Photo by Casey Gomez

On Wednesday, Oct. 3, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos visited Tech as the first stop on her second annual “Rethink School” tour. As part of the “Rethink School” tour,” DeVos visited schools in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana between Oct. 3 and 5 to gather new perspectives on how to foster student success in education.

DeVos’s visit to Tech was separated into a morning session, where she was able to tour the Centergy Building in Tech Square and learn about Tech’s various student innovation programs, and an afternoon luncheon in the Wardlaw Center, where DeVos talked with high school students and unveiled a mobile application to ease federal student aid applications.

Called myStudentAid, the app is an alternative to the desktop Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and supplements the financial aid application through a user-friendly interface, student or parent role-playing and skip logic, according to Federal Student Aid’s Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer Wayne Johnson, who helped to unveil the application at the luncheon.

By bringing FAFSA into the mobile age with myStudentAid, DeVos and Johnson hope that more students will apply for financial aid.

In the morning at Centergy, President G.P. “Bud” Peterson and other Tech officials spoke with DeVos about how Tech promotes student innovation and makes studies more accessible for people across the world through online classes. Among the programs discussed were the startup incubator Create-X, the Inventure Prize entrepreneurship competition, and Tech’s various Online Master of Science (OMS) programs. So far, three different OMS programs exist: the OMS in Computer Science, the OMS in Analytics, and the OMS in Cybersecurity.

DeVos praised Tech’s efforts as “meeting the needs of students today and tomorrow and really changing to meet those needs in very innovative ways,” and was impressed by Tech “taking risks and marching into unknown territory on behalf of students.”

In addition to on-campus programs, DeVos learned about Georgia Tech’s outreach efforts to help high school students in their pursuit of a higher education, which includes Project ENGAGES (Engaging New Generations at Georgia Tech through Engineering and Science). Through Project ENGAGES, Tech works with six high schools to spur involvement of underrepresented minorities in engineering and science.

High school student participants from Project ENGAGES were invited to the luncheon in Wardlaw to talk with DeVos about how the program has impacted their career choices and interests.

Outside of Wardlaw Center, where the luncheon was held, around 50 students expressed their discontent with Devos’s policies through chants like “Betsy DeVos go home; Betsy DeVos resign” and posters stating “schools for students, not profits.” Students in the protest, which was organized by the Tech chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America, held banners, posters, and megaphones to make their voice heard. At the beginning of the luncheon, DeVos thanked students for their hard work in Project ENGAGES, and asked them about their experiences in the program.

Students responded that Project ENGAGES has helped them both broaden their interests and focus on the topics they find most interesting, its side projects allowing for them to explore new areas of study.

One student praised the program as helping her realize that she could pursue anything to which she set her mind.