Grad Groups

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Registration for Fall 2018 Grad Groups has now closed.

Grad Groups is Georgia Tech’s extended orientation program for new graduate students. Navigating the nuances of graduate school can be challenging, so don’t embark on this journey alone. 

Our office, in partnership with the Graduate Student Government Association (Grad SGA), sponsors the program, which provides opportunities for networking with other new graduate students from across campus and exposure to valuable campus resources that you may not otherwise be aware of.

Participants are organized into groups of about 16 students from a variety of degree programs, academic interests, and cultural backgrounds. Each group is led by a senior graduate student, which allows participants to tap into their Group Leader’s valuable experience and leverage that for their own success. (See below for the names and bios of our current fall 2018 Group Leaders.)

For fall 2018, the Grad Groups program has been reorganized into a one-credit hour course (pass/fail) that will meet once per week through the first eight weeks of the semester.  Once you register, you will be added to the program's Canvas site to access all the program material.  During group meetings, you will discuss topics related to the weekly theme and will have plenty of time to get to know your group members and Group Leader.

Moyo Afolabi, Ph.D. student, Environmental Engineering

“You miss 100% of the shots you never take” –Wayne Gretzy

Moyo has a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. Currently, her research is focused on the synthesis of novel membranes for water treatment.  As a first time Grad Group leader, she would like to help incoming students begin to establish their academic, professional, and social presence on campus. Grad groups will give guidance to help for a successful transition into Georgia Tech.


Nivedita Arora, Ph.D. student, Computer Science

“I have not failed, I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work” –Thomas Edison

Nivedita grew up in India, where she did her undergraduate studies in computer science before beginning her graduate program at Georgia Tech. For her research, she is working on building a flexible skin which can sense, compute, and give feedback to the user by harvesting power from the environment. While doing such an ambitious project, she has learned the value of building a strong community of support, being resourceful, resilient and courageous even when everything feels down, which she wants to inculcate in her Grad Group. Her advice to incoming grad students: Georgia Tech is like a Harry Potter dream world with hidden doors leading to your success. All you have to learn is to say ‘Alohomora’!


Aline Banboukian, Ph.D. student, Public Policy

“Opportunities don’t often come along. So, when they do, you have to grab them.” –Audrey Hepburn

Aline has an Industrial Engineering degree from the Lebanese American University, and just graduated with a master’s degree in Public Policy from Georgia Tech. Her research interests are energy, and environmental policies. Her advice to new graduate students is to make sure you find a balance. The most important thing is self-care and good time management. This is an important step into your future, but if you don’t balance life, it might get overwhelming. So, always step aside and take a deep breath, and everything will be okay.  Always know that Grad Groups is here for you and is the space where you can find answers. This group will help in your transition to graduate life, help you in making connections, and learning about all the resources available for you.

Troy Batugal, Ph.D. student, BioEngineering

“Venturing out of your comfort zone may be dangerous, yet do it anyways because our ability to grow is directly proportional to an ability to entertain the uncomfortable.” –Twyla Tharp

Troy received his B.S. in Materials Science and Engineering from Cornell University in May 2015. While at Cornell, he worked as a residential adviser for three years where he developed a fondness for engaging in deep conversations and bringing a diverse set of people together. Troy is currently a 3rd year graduate student in BioEngineering engineering antimicrobial lytic enzymes under the advisement of Dr. Ravi Kane. Troy’s advice to new graduate students is to customize their graduate school experience using the plethora of resources and opportunities at Georgia Tech such as Grad Groups in order to make it more enjoyable and fulfilling.


Garrett Bunyak, Ph.D. student, History and Sociology

“We have all known loneliness, and we have found that the answer is community” –Dorothy Day

Garrett is a Ph.D. student in the Department of History and Sociology.  He grew up in Pennsylvania and completed his M.A. in sociology at Ohio University.  Garrett loves being a grad student but thinks the experience can be isolating and stressful.  “One way of working through the struggles of being a graduate student,” he says, “is to connect with other students that are sharing similar experiences.  Grad groups is one resource that helps facilitate those connections.” 

Kaikai Che, Ph.D. student, Mechanical Engineering 

“Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.” — Steve Jobs

Before coming to Georgia Tech, Kaikai got his master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Shanghai Jiao Tong University. His current research is focused on design and experiments on multistable metamaterials that can have acoustic and photonic applications. As a Group Leader for the third time, Kaikai advises new graduate students to join the Grad Groups and get familiar with all the resources provided on campus. "In Grad Groups, new graduate students can learn how to balance life and work, deal with conflicts, and start career planning," he said. "All these can help you quickly get accustomed to graduate life at Georgia Tech and plan for your future."

Anant Girdhar, Ph.D. student, Aerospace Engineering 

See I got GPS on my phone." — Jon Bellion, Human  |  "But if you don't, look for 'the pencil.' ‚Äč — 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. 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. Unfortunately, graduate school can be set up to be highly insular and rigid at times making it very important to find a good support system. This is the key purpose of Grad Groups: to introduce you to campus resources, learn from others' successes and failures, and come de-stress with other grad students.

Ethan Hilton, Ph.D student, Mechanical Engineering

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” –II Timothy 4:7

Ethan graduated from Louisiana Tech University in 2014 with a Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering before coming to Georgia Tech to pursue his PhD in Mechanical Engineering with a concentration on Engineering Design and Education. During his first semester in the program, he was a member of one of the first Grad Groups, where he made lasting friendships and found mentorship in more senior students. This experience helped Ethan realize the importance of establishing meaningful connections to the people with similar passions and, more importantly, similar struggles. Grad Groups kept him from feeling isolated as he began the most difficult, and most rewarding, challenges of his academic career.

Jason Hirschey, Ph.D. student, Mechanical Engineering

"If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that's a full day. That's a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you're going to have something special." –Jim Valvano

Jason Hirschey hails from Washington State and originally came to Georgia Tech in 2012 to complete his BS in Mechanical Engineering.  Now a PhD student in Mechanical Engineering, Jason joined Grad Groups to share his unique perspective, and help new students acclimate to Georgia Tech and Atlanta.  Grad Groups can help grad students start off strong and enjoy grad school more.  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.


Sophie Kay, Ph.D. student, Psychology 

Always find time for the things that make you feel happy to be alive. — Unknown

Sophie grew up in Cedar Grove, NJ and earned her bachelor's in psychology from The College of New Jersey in 2014. As a student who struggled with impostor syndrome during her first year (and at other times since then), she likes to remind herself and others that if you got accepted into your program, that means you can do it. Her expert advice to new students would be to make time for things that make you happy while in graduate school and try not to feel guilty when you're not doing work.

Cynthia Lee, Ph.D. student, Civil and Environmental Engineering

“If I have seen further, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” –Isaac Newton

Cynthia hails from south New Jersey and received her bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Tufts University in 2014 and master’s degree in structural engineering from Stanford University in 2016. She loves rock climbing, Atlanta breweries, and taking the Beltline to Ponce City Market! She is very excited to meet this year’s incoming graduate students, to hear their stories and aspirations, and to share the highs and lows of graduate school with new people. She wants to remind new grad students (and herself) that asking for help where you need it – in coursework, research, or for your mental/physical well-being – is 100% ok!

 Jason Lee, Ph.D. student, Chemical Engineering

“Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.” –Conan O’Brien

Jason earned his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering at The Ohio State University. Jason says, “There is a lot of freedom in grad school, but it can also be incredibly stressful.” Jason’s advice to help reduce stress is to manage your time well and find a hobby outside of school. In addition, he thinks Grad Groups is a wonderful opportunity for graduate students to connect with others and a great way to find out what resources are available at Georgia Tech.

Yao Ma, Ph.D student, Chemical Engineering

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” –Tao Te Ching

Before beginning her PhD in Chemical Engineering at Georgia Tech, Yao completed her bachelor's degree from Xiamen University and her master’s degree in chemical engineering from Zhejiang University, China. She believes that graduate education is not just about academic knowledge but also makes a big difference in your career. Grad Groups is a beneficial program since it helps new grad students learn all the resources available at Georgia Tech and offers the opportunity to build relationships with other graduate students.

Evan Mallen, Ph.D. student, City & Regional Planning

"A society grows great when old men plant trees" –Greek Proverb

Evan comes to Georgia Tech from Michigan, with a BS in Physics and Master of Urban Planning both from the University of Michigan. Evan teaches courses on Environmental Planning & Design, and is a researcher in the Urban Climate Lab. Evan's advice to incoming graduate students is that all advanced research is interdisciplinary, even when it doesn't seem so at first glance. Make connections across departments and you will reap the benefits of these varied perspectives. Georgia Tech is a living, learning laboratory, and Grad Groups is a great way to make the most of your time here.

Colton Moran, Ph.D. student, Chemical Engineering

“Today I will do what others won’t, so tomorrow I can accomplish what others can’t.” — Jerry Rice

Before Georgia Tech, Colton attended Ohio University, a large liberal arts college, where he was a student in a smaller engineering college. The most important tip he gives anyone in graduate school is to realize that graduate school is not your life. "It is a large and very important portion of your life, but it does not define you and it should not consume all of your time — it will if you let it," he said. "Grad Groups allows you to have access to resources and knowledge on how to kick start your life here in Atlanta, as well as how to succeed in your graduate-level work. Don’t forget — the hard work you are putting in today is setting you up for a life of well-earned success!"

Elaine Rhoades, Ph.D. student, Physics

"Be a student as long as you still have something to learn, and this will mean all your life." –Henry L. Doherty

Prior to attending Georgia Tech for graduate school, Elaine attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Prescott campus and graduated with a B.S. in Space Physics in May 2014. As a first-time Grad Group Leader, Elaine is excited to help incoming graduate students work through their transition into graduate school and build relationships within the Georgia Tech community. Her advice for new grad students is that they should learn about and utilize the various resources offered on campus; that they shouldn't be afraid to ask for help; and that they need take time to take care of themselves.


WIll Sealy, Ph.D. student, Aerospace Engineering

"You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength." –Marcus Aurelius

Will earned a bachelor's degree in Aerospace Engineering at North Carolina State University (NCSU) and is now doing work with Human Judgement and Decision Making in the Robotics program. His advice to new students twofold: focus on your research early and join some clubs/organizations! It is easy to get caught up in the busywork 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 some steam, and encourage you to succeed.


Arshdeep Sood, master’s student, Electrical and Computer Engineering

“Change is hard at first, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end.” –Robin Sharma

Arshdeep graduated from the University of Mumbai with a Bachelor of Engineering in Electronics and Telecommunication, in May 2017. She joined Georgia Tech right after. Through Grad Groups she wants to provide the incoming students with connections that are hard to build initially. “Many people come in thinking everything is going to happen the way they imagine it to be. I was one of them. Georgia Tech is a place that provides you with any and every experience you did or did not plan for, and this is what puts things in perspective. Grad Groups offers a beginner’s guide to graduate life. It also provides you with a platform to share your experiences and learn from those of others.”

Kong Wong, Ph.D. student, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be.” –Douglas Adams

Originally from Greensboro, North Carolina, Kong earned a degree in Chemical Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University in 2012. He then worked at Intel’s Chandler, Arizona site as a process engineer for 2 years before embarking on his journey to Atlanta kicking off his PhD in Chemical Engineering at Georgia Tech. Having spent time enjoying a typical 9-5 job prior to graduate school, Kong believes work-life balance is essential to managing the challenging yet rewarding pursuit of a higher degree. Kong hopes to aid incoming graduate students in finding organizations and activities outside of lab to enjoy while navigating the stresses of beginning a graduate program.

Di Wu, 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 – Twin Cities. Her current research focuses on trading strategies in the energy market and mechanism design. Di suggests new graduate students to 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 find your balance between your studies and life. A good way to balance your stress is through meeting people and joining fun activities.” She believes that Grad Groups is the perfect place to interact with other graduate students and to help you get familiar with campus resources to succeed in graduate study.

If you have any questions, please contact us using this form.