A Letter to Entering Freshmen at Georgia Tech, Class of 2015

For the last 150 years, the United States has been a global leader in technological innovations of all kinds that have increased prosperity, improved health, and provided positive opportunities for all humans throughout the world. For 125 of those years, Georgia Tech graduates have played a significant role in that long run of human progress, and come August, you will join the ranks of engineers, scientists, architects, managers, planners, industrialists, and entrepreneurs that make it all happen. You will come to campus with the expectation that a Georgia Tech education will help you to understand, engage, and prosper in an ever increasingly complex, competitive, and interconnected world. You expect that your undergraduate training will prepare you for the challenges you will meet throughout your professional and personal lives. Challenges for students entering the college stream in the last decade were terrorism, the rise and fall of the technology market, and worldwide financial collapse. Three decades ago, students were challenged by the Cold War, a new and unknown disease called AIDS, and the stunning rise of Japanese manufacturing prowess. Here in the second decade of the third millennium, your challenges are no less daunting (and perhaps more so):
 
•     Population growth is an ongoing challenge as we prepare to provide 7, 8, and 9 billion people with food, shelter, security, mobility, employment, healthcare, governance, child care, elder care, and more. This must occur amid greater competition for increasingly scarce material and energy resources, and diminishing capacities to assimilate wastes.
 
•     For the first time in human history, more people now reside in urban areas than in rural areas. This trend of urbanization will continue. In developing countries, new infrastructure will need to be built to provide water, housing, transportation, sanitation, communications, and industrial (including energy) production and distribution.  In developed countries, the aging built environment will need to be rebuilt or replaced, and natural systems restored in order for those countries to remain functional and competitive.
 
•     Human caused global climate change now threatens to disrupt the order of nature on which we are dependent. This includes disruptions to the biosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, and atmosphere. Dramatic changes in how energy is produced and used are needed to mitigate further impacts, and for impacts already likely to occur, measures to transition terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems to new climate regimes are required (e.g. farms, forests, and fisheries). Additionally, plans must be created and implemented to manage new threats caused by climate change such as increased storm frequencies and intensities, human and other species migrations and extirpations, and transportation and distribution service interruptions.
 
•     As international barriers to communication, transportation, finance, and labor continue to fall, globalization will continue to grow. With it, so too will grow new markets and business opportunities, cultural exchanges, and the flow of goods, people, information, and ideas. This in turn will require new internationally binding rules, laws, and oversight, coordinated diplomatic efforts, and wisdom in navigating foreign lands and cultures born of experience and empathy.
 
For its part, Georgia Tech must be forever looking across and over the horizon, and constantly revising and adapting its curriculum to meet each new incoming class’ existing and emergent needs and desires. Like every generation prior, the challenges and opportunities that are surfacing are unprecedented in scope and speed and require an altogether new approach to education. So what is it that Georgia Tech is doing, and what is it that you must take advantage of during your time here that will help you meet these challenges?
 
•     At a first level, Georgia Tech is removing barriers to interdisciplinary studies and research. By allowing students to more freely craft a degree curriculum, the Institute is able to respond quickly to the demand for graduates in the cross-over and hybrid careers that are the foundation of the flat world in which proficiency in a single discipline is no longer a guarantor of success. Industrial ecology is a product of the life sciences and engineering in which waste from one process is feedstock to another, leading to lower environmental impacts and higher revenues. Biomimicry "is a new discipline that studies nature’s best ideas and then imitates these designs and processes to solve human problems.”
 
•     In a nod to globalization, Georgia Tech is providing more international experiences. In both sending students abroad and receiving them in-kind, the Institute is expanding the worldviews of students and enabling their ability to see and solve problems from many different perspectives. And through these experiences, students also see that solutions that simply transfer problems to others are unjust. Especially obvious are the environmental kind as these are often the most manifest and tangible.
 
•     Recognizing that even the universities are limited in their ability to foresee the needs and opportunities in the future and prepare students accordingly, schools are putting more emphasis on teaching students how to teach themselves. This includes fostering more undergraduate research and entrepreneurship. In turn, graduates are less bound by the status quo and more able to develop new ideas, technologies, and business ventures that are more effective, profitable, and efficient.
 
•     Finally, at the highest level, the Brook Byers Institute for Sustainable Systems is helping Georgia Tech recast its education, research, and service missions around the core concept of sustainability. In so doing, it seeks to align the mission of Georgia Tech with the mission of the next generation of students to create an anthrosphere that exists within the means of nature. That is, to use resources that nature can provide and only generate wastes that nature can assimilate. In adopting this mission, Georgia Tech and its graduates will help provide the developing world opportunities to lead useful and productive lives, and enable the U. S. A. to become the global leader in developing more sustainable technologies, achieve energy self-sufficiency, and become the most generous country in the world again by providing medicines, technology transfer, and aid to people everywhere.
 
Class of 2015, welcome to Georgia Tech. Go Jackets!

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Michael Chang, Deputy Director, BBISS