Maithili Appalwar, a fifth-year undergraduate in Georgia Tech’s H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering, will be the reflection speaker at Commencement this coming Saturday, December 15.
In her three-minute speech, Appalwar will remark upon the commonalities that this semester’s graduates have – that everyone is leaving with a degree from the Institute – and on what makes the student experience at Tech so powerful.
“This diploma is going to help us succeed in the world,” Appalwar said, “and we have so much to be proud of.”
The reflection speech is not Appalwar’s first opportunity to consider the meaningfulness of her time at Tech. Earlier this fall, she was a finalist for Ms. Georgia Tech, which involved a panel interview during which she was asked about a moment of regret she had experienced at Tech.
“My first semester here, I was failing out of two classes and was not in a good place personally,” Appalwar recalled. “I was called before the dean of students, and they asked me what they could do to help. It was more empathy and care than I was used to, especially compared to high school, where teachers would yell at the students for not performing well. And after that, I started doing a lot better.
“So in my Ms. Georgia Tech interview, I mentioned this experience, but then I said, truthfully, that I would not change anything about my time here. Sure, my situation wasn’t ideal – and there have been other less-than-ideal experiences as well – but they all got me to this place where I was able to sit in a room full of people and interview for Ms. Georgia Tech. And I’ve also been able to do other things here that are impactful and also make me really happy.”
One of Appalwar’s most memorable experiences has been her participation in the Georgia Tech International Ambassadors (GTIA), a group of students with members from around the world that champions international culture and diversity.
“I’ve been on the executive board of GTIA twice, as well as a general member for a couple of years,” Appalwar noted. “The club is really growing – when I joined, there were about 10 members, and now there are 60. It’s a group of students that values diversity and inclusion and minority rights on campus, and it’s been my safe space for a very long time. Nothing else has brought me so much joy and happiness.”
In addition to these on-campus activities, Appalwar has founded two startups: Thrive, which seeks to improve mental health education for high school and college students in India, and Avana, which provides Indian farmers with an inexpensive water storage solution. After Commencement, she will return to India to further develop these two companies.
“Georgia Tech has definitely prepared me to work on Thrive and Avana through its rigor. Tech teaches us students to push through, even when things get difficult,” Appalwar said. “Because of this, I’m not scared of things being hard or taking a long time to work out, because that’s what the past four years have been like. And the resilience that my Tech experience has given me is a big part of who I am now.”
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H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering