Faced by adversity, one Georgia Tech student gained the confidence to succeed with the help of a supportive community.
Alex Syriopoulos (IE 2020, M.S. GMC 2021) was a third-year student in the H. Milton School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE) when an unexplained brain hemorrhage left him paralyzed after a coma. With determination and intensive physical therapy, he achieved an incredible physical recovery, and two years after the near-death experience, he was ready for his next challenge: going back to college.
When Syriopoulos returned to Georgia Tech in 2019, most of his friends had already graduated. But thanks to his outgoing nature and the encouragement of a mentor – introduced by Jorge Breton, the director of Hispanic Initiatives – he started building new networks for himself. He also unexpectedly reconnected with a first-year dorm friend, who became one of his team members for Senior Design. His academic advisor, Lauren Silver, provided the guidance he needed to get his course load back on track, and he never felt alone during his return to Tech.
To catch up with his academic studies, Syriopoulos discovered he needed to review some ISyE fundamentals. He also had to retake one of the courses he had been enrolled in during the semester of his injury when he realized he had forgotten most of the material. Despite adjusting well to being a student again, he still encountered unexpected difficulties.
“Because I'm blind in my left peripheral vision, I can sometimes misread a question,” said Syriopoulos. “I once read the number 250 as 50, and that happened during a final exam.”
However, he was blown away by the approachability and helpfulness of his professors, who were quick to accommodate him. Damon Williams, senior lecturer and director of the Center for Academics, Success, and Equity, was exceptional in making sure he had enough time to take his quizzes.
Syriopoulos was also thankful for ISyE's Gunter Sharp, emeritus professor, and He Wang, Colonel John B. Day Early Career Professor and assistant professor, who helped provide smooth transitions to online classes during Covid-19. Outside of ISyE, he also recalls having many engaging conversations with Mikhail Klimenko, who taught his international economics class.
As he worked toward his long-awaited graduation, Syriopoulos started interviewing for a full-time job. Several companies expressed interest in hiring him, including Accenture. However, securing an offer proved challenging because many companies put recruiting on hold during the pandemic.
Meanwhile, Syriopoulos received an email from the School of Modern Languages (ML) about the new master’s degree in global media and cultures (MS-GMC). The one-year program, a joint degree with the School of Literature, Media, and Communication (LMC), provides advanced training in communication and media and develops expertise in a critical global language.
The globally focused degree intrigued Syriopoulos, who was born in Greece, is half-Greek and half-Colombian, speaks multiple languages, and interned with MasterCard Latin America. This background made him a natural candidate for the program. And after meeting with Jenny Strakovsky, former associate director of ML graduate studies and career education, as well as speaking with his former Spanish professors, he realized the degree would complement his technical engineering background by enhancing his communication skills.
“A lot of companies had already told me that they were looking for people who understand data and are capable of explaining technical information to non-technical people,” said Syriopoulos.
The master’s program was an incredible option while he waited for the job market to improve, and he received the Foreign Language and Area Studies fellowship to help with the expense. In 2020, Syriopoulous joined the second cohort of the MS-GMC program with a concentration in Spanish.
“The program was honestly a blessing,” he said. “I learned a lot, and I met some really incredible people -- professors and students alike.”
Two of Syriopoulos' favorite courses centered around environmental theory – a special topics class on 21st-century environmental philosophy with Thomas Hugh Crawford, LMC associate professor, and sustainable development with ML Assistant Professor Miguel Rosas Buendia. In particular, he appreciated Buendia’s native Peruvian perspective on the environmental challenges in Latin America.
For his master’s thesis project, Syriopoulos performed marketing analysis for Saving the Amazon, a Colombian NGO aiding the reforestation effort of the Amazon rainforest. The nonprofit takes funds from companies trying to reduce their carbon footprint and gives them to communities indigenous to the Colombian rainforest. In turn, the communities take control of planting new trees in their territories. Syriopoulos emphasizes that it's important to ensure these marginalized communities get the resources they need to amplify their voice in the global discussion over climate change, while also leveraging their age-old wisdom and traditions to sustainably reforest the Amazon rainforests.
While working on his thesis, Syriopoulos benefitted from the expertise of Crawford, one of his advisors, as well as Antonio Cardentey, a second advisor from the ML department. He also received guidance from Strakovsky.
In the middle of his master’s program, Syriopoulos received a call from Accenture offering him a position in their Atlanta office as a business and integration arch analyst. The role was a perfect match for him, as being able to work and collaborate with people from diverse backgrounds is crucial in consulting.
Thrilled to accept the offer, Syriopoulos graduated and began his full-time job. As he moves forward with his career, he is grateful to all the friends and professors who shaped his time at the Institute.
“We have a very close, beautiful community of people who help each other out,” said Syriopoulos. “Georgia Tech has been one of best experiences I've had in my life, and it's probably the most defining one for my character.”
In the future, he is interested in giving back to the Shepherd Center, the hospital for spinal cord and brain injury rehabilitation, where he received treatment for his injury. Furthermore, with his proximity to campus, he looks forward to the opportunity to stay active in the Georgia Tech community.