Meet the 2020 Group Leaders
Ph.D. student, Environmental Engineering
“You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” -Wayne Gretzky
Moyo Afolabi is a graduate student in Environmental Engineering where she is conducting research on the synthesis of novel membranes for water treatment. Moyo also received her B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. As a returning Grad Groups leader, Moyo seeks to help new graduate students establish their academic, professional, and social presence on campus. She believes Grad Groups will aid new students in their transition into Georgia Tech.
Master’s student, Human-Computer Interaction
“The most important part of a story is the characters: you need to define them well; if you can do that, they will be the ones to write the story.” -A Lyft Driver, Hobbyist Writer
Santiago comes from a little city in the north of Spain called Burgos, where the food is amazing and the cold keeps you young. He left for California 8 long years ago with a small suitcase and dreams of changing the world. Previously, Santiago worked as a project leader in Mechanical Engineering and now researches wearables for cognitive enhancement, looking at the question: “Can we use technology to make us better at learning things?” You can see him biking around or out in the park (when there’s no quarantine!). He believes Grad Groups is a way to share everyone’s personal experience and grow together, and hopes to share some of the little wonders in Atlanta that makes him love this city.
Dakshitha B Anandakumar
Ph.D. student, Biomedical Engineering
“Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.” -Theodore Roosevelt, Squire Bill Widener
Dakshitha grew up in Bangalore, India where she received her undergraduate degree in electrical and computer engineering. Dakshitha is currently in the biomedical engineering doctoral program. Her research focuses on understanding how the neural coding of sound stimulus in the auditory cortex of the brain changes with social experience. As a Grad Groups Leader, Dakshitha wants new graduate students to remember that school-life balance is a key to performing well. She states, “Grad school is not only for academic growth but also to develop a skill set that will help you both professionally and personally. There are ample resources at Georgia Tech to assist you in this process so make the best use of them. At the end of the day, you want grad school to be a wholesome and fulfilling experience.”
Ph.D. student, Public Policy
“Opportunities don’t often come along. So, when they do, you have to grab them.” -Audrey Hepburn
Aline Banboukian is a Ph.D. student in the School of Public Policy. Aline studied her bachelor’s in industrial engineering, then earned a master’s in public policy. Her advice to new graduate students is to make sure to find a balance. As a Grad Groups Leader, she wants her students to understand that the most important thing is self-care and good time management because if you don’t balance life, it might get overwhelming. Aline wants you to know that Grad Groups is here for you and will help in your transition to graduate life, make connections, and learn about the resources available for you. She advises new graduate students to “Always step aside and take a deep breath, and everything will be alright.”
Ph.D. student, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” -Audre Lorde
Isaiah Borne was born and raised in Marietta, Georgia. He earned his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2018. During his undergraduate studies, Isaiah served as a Residential Associate Advisor and helped incoming freshmen smoothly transition into their new environment. As a Grad Groups leader, Isaiah is excited to help new graduate students adjust to graduate school life and find supportive communities. He believes that Grad Groups is an amazing opportunity for incoming students to learn about available resources at Georgia Tech that can help them. Isaiah’s advice to new students is to maintain a healthy work-life balance and make time for things outside of research that make you happy.
Master’s student, Computer Science
“Believe in yourself, and you will be unstoppable.” -Emily Guay, W. Michael Scott
Tanya Churaman is currently a master’s student in Computer Science, specializing in Machine Learning. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Computer Science at Georgia Tech as well. Tanya hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in Computer Science at Georgia Tech in the future. Outside of school, Tanya likes to watch movies, play Episode, and hang out with her friends - hopefully, exploring new places! Her advice to new graduate students is to seek new experiences and step outside your comfort zone. Graduate school is a fulfilling experience to find out about yourself both professionally and personally. Most importantly, always believe in yourself and always reach out when in need. Together we can all succeed! :)
Ph.D. student, Aerospace Engineering
“How you live your day is how you live your life.” -Louise Hay
Ruxandra Duca was born and raised in Romania and moved to the US to pursue an undergraduate degree at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. She is currently a fourth year PhD student in Georgia Tech’s Aerospace Engineering program, where her research focuses on addressing industrial concerns in carrying out the multidisciplinary design process. Ruxandra loves dancing, traveling, and going to live music events and is always curious about lifelong learning and self-improvement. She encourages incoming graduate students to not be afraid of stepping outside their comfort zone, because they will not only experience growth but may end up with some of the best experiences and memories!
Ph.D. student, Civil Engineering
“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Wilson is currently doing his Ph.D. in Civil Engineering at Georgia Tech. He grew up in Ecuador where he obtained a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador and a master’s degree in Project Management from San Francisco University. He went on to Purdue University for his master’s degree in Civil Engineering. Before starting graduate school in the U.S., Wilson learned to balance having a healthy active lifestyle while working as an independent engineering contractor and adjunct professor at Indoamerica University of Ecuador. He believes that graduate school should be a holistic experience that develops character, improves critical thinking, and builds long-lasting collaborations with future academic and industry leaders. He enjoys playing basketball, biking, and traveling.
Ph.D. student, Aerospace Engineering
“See I got GPS on my phone.” -Jon Bellion, Human | “But if you don't, look for ‘the pencil.’” -Georgia Tech community
Anant attended the Indian Institute of Technology Madras to obtain an undergraduate degree in Aerospace Engineering. He believes that an educational environment is one of the best places to learn. He states that “there is a greater degree of freedom to make mistakes and grow from them and there are many people around who are willing to walk with you.” Anant believes it very important to find a good support system. As a Grad Groups Leader, Anant hopes to introduce grad students to campus resources, learn from others’ successes and failures, and help de-stress with other grad students.
Ph.D. student, Mechanical Engineering
“Indecision is the key to flexibility.” -Unknown
Jason Hirschey started at Georgia Tech in 2012 to complete his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering. Now a Ph.D. student in Mechanical Engineering, Jason joined Grad Groups to introduce new students to Georgia Tech and Atlanta. As a Grad Groups Leader, Jason hopes he can help grad students hit the ground running, get more out of their time here, and enjoy grad school more. He states, “Whether you’re here for a year or five, master’s or PhD, take advantage of all the opportunities Georgia Tech and Atlanta has to offer.”
Master’s student, Computational Science and Engineering
“So much depends upon a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens.” -William Carlos Williams
Conlain Kelly grew up in Wisconsin and did his bachelor’s degree in Physics and Computer Science at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. He loves cooking, biking, hiking, and playing saxophone. As a graduate student, he is studying how machine learning can solve problems in materials science, and is more generally interested in the intersections between physics and computer science. His best advice for new students is to take things slowly and respect one’s own time and energy, and to embrace new opportunities whenever they appear.
Ph.D. student, Computer Science
“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” -Confucius
Sharjeel Khan is a third-year Ph.D. student in Computer Science from Hyderabad, India, though he grew up in the Middle East. His current research is focused on using machine learning to improve program analysis techniques. Prior to Georgia Tech, he received his undergraduate degree in Computer Science from Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar. In his first year, Sharjeel participated in the Grad Groups program, which helped him get adjusted to both Georgia Tech and Atlanta. As a result, he decided to become a Grad Groups Leader, so he can do the same for the incoming graduate students. Sharjeel’s biggest advice for incoming graduate students is to make the most out of your time here at Georgia Tech while taking care of yourself.
Ph.D. student, Mechanical Engineering
“Be the change you want to see in the world.”
Sunny was born in Seoul, grew up in San Francisco and Tokyo, and is currently a PhD student in a Mechanical Engineering (BioE program). Her research focuses on imaging cardiovascular systems using an ultrasound transducer. She is passionate about promoting mental and physical health in our community. Sunny’s advice for incoming graduate students is that although graduate programs can be overwhelming, by sharing difficulties with peers, obstacles can be overcome, and you can feel a great sense of accomplishment.
Ph.D. student, Civil Engineering
“If you see someone without a smile, give them yours.” -Dolly Parton;
Becca is from Orlando, Florida and received her B.S. in Civil Engineering from the University of Florida in 2018. She is now a 2nd Year Ph.D. Student in Civil Engineering focused on transportation engineering. After graduation, Becca would like to be a professor and inspire the next generation of transportation engineers to design transportation systems for all ages of people, not just vehicles. When she isn’t working on campus or at a trendy coffee shop, she is exploring Atlanta using transit, traveling the world, or planning the next adventure.
Ph.D. student, Aerospace Engineering
“Non Ducor, Duco.” (translation: “I am not led, I lead.”)
Michel Lacerda is a Research Assistant in Aerospace Engineering. He is a specialist in Systems Engineering, Aircraft Design, and Advanced Systems. Michel has been part of the aerospace community for a couple years and has made several scientific contributions in peer-reviewed papers and technical conferences. Michel believes that the key to succeed in graduate school is to have planning and time management skills.
Ph.D. student, Physics
“The task is not so much to see what no one yet has seen, but to think what nobody yet has thought about that which everybody sees.” -Arthur Schopenhauer
Francisco Martinez is a PhD student in the School of Physics. Francisco earned his bachelor’s degree in Physics with a concentration in Astrophysics from Georgia State University. Currently, he works in Condensed Matter Physics studying the thermal properties of commonly used materials in technology. During Francisco’s spare time, he enjoys giving back to his community by either participating in volunteering work or mentoring. His advice for new incoming graduate students is to not be afraid to try new things whether that be new research, joining a club, or a hobby.
Ph.D. student, Mechanical Engineering
“When I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad. And that is my religion.”
Shekaib is a sixth year PhD student at the G. W. Woodruff school of Mechanical Engineering, where he has also earned his master’s and bachelor’s degrees. Previously, he has attended Armstrong Atlanta State University in Savannah, GA and Kabul University in Kabul, Afghanistan. Georgia Tech is a wonderful place. Be deliberate in your actions and firm in your goals and the school will deliver.
Ph.D. student, Chemical Engineering
“Falling down is not a failure. Failure comes when you stay where you have fallen.” -Socrates
Sean Najmi grew up in Baltimore and attended the University of Maryland, Baltimore County where he obtained a B.S. in chemical engineering. Sean believes that graduate school is a roller coaster; having a positive attitude and surrounding yourself with people who want to see you succeed makes a big difference in your graduate experience. Sean thinks Grad Groups is a great opportunity to build community early on to create a solid foundation in your graduate career and beyond.
Master’s student, City and Regional Planning
“It is not enough to stare up the steps, we must step up the stairs.” -Václav Havel
Ian is a Cleveland, Ohio native who earned his B.S. degree in Environment, Economy, Development and Sustainability from The Ohio State University in 2019. Ian went straight from earning his undergraduate degree to graduate school at Georgia Tech to work towards obtaining his master’s degree in City and Regional Planning. He believes that “Grad Groups can help reduce the stress, anxiety, and sometimes overwhelming nature of graduate school, by helping incoming grad students gain valuable connections, resources and professional development opportunities, while also helping to build a community with other grad students.” Outside of Georgia Tech, Ian is an amateur stand-up comic, a YouTuber, and a big book worm!
Master’s student, Data Analytics
“A society grows great when old men plant trees.” -Greek Proverb
Reynaldo is an MS in Data Analytics student at Georgia Tech. Born and raised in El Salvador, Reynaldo studied mathematics at Amherst College in MA and then worked for two years as a financial analyst in his home country. He enjoys outdoor activities and thinking about new business ideas. Reynaldo’s advice to new students is to make an effort to branch out and meet other students.
Ph.D. student, Robotics
“There are two rules for success: 1) Never tell anyone everything you know.” -Roger Lincoln
Will Sealy earned a bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering at North Carolina State University. Currently, he is a Ph.D. student in the Robotics program, where he focuses on Human Judgment and Decision Making. He also works for Pacific Northwest National Lab in the Visual Analytics group working on explainable machine learning and COVID modeling. His advice to new students is two-fold: focus on your research early and join some clubs/organizations! It is easy to get caught up in the busy work of classes and grades, but that’s not your metric of success anymore. Get connected on campus and find some students just like yourself that can help you study, blow off steam, and that encourage you to succeed.
Ph.D. student, Biological Sciences
“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.” -Henry David Thoreau
Jelly Vanderwoude is an Atlanta native and third-year PhD student in Biological Sciences. She received her undergraduate degree in Marine and Geological Sciences from the University of Miami in 2017, and is glad to now be back in the peach state to pursue her graduate studies. When she’s not running experiments in the lab, she enjoys yoga, meditation, going to concerts, and walking the Beltline. Her advice to incoming graduate students is to build a strong support system early on and find interests outside of school and research that bring you joy.
Ph.D. student, Materials Science and Engineering
“The unexamined life is not worth living.” -Socrates, Plato’s Apology
Shruti is from Mumbai, India where she completed her undergraduate degree in chemical engineering. Currently, she is a doctoral student in the materials science and engineering program. Her work focuses on materials informatics where she uses machine learning to design and discover new materials for energy applications. Her advice for new graduate students is to always remember to be kind to yourself.
Ph.D. student, Operations Research
“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” -Albert Camus
Di Wu earned a B.A. in actuarial science and a B.S. in economics from the University of Minnesota in Twin Cities. Her current research focuses on reinforcement learning and trading strategies in the energy market. Di suggests new graduate students plan strategically for their graduate studies and network with older students and professionals. According to Di’s suggestions, “Graduate School is more stressful than undergraduate study, so it is important to balance your studies and life. A good way to balance your stress is meeting people and joining fun activities.” She believes that Grad Groups is the perfect place to make friends and to help you get familiar with campus resources to succeed in graduate study.
Ph.D. student, Economics
“I came, I saw, I conquered.” -Julius Caesar
Before coming to Georgia Tech, Tongyang Yang received her M.S. degree in Applied Economics from the University of Georgia. Her research interests vary from development economics, international trade, to labor economics. As a Grad Groups Leader, Tongyang suggests new graduate students join Grad Groups and take advantage of the available resources on campus for a smooth transition and onboarding experience. “In Grad Groups, new graduate students can learn how to balance life and work, deal with conflicts, and start career planning,” she said. “All these can help you quickly get accustomed to graduate life at Georgia Tech and plan for your future.”
Ph.D. student, Quantitative Biosciences
“It is important to draw wisdom from many different places.” -Uncle Iroh
Conan is a second-year QBioS Ph.D. student from Kingston, Ontario. He earned a B.S./B.A. in Physics and Math from Washington and Lee University before coming to Tech. His current research is on microbiome informatics. Outside of academics, Conan enjoys playing racquetball and going to concerts. His advice to new students is to prioritize your mental and physical well-being. “Grad school is tough, but you got this far, and you have what it takes to succeed. Just don’t forget to enjoy your time while you’re here.”