Georgia Tech’s Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE) boasts many outstanding students involved in a wide variety of extracurricular activities. However, sophomore student Suraj Sehgal (2018) is surely one of the most remarkable. In his short time at Tech, Sehgal
Recently, Sehgal sat down for a Q&A about his internationally focused activities, his involvement with organizations dedicated to ending human trafficking, and the importance of a global perspective.
Why did you choose Georgia Tech for your college experience, and ISyE as your major?
I applied to 15 different colleges in high school and only two of them were in-state. Needless to say, I was pretty set on leaving Georgia (where I was born and brought up) to go out-of-state for college. However, the more I learned about Georgia Tech and about the different programs the university had to offer, the more appealing that it became.
I chose ISyE as my major because it provides me with a set of valuable skills applicable to almost every field. As someone who is interested in international affairs, I felt like ISyE would not only help me contribute to the field in meaningful ways but also allow me to act as a bridge between worlds – bringing together engineering and social science.
Many of your extracurricular activities involve a globally outward focus. What motivates your interest in this area?
I’ve been working with efforts to end human trafficking ever since high school. With the work I’ve done in this field – and any other activity for that matter – the main driver behind much of my interest has been sharing love and care with others. As I realized early on, I have been given many so opportunities by virtue of where I was born, which means the least I can do is try to help others experience some of those opportunities.
Talk about your time as a Summer Scholar in the European Union Program.
The program is called the EU-Brussels study abroad program, offered through Tech. It’s a 10-week summer program led by Georgia Tech faculty in which students take four 3-credit hour classes (12 credits total) on the European Union, European security, EU-U.S. relations, and human rights in Europe. Six weeks of the program takes place in Brussels, Belgium, in which students live with a host family in order to get a better feel for the unofficial capital of the EU and the culture.
The rest of the time is spent in other major cities of EU member states, including Paris, Berlin, Krakow, and Dublin. Throughout the 10 weeks of the program, we visited all kinds of official sites including NATO’s SHAPE Headquarters, the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union, the U.S. Embassy in Paris, the European Court of Human Rights, and more. In addition to learning from readings and lectures, the bulk of the material came from hands-on meetings and dialogue with officials, experts, diplomats, and policy makers.
Why were you interested in this particular program?
It seemed like a wonderful opportunity to explore places that I had never been to before while also studying the European Union. To me, it felt like learning about the EU was a valuable experience, integral to being a well-informed global citizen, regardless of my major.
You were recently a representative at the United Nation’s Youth Assembly and were asked to write about the experience for the Huffington Post. Please describe the experience.
As I wrote in the beginning of the Huffington Post article, there were “numerous panels, inspiring keynote speakers, and workshops with notable leaders in the fields of international development, human rights, and so much more. It was a remarkable opportunity to meet youth from all over the world engaged in life-changing work!”
Going into the Assembly, I didn’t know quite what to expect but was amazed to see just how many young people were gathered together. I met people from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, and more. And it seemed like they were all involved in well-intentioned and globally minded projects – everything from creating a nonprofit addressing education barriers in a local city in Mexico to having a well-followed blog and cleaning product line devoted to helping people live a waste-free lifestyle.
I am grateful that I had the opportunity to attend the Youth Assembly, because it helped me to see how the work that we do locally at an extracurricUnular level is really part of a much bigger, global youth movement trying to make the Earth a more habitable, equal, and loving place.
Discuss your work in the Grand Challenges Living Learning program, particularly your current project on food insecurity at Georgia Tech.
The Grand Challenges team that I am working with is called the Food Fighters. We originally entered into second semester of our first year (spring 2015) as a group of six students who wanted help address the inefficiencies of international food aid. However, we quickly realized that if we wanted to make a meaningful impact, we would have to focus our attention more locally.
One population that really caught our eye was college students. We found that unlike households or children, there was surprisingly little literature on the topic of food insecurity experienced by college students. Any study or literature review that we could find on the topic indicated that college students were at high risk of experiencing food insecurity for some period of time during their four years in college. This seemed to be true both in community colleges and universities, and happening in places around the world (found in studies conducted in Hawaii, New York, and Australia).
If you are a student, you should not have to compromise your ability to focus on your academics and overall wellbeing simply because you are not able to get consistent access to basic nutrition. There are resources and services available for students who are having to make that tough choice between food and academics, including Klemis Kitchen, which is an on-campus food pantry. All you have to do is email Dr. Dana Hartley or the Dean of Students Office in order to get access.
Temporary assistance is already available to students. My Grand Challenges group is focused on trying to address why these services aren’t being used more and understanding how to empower students who are experiencing food insecurity to take action regarding their food situation.
One area of important focus for you is on the timely issue of victims’ rights and human trafficking. What would you like us to know about your work in this area, and about the issue of human trafficking in Atlanta, as well as around the world?
Ever since I was a junior in high school, I have been passionate about fighting against human trafficking.
It all started with a Community Ambassador Training held by youthSpark, a nonprofit that works to end child sex trafficking in the state of Georgia. After learning about such a heinous issue and becoming aware that it was such a big problem in my own state, I felt like I needed to act.
Soon after, I started a club in my school, worked to organize a field trip, speakers, and fundraisers to get students engaged, and was even able to intern at youthSpark, helping them find ways to get more teens involved.
I was excited to get started with One Voice Atlanta, a student organization on Tech’s campus that works to raise awareness about human trafficking, help victims, and prevent such crimes from occurring in the future.
Human trafficking is often associated with international cases, but what many fail to realize is that it also occurs domestically. I find it incredibly important to understand how this can happen to any person of any age, demographic, gender, or location.
How is your ISyE work complementary to your minor and certificate and to your globally focused extracurricular activities?
The purpose in pursuing all of these subjects – ISyE, international affairs, and industrial/organizational psychology – is to better my understanding of the world at many levels – global, system, and individual. They each provide unique skills and ways of viewing situations that are necessary when trying to address any kind of problem. To me, my extracurricular activities are ways in which I can take these diverse and interdisciplinary perspectives and apply them towards causes that can better the world.
Discuss the presence that meditation has in your life.
Meditation has had a presence in my life from a very young age. Both of my parents have been meditating since before I was even born, and they also taught meditation as volunteer instructors at home. So while my parents were careful never to impose meditation on me, I grew up with an understanding of the importance of pausing and taking a moment to connect with ourselves.
It wasn’t until I was 17 years old that I began to meditate on my own, and it wasn’t until I started college that I began to meditate much more regularly. For me, especially at a high-paced environment like Tech, meditation is a way of taking a step back, reminding myself that I am alive, and taking a moment to invest in myself, by doing something that many students seem to have forgotten – to just be.
The kind of meditation I do is called Heartfulness, which focuses on the heart, helping people connect with the very organ that literally keeps us alive and metaphorically brings us all together.
What does the future hold for you, both immediate and long-term?
I am really excited to be able to travel to Hyderabad, India to attend an International Youth Seminar on Heartfulness Meditation in late April. This conference is bringing over 2,500 young people from all over the world to gather together, meditate, and grow.
This summer, I will be interning at Hershey, working with their digital marketing team.
Regardless of what my post-graduation job is, I aspire to make sure that my life is always socially minded.