Alumni News Blog

  • Making an Impact
    Where it Matters Most

    Joe Irwin, IM 80When you think about the expectations we have of our research universities, educating our young people comes to mind first. And indeed that is their primary purpose—the transfer of knowledge to a new generation of leaders and doers. But given the increasingly complex roles that universities play today in shaping society, the expectations are actually much broader.

    We expect new knowledge to be created through research.

    We expect that knowledge to advance entire fields, from healthcare to transportation, from manufacturing to computer science, from architecture to public policy, and much more.
    Perhaps even more importantly, we expect that knowledge to generate economic development and job creation, especially in the communities these institutions directly serve.

    As you can imagine, Georgia Tech—its people, its research and knowledge, its outreach—continues to make a remarkable impact on Atlanta and the state of Georgia. A quick glance at the annual report of the University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents reveals the true flagship university in the state.

    This issue is dedicated to demonstrating Tech’s immense local impact. We’ll look at how Tech alumni, faculty, staff and students are helping to revitalize Atlanta through development projects such as the BeltLine. They’re also playing an instrumental role in governing and managing our communities and resources. This list goes on and on: engineering ways that doctors and hospitals can deliver better care, creating mission-driven businesses, leading civic treasures, sharing manufacturing expertise, and continuing to shape Atlanta’s skyline.

    At the Alumni Association, we make an impact, too, as our 2015 fiscal year annual report demonstrates. This past year’s Chairman Bob Stargel, EE 83, shares just how remarkable a year we had—thanks to our alumni, staff and the Institute.

    Speaking of which, let me take this opportunity to formally thank you for supporting Roll Call, hiring Tech alumni, mentoring students, advocating on the Institute’s behalf, helping us lead the university and—most of all—for showing your passion for the Georgia Tech of the future and the past.
    Irwin Joe signature


    Joseph P. Irwin, IM 80
    President & CEO
    Georgia Tech Alumni Association

  • Finally a Ride in the Wreck

    By Marilyn Somers and Roger Slavens

    At 103 years old, Sam Ledbetter, ME 34, ranks as Georgia Tech’s oldest living alumnus. In more than a century on this planet, Ledbetter has seen and done a lot, so his most recent birthday wish may surprise you: to finally get a ride in the Institute’s legendary Ramblin’ Wreck.

    When the Alumni Association told him that this could be arranged, his response was that of a true child of the Great Depression: It would be too expensive. We assured Ledbetter that in honor of his 103rd birthday, granting him this opportunity would be our honor and privilege.

    On a sun-filled afternoon in October, Ledbetter got his dream ride around Tech Campus — chauffeured by student Wreck driver Hillary Degenkolb. Along the way, he also met President G.P. “Bud” Peterson and was treated to a rousing rendition of his favorite song —the “Ramblin’ Wreck,” of course—by the Glee Club.

    When the ride was over, Ledbetter was asked what he thought of the Wreck, and he candidly responded: “It needs shocks!” Old automobiles are rough rides for old bones, after all, but seeing Ledbetter ride around in style in that gold and white vehicle brought smiles to all lucky enough to witness it.

    Sam Ledbetter, ME 34, long knew he wanted to go to Georgia Tech. His father died in the flu epidemic of 1918, leaving Ledbetter’s mother to raise five children by herself. He also learned to be frugal from an early age. Lawn care jobs and newspaper routes, along with a Navy ROTC stipend, eventually enabled Ledbetter to attend Tech. After “getting out,” Ledbetter served in the military from 1940 through 1945, with WWII duty in Sicily, North Africa, France and Frankfurt. His professional career spanned 46 years—33 with Jervis B. Webb in commercial sales of automotive equipment and 13 with Imperial Oil & Grease. Later in life, Ledbetter took up horology and learned to build and repair clocks.

  • Leading Tech’s Campus on the Coast

    Diane Lee oversees the day-to-day operations of Georgia Tech’s Savannah campus, which was originally launched in 1999 as an engineering hub with multiple degree offerings. The campus underwent a strategic shift in 2011, sunsetting its undergraduate programs and concentrating its efforts instead on providing the coastal region with professional education programs. That shift allowed campus leaders to leverage their strong ties to the local industry and focus on executive leadership training, military transition programs, supply chain and logistics coursework, and STEM outreach for K-12 students. Lee has spent the past three years managing a staff of 20 full-timers, and is helping spearhead the campus toward a bright future.

    What prompted the need for a Savannah campus?

    This campus has been here for 14 years. At the time, the industry wanted a local engineering school. It started as a pilot, grew to an office complex, and before long it was a full-fledged campus that offered degree programs in mechanical, electrical, civil and computer engineering. Today, four years after our shift, the Savannah community remains committed to Georgia Tech as we continue to address the workforce development needs of the region.

    How did Tech frame the new mission?

    More than four years ago, President (G.P. “Bud”) Peterson announced a direction change for the Savannah campus, based upon task force recommendations from the Provost’s Office. Instead of offering traditional education degrees, the campus was charged with shaping the future vision for the coastal region and helping companies meet their strategic and professional talent needs. The campus soon became part of Georgia Tech Professional Education (GTPE).

    Who are some of your key industry partners?

    We partner with Gulfstream Aerospace, Georgia Ports Authority, JCB, Mitsubishi, Georgia Power, area military bases, local chambers of commerce (Savannah and Hilton Head), area Rotary clubs and the Savannah Economic Development Authority.   

    What happens during your workday?

    I work with my team to stay on top of program development, making sure we help foster the GT brand. I talk to community partners and listen to understand what their needs are. I work closely with Institute and GTPE leaders to support our annual strategic goals.

    How did the military program begin?

    It became clear early on in our transition that addressing the needs of the transitioning military was critical. We knew that for service members, moving from the military to the civilian workforce could be chaotic and challenging, and that the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans was significantly higher than for non-military. We started the Veterans Education Training and Transition (VET2) program almost three years ago, and launched the nation’s first military internship-to-employment program.

    How are veterans matched up to jobs?

    As part of the curriculum, they have a three-week internship and must be selected by an industry partner to participate. We’ve had more than 70 veterans go through the program with 100 percent placement.

    Who’s the target audience of the Leading Well leadership-training program?

    New managers. We hear from our corporate partners that leadership-training programs are important, but they don’t want them out of the office for long periods of time. So we’ve developed two-day workshops that provide a detailed overview of the foundational skills and knowledge necessary to be an effective leader, as well as facilitate an environment of continuous improvement.

    Are companies generally supportive of their employees who seek out additional knowledge?

    We’re here because the community and our industry partners want us here. Companies in the coastal region understand that to meet their strategic objectives they must invest in their employees. They also understand how important it is to groom their next generation of leaders.

    How many alumni does Georgia Tech Savannah have and what are their professional roles?

    We have more than 2,000 alumni in the GT Savannah club. They are senior engineers, project managers, and usually range from mid-managers up to director-level professionals.

    What are your goals for the Savannah campus?

    The Institute solves problems around the globe, and we’re a part of that process. Because I’m at Tech, I can call upon top experts in numerous fields and have them meet with our industry partners. Out of those collaborations come research, student projects and new curricula. In 2015, we have more than 1,000 enrollments in 40 subjects. The unique courses we offer draw attendees from not only Southeast Georgia, but also from all over the world. We are an incubator for ideas, proud to bring the world to Savannah.

  • A Mission on Wheels

    _D1A5734_v1fsLightboards, a newly launched skateboard company founded by Tech alumnus Ryan Akin, represents an intersection of several of Akin’s primary interests in life: to own and operate his own company; to create functional art with his mind and hands; to empower youth to set big goals and follow them; and to shine the light of his Christian faith in his community.

    Akin says he entered graduate school at Georgia Tech having never thought about starting a company, but the overall culture of innovation, as well as encouragement from fellow students, helped stoke his desire to become an entrepreneur. “I began dreaming of ways to make it happen and left Tech praying for opportunities to implement what I had learned,” he says.

    After graduation, Akin took a corporate job as an IT analyst, but continued to dream up and map out startup business ideas. During this time, he heard about Salemtown Board Co. in Nashville, Tenn., which two young entrepreneurs started with just $300 in their pockets and—more importantly—a mission of making a real difference in their city.

    “I realized there might be a strong market for handmade skateboards in Atlanta, and specifically where I live in the Old Fourth Ward,” Akin says. “The rise of the BeltLine and the Historic Fourth Ward Skatepark has stimulated and cultivated increased interest in art, manual transportation and diversity.”

    Akin had never built a skateboard in his life, but with his engineering background and years spent skating, he figured he could learn quickly. He purchased used tools on Craiglist and built his first decks right in his own living room. “It’s surprising how much you can learn from YouTube videos and Google,” Akin says.

    But from the outset he wanted this venture to be something more: an opportunity to mentor local youth, to give them paying jobs, teach them about hard work and spark a tranformation in them—bringing the light of Jesus into their lives. The name Lightboards directly reflects his company’s faith-driven mission.

    “The idea to mentor young men through making and riding skateboards is not my own, and it is nothing new,” Akin says. “In the 1970s, in California, a group of teenage boys from broken homes were assembled to form the Zephyr Skateboard Team—the Z-Boys—that helped popularize modern-day skateboarding.”


    Akin hired 16-year-old TJ as his first employee in August after a “divine” encounter. “TJ needed help fixing his bike, and I was willing to help,” he says. “After we bumped into each a few more times in the neighborhood, he asked me if I had any work he could do so he could go to the movies with friends. It was an answer to my prayers.”

    TJ assists Akin with virtually every aspect of the skateboard-building process. “I help with the shaping, sanding, painting,  assembling and testing,” he says. “I really enjoy doing this work with Ryan.”

    Akin says that TJ is also instrumental in helping him to make decisions about company operations. “He’s really a remarkable young man and brings a fresh perspective filled with creativity,” Akin says.

    The duo work on the boards part-time on weeknights and weekends. “The focus during our time together is on building a strong relationship, imparting valuable life-lessons and skills, and hopefully making the most beautiful and quality skateboards our customers have ever seen,” Akin says.

    Handmade out of wood from forest-free trees that came down in the Atlanta area, the Lightboards are offered in a number of styles—from mini-cruisers to longboards, with some in solid oak and others made out of laminated woods. Each deck takes about 8-10 man-hours to make, not including the time it takes for drying, set-up, teardown, component ordering, marketing and other tasks. The boards are designed for riding in the urban environment, many equipped with big wheels for handling city streets and sidewalks. Ranging in price from $200-$300, they’ll soon be available for sale online at

    Balancing this work with his fulltime job and his family is difficult for Akin. “I would love to spend more time with my beautiful wife and amazing family and friends,” he says. “Starting a business has involved significant sacrifice and opportunity cost. This has challenged my wrestle for balance in life. I want to live my life to the fullest for the glory of God. It is amazing how the pursuit of that can bring so much adventure and joy. It is also amazing how much can be accomplished when life is lived intentionally rather than just choosing to ‘go with the flow’.” 

  • 7 Reasons Why You Should
    Try a River Cruise

    Every day you wake up somewhere new—many times even in a completely different country. You don’t have to pack and unpack your bags. You don’t have to get accustomed to a different bed. You don’t have to brave traffic and motion sickness and insanely narrow roads. You don’t even usually have to go through customs. That’s because you’re cruising on a five-star “hotel” on water—a luxury river boat—across a broad swath of Europe.

    This fall, I had the opportunity to host a dozen Tech alumni on a Danube river cruise from Germany to Bulgaria—with bookend city stays in Prague and Sofia. And I have to say river cruising more than lives up to its hype, especially when you travel with a top tour company like AHI Travel and a cruise line like Austrian-owned Lüftner Cruises with its new, state-of-the-art Amadeus fleet.

    Now I’ve been fortunate to travel abroad quite a bit, and in many different ways: with family and on my own, with guided tours and for business (mostly press junkets). Here are 7 reasons why river cruising stands out against the rest.

    Cruising past the Iron Gates on the Amadeus Silver.

    1. The cruise itself. When I got home from my trip, everyone asked me what my favorite part was. And it wasn’t any specific port or destination, but rather the experience of traveling on the Amadeus Silver. Unlike an ocean cruise, there was no pitching and swaying in the water—and no motion sickness. I slept well, and loved to spend swaths of time on deck or in the passenger lounge just watching the beautiful scenery go by, especially when we traveled through the lush Wachau Valley and past the craggy Iron Gates.

    2. The service. You get mostly the same cruise staff serving you throughout the trip, and as such, Lüftner made sure they hired people who worked hard to build personal relationships with their guests. Everybody in the GT group loved to be waited on by Vlad in the dining room, even if the Romanian was more comedian than vampire.

    3. The river locks. You don’t have to be an engineer to be fascinated by the way the shipnavigates down the Danube. The first lock we encountered was at nighttime just after dinner, and I can say it was a thrilling, surreal experience to see the boat “sink” nearly 80 feet so it could continue on its way to our next port. 

    Melk, Austria

    4. The destinations. These cruises do take you to some of Europe and Asia’s most well-known cities—including Vienna and Budapest—but the river also winds through some more exotic lands, showing you parts of the world you may not see any other way. For me, Belgrade, Serbia, proved to be a fascinating stop where we could see not only the hundreds of years of culture on display, but also its recent turbulent past as its people emerged from the yoke of Communist rule to be led headlong into civil war.

    Budapest at night from the Danube.

    5. The excursions. When you have only a day—sometimes even less—at a port of call, it’s important that you make the most of it. AHI made sure we saw the top historical and cultural highlights of our destinations, led by excellent local guides who also made personalized recommendations on how we could spend our ample free time exploring.


    6. The company you keep. Book a trip with a cruise line directly, and you’ll be traveling with strangers. But go on an alumni tour, and not only do you have an immediate connection with a group, but you have a shared mission to make sure your alma mater is having the best time among all those universities represented. It quickly became known on our ship that Tech alumni were by far the most fun and spirited—we even cajoled a Florida State alumnus to wear a GT pin on his Seminoles hat. In fact, he got so into the Ramblin’ Wreck way of things that he spent more time staging travel photos with a cardboard Buzz than any Yellow Jacket did.

    7. The food. Most everyone on the trip tried the local cuisine while out on daily excursions—personally I was always on the hunt for signature desserts like Vienna’s Sacher Torte—but it was always nice to wake up to a quality breakfast buffet and then wind down after a day of adventurous undertakings with a dinner that was both familiar and fantastic.