engage in the arts. I love Atlanta and all the opportunities it allows me to have.”
Mathis has created some of those artistic opportunities on her own. While in high school, she founded Caterpillar’s Promise, Inc. (CP), an organization focused on motivating youth to use their talents to help others through community service and events. Mathis brought CP with her to Tech, and her work has continued and expanded, including an emphasis on social justice.
Such work involves an annual fall arts celebration, “What’s Going On: A Concert for Social Justice,” that takes its name from “What’s Going On,” the 1971 consciousness-raising song by Marvin Gaye. The Georgia Tech concert features original art, music, spoken word, and dance, and more – all taking place around the Campanile.
“I've been passionate about social justice since my childhood,” said Mathis. “I had a vision for an outdoor concert that involved my artistically inclined friends and me, all jamming to songs about social injustice." On September 11, 2015, the first What's Going On: A Concert for Social Justice (WGO) took place. The next year, CP presented the second annual WGO concert.
Mathis followed up the successful concerts by challenging herself to write more: “As a result, I wrote a musical production as the sequel to the WGO concerts. The musical is about two college students who end up in a dream world that awakens them to current social issues and helps them consider how they can take action. The production comprises six performance numbers that range from singing, spoken word, dancing, and stepping. Think of it as a highly exaggerated autobiography of how the WGO concert started.”
The musical, also called “What’s Going On,” is being presented by CP and is sponsored by the Georgia Tech MLK Student Board as a featured event for the MLK Student Celebration series. It debuts on January 25 at 7PM at Tech’s Ferst Center for the Arts. (Free tickets are available here: bit.ly/2jsZdJz.)
In addition to her many artistic endeavors, Mathis actively uses her ISyE skills for good through her participation in Tech’s Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP) Program and Engineering for Social Innovation (ESI) – “Basically my end goal for life,” she said. For ESI, she initially served on a team partnered with the Atlanta-based Frazer Center to design a summertime outdoor curriculum and classroom for children with disabilities. Her second ESI project is with Georgia Works. She is performing a cost-benefit analysis on George Works’ programs to end chronic homelessness.
Describing how she balances her many artistic activities with the demands of her ISyE studies, Mathis said, “ISyE is also a passion. If you’re heavily involved in more than just school, you’re going to have to lose some sleep and prioritize. This has been one of my biggest challenges in school. Becoming an ISyE major helped me with that.
“So ISyE helps me with my life and also tortures me at the same time,” she added, laughing. “I just want to fulfill my caterpillar's promise to motivate others to use their gifts for the greater good, so enduring long hours is okay with me."