I’m wrapping up my final year at Georgia Tech, savoring every opportunity the Institute has to offer before I graduate in May. I’m finishing up my senior design project, planning a new conference for SGA, and working on an initiative to improve class and career options in the Ivan Allen College. I’m reflecting over everything I’ve learned at Georgia Tech in the classroom and around campus and finding myself so thankful for the opportunities I’ve had to grow and build friendships over the past four years.

One of the things I’m most proud of at Georgia Tech has been working to change the academic calendar. During my second year, my SGA committee decided to tackle a big problem in a very small way. Our campus had been immersed in the national conversation on improving mental health and reducing stress among college students. Upon learning that Georgia Tech had the longest semesters of any of our peer universities, the committee thought that maybe some improvements to our calendar could help relieve student stress.

We started small. We researched the calendars of our peer universities and interviewed many students to get their opinions. We designed a list of ambitious, yet attainable, changes that we thought would help build extra study time around finals week. We compiled our work into a white paper and submitted it to the provost. This led to a task force to finalize and implement the changes. After two years of work, this project had finally been voted into action! We didn’t solve the problem of student stress entirely, but we identified a small part of the problem that an hopefully be a part of a larger solution.

That same year, I interned with the Georgia House of Representatives for the education committee. After that, I began to tailor my courses to explore education policy further. I studied the progress of STEM education, the politics of Common Core, and the sociology of educational inequity. I was hooked. Here is an institution that is complex, meaningful and exciting. But it’s also struggling.

The opportunities we have all had at Georgia Tech to get involved with clubs and to pursue courses and internships to find our passions would not be possible if it were not for the education we received before we got in. At the very least, we were all exposed to the rigorous math courses in that allowed us to be admitted to and successful at Georgia Tech.

Opportunities like attending Georgia Tech are not available to everyone, but I was amazed to learn how where you live and where you go to school can knock kids out of the game before they even start playing. Students in low-performing schools and in low-income communities are significantly less likely show number skills by 8th grade, a strong predictor for high school graduation. And if these students don’t show number skills by 8th grade, they won’t be on track to take the courses needed to be successful at a university like Georgia Tech. So how can we change that?

The same way students can add study days to a packed academic calendar. We start small. We think “What can we do now?” and then we do that. Then, it turns out, we can do a little bit more. So we do that too. For me, Teach for America shows me what I can do right now to help students in Charlotte who deserve quality education. I’ll be teaching high school math for two years. While that seems like enough of a challenge right now, Georgia Tech has taught me — has taught all of us — to rise to the challenge even when the curve seems to be against us.