[ Tech ]
Devin Roach knows a shortcut to breakfast. The spiky-haired eighteen-year-old bounds into the budding morning from Armstrong Hall, a dour 1960s low-rise freshman dorm, and strides confidently across the empty courtyard before crossing the street and cutting through a nearby parking deck. “I’ve seen a few other people walking around with maps,” he says. “I feel like I’m in the know.”
Photograph by Caroline Kilgore
Devin has been at Tech for five weeks. When his plane from Albuquerque landed, he didn’t know a single person in Atlanta. But today he enters Woodruff Dining Hall like a regular, silverware in his back pocket, making small talk with the woman behind the counter. Devin loads up on biscuits and gravy and sausage links—what he calls “a man’s meal.” Then he scans the room. He recognizes the cliques—from the swimmers with shaved heads by the door to the more subtle tables of threes and fours that occupy the same space every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Devin flutters between groups, collecting experiences and acquaintances. He went through rush with a dorm mate but never pledged. He is a member of the Panamanian Students at Georgia Tech (he spent a summer in Panama), the Spanish Speaking Organization (he is fluent in a “ghetto” New Mexican dialect), and the Student Alumni Association. He says he even tried to walk on to the tennis team before he realized they practiced three times a day. “I just don’t have time,” he says.
Today Devin decides to join a mop-haired fellow freshman. They talk about football and roommates and computer games, before the boy leaves for an 8 a.m. class. At 8:15, Devin heads back to his room, slipping into the walk-in-closet-sized space to grab his toothbrush and a sweatshirt while trying not to wake his roommate. In the bathroom, he runs into another guy from class. The two talk about their Friday night plans. Devin has tickets to Georgia Tech Night at Six Flags, for which the university has rented out the entire park, opening it to students and faculty. Devin is excited because, as a mechanical engineer, he wants to build roller coasters one day.
But right now he has to catch the bus to his 9 a.m. chemistry class. Today he’ll get the grade on his first test. He isn’t optimistic. Tech is known for trying to weed out freshmen, especially in its competitive engineering programs. And even though the Institute has improved retention rates, past data indicates that around 6 percent of this year’s 2,575 incoming freshmen will not be back next fall.
The bricks of string-bound papers are stacked into walls just inside the offices of the Technique, the student-run college newspaper. In the back, computers idle beside the deadline fallout of pizza boxes and take-out containers strewn with cold, flimsy fries and rubbery lettuce. In the old darkroom-turned-lounge, a green couch sags, cushions sunk where a reporter has slept. The editor’s desk is covered with proofs marked with green and red ink. But beside the proofs is the giveaway, the thing that would never, under any circumstances, be found in the office of a right-brained reporter: a massive textbook titled Fundamentals of Heat and Mass Transfer.
That’s not really fair to the book’s owner, the young man with the shadow of a mustache sitting at the desk, Technique editor in chief Vijai Narayanan. For the past three years, the mechanical engineering major has poured his spare hours into this paper, first as a freshman reporter, then as an assistant editor, then as a news editor before taking the big chair this year. And as there is no journalism program at Tech, he has had to train himself and his staff of fellow scientists to put out a newspaper. He says it has given him a chance to work on his writing, engage people and ask questions, and better get to know campus. “Plus,” he says, “I was looking for anything that wasn’t math all day.”
Of course, there are advantages to having engineers running a newspaper. For instance, they don’t need an IT department to service faulty computers. And in these dire economic times, what media outlet couldn’t use a leader formally trained in logistics?
Distribution is the problem of the day, here as elsewhere, and as Vijai delivers the bundles of the latest edition from the back of the Technique’s electric golf cart—the driver’s side door of which even the mechanical engineers have not been able to fix—he’ll be looking for optimal places for pick-up racks to better serve students. The Technique publishes 10,000 copies weekly, except during finals week, and it is available to Tech’s 20,000-plus students and faculty for free (partially financed by student fees). From these pages they can get the scoop on Tech’s appeal of NCAA penalties on its athletics programs or reports of students victimized by crime, especially when they wander off campus and into the west side of the city. Vijai also pushes the paper to be more satirical—a challenge with inexperienced writers getting paid only $10 per story.
Vijai rolls across campus, 400 acres in the middle of a mad metropolis, monitoring high-traffic areas like Brittain Dining Hall. The sign, though, reads “Bri ain.” In fact, T’s are missing from signs across campus. The 1960s student tradition of stealing the trademark T from atop Tech Tower administrative building has recently evolved to include the T’s on all campus signage, a trend that reportedly has cost the university $100,000 in repairs. But on his rounds, Vijai is focused on which Technique racks are empty, poorly labeled, or not labeled at all, racks that have been moved a few feet from the door into the corner. The problem stems from an ever-shifting campus, seemingly under constant construction.
He pulls up to the Carnegie Building, grabs a bundle, and walks inside and up the stairs, to a table outside a conference room, where a woman greets Vijai with a smile. The woman works in the office of the university president, and behind her is a meeting of the Georgia Tech Foundation. “We always like to have some Techniques on hand,” she tells him. He thanks her and tells her that he’ll see her next week. He has an interview with the president for a story.