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Why we need to work on community.

My name is Daniel Castro and I've been a part of the Georgia Institute of Technology for 4 years but I will be a yellow jacket for the rest of my life. I studied my undergraduate career in Computer Science under the College of Computing, and am now pursuing my doctorate within the same institution.

I am an avid supporter of our Athletics department because I love cheering for the school that has made me grow as a person, and taught me everything that I know today. I go to football games drenched in yellow paint, ready to scream our glorious fight songs to cheer the brave and bold. I love this school. But not everyone does.

In a recent discussion I was having with a colleague, we joked about how Georgia Tech students often bond over the fact that they went through similar amounts of pain and suffering. To paraphrase what my friend mentioned, "we talk about Georgia Tech like we had been to Vietnam together."

I was very confused and began to talk to my peers about their feelings about Georgia Tech, and two problems arose out of these discussions. The first problem was a lack of community.

Note that from here on when I say College, I am referring to a college on campus, like the College of Engineering, College of Sciences, etc.

I'd like to start by highlighting the work that the Office of Enrollment, Outreach and Community has done under the College of Computing. They have made a huge effort towards growing a community of passionate students and developing the activities and clubs that are available to any and all students on campus. I speak of them very fondly because in addition to being my friends, they are the reason that I fell in love with Georgia Tech. I didn't realize it back then, but it was this type of welcoming community that made me go to football games. I had no idea what football was or how its rules worked. I am a pretty big fan now, but it wasn't because I was different or somehow able to identify with the sport in ways that others don't care. I didn't go cheer on my Jackets because I was born and raised to love college football (hint: I wasn't). I went to cheer on my Jackets because I was grateful of what Georgia Tech had done for me. I was grateful that they had helped me grow as a person, and helped me become the best that I could be.

We're a group of geeks and nerds who are brilliant at what they do. We succeed in our classes and heck if we get out, we've pretty much made it in the industry. Our work ethic is incomparable to those at other schools. However, it seems to be the case that community is not an integral part of who we are. I've heard people joke that being social should be taught to students here because a lot of them have no idea how to communicate and talk to others. Jokes aside, this is a serious problem. We need to change that by building a community within every college at Georgia Tech. With that in mind, I will illustrate the interesting things that I have seen done at the College of Computing that I think would help other colleges build a stronger and more involved community:

  1. Create or denote a space where your students can hang out. Sure the library is useful at times, but nothing creates a better environment than a space where all the students of your college who are passionate for the same subject can hang out together and help each other through the same classes.
  2. Make it really easy to start a club within your college so that the students of your major can bond over geeky things they love doing. This will create the geniuses of tomorrow. Apply and get grants from companies who want to get access to your students, and use this money to create a budget for these clubs to meet and order food. Nothing builds a community like an endless supply of pizza.
  3. Replace GT 1000 with one that is specific to your major. I know GT 1000 already strives to do this, but if the college leads the effort and puts a lot more thought into this introductory class, it will change your community. In Computer Science we take CS 1100, and spend a semester hanging out with a bunch of other freshman CS majors, getting to know what CS is all about and the possibilities we have in the college. Every college on campus needs to do this. It will increase retention rates for your major, and build social skills among your students.
  4. Participate in Homecoming. Get your students to organize and go to these events to represent their college. I issue this challenge to every college out there because I would love to see different colleges competing against each other. It would start some hysterical rivalries and continue growing your community.
  5. The last one is the most difficult one and for this one you need to hire people who are dedicated to making a difference in your college. The last thing you need to do is show that you care. Let your students know that this community exists and that you are there for them whenever and for whatever reason.
Now, I mention all of these things because it saddens me when I hear that someone didn't love Georgia Tech and when someone is so glad to have survived that part of their lives. I think this is the core reason as to why students don't go to athletic events to cheer on their school. If you are put through hell and you never feel like the school cares for you, you sure as hell are not going to want to go cheer for a name that only elicits memories of pain and suffering. We need to change this.

The second problem that I have noticed is related to the first in the sense of building community. This is the problem of our athletics department being completely isolated from all of the students. There needs to be an attempt to increase the number of events that foster a relationship between our athletes and the students. A lot of our school probably has no idea who Vad Lee is and they probably wouldn't recognize him walking on campus. That's a problem. Our teams represent our school, they need to be more visible, they need to be a part of our campus so that people can identify and become more passionate about Georgia Tech. We need to graduate students who look back at these years as some of the best in their lives.

I know when I look back at the last four years, I regard them as the best years of my life, but I have a lot of friends who simply cannot say the same because the community for them was just not there.

This is why I admire a lot of the fraternities and sororities on campus. They provide that network of support which helps the students succeed. The problem is the majority of the student population doesn't identify with joining Greek life (I'm assuming that's why they don't join), but they do identify with one thing. A passion for their major. Lets leverage this passion to create students who love their school so that we can beat u(sic)ga.

#THWG.

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