Tech’s most accomplished student has been leaving his mark on campus and the world for 95 years: George P. Burdell.
Burdell is a fictitious Tech student conceived as a prank by William Edgar Smith, who started at Tech in 1927 as a CERE major. Smith was mistakenly sent two enrollment forms, so he used the second enrollment form to create Burdell, named after the president of Smith’s high school, George P. Butler.
Burdell went on to become a legend at Tech, completing his degree, joining the military and serving on the Board of Directors for MAD Magazine. He was even in the running for Time’s Person of the Year in 2001.
The Tech tradition of Burdell-spotting using the tag “Burdell was here” is now getting a new twist that lets fans join in on the fun using a filter on Instagram.
Thanks to the Georgia Tech Alumni Association, Instagram users can now take Burdell with them and snap pictures of his signature wherever they go.
The filter uses augmented reality (AR) technology to place a graffitied “Burdell was here” in Tech’s signature gold on vertical surfaces.
Scott Dinerman, STAC ‘03 and creative director for the Alumni Association, first began working on the filter last year ahead of Burdell’s birthday.
Alongside Codie McLanahan, graphic designer for the Alumni Association, they created a “Burdell was here” sticker and photoshopped it onto important Tech locations.
“I had created a video that put it on top of the Tech Tower, the Einstein statue and other places around campus, and it was really well received,” Dinerman said.
The sticker was a part of a larger tradition where students and alumni write out the tag “Burdell was here” in different locations as a way of marking the extent of Burdell’s and Tech’s reach.
The tradition found its way to social media, where students and alumni would post pictures, keeping others updated on Burdell’s travels.
“For example, our social media manager at the time went to The Varsity and wrote Burdell’s name out in mustard.
“Things like that, that just placed Burdell in familiar locations,” Dinerman said.
Dinerman described how Burdell represents a shared experience for Tech students that has made him a lasting figure in Tech’s history and traditions, making him the ideal subject for the filter.
“Burdell is all of us. It’s just a fun way to create community among students, current students and former students, because we’ve all been there. We all know what it’s like to pull all-nighters and hope that you pass and go to labs and job-hunting,” Dinerman said.
“Burdell … is uniquely Tech but there’s something that represents about that uniquely Tech bond.”
After the success of sticker, Dinerman wanted to create an experience that was more interactive and allowed everyone to get in on the fun.
“Last fall, I started experimenting with an Instagram effect…with augmented reality, allowing people to use their app to place the sticker somewhere where they are,” Dinerman said.
Dinerman turned to his team at the Alumni Association to work on creating the filter.
Marvin Crumbs, fourth-year CM, helped Dinerman develop the technology using Spark AR in Facebook Meta to create the filter.Neither of them had worked with the program before, but after some trial and error, they developed a working filter that could place the graphic onto vertical surfaces.
“We had to learn something new, but he [Crumbs] helped get down into the weeds of it…It works well enough that we thought it’d be fun to share, and we did get some good feedback,” Dinerman said.
The filter was introduced to the public in celebration of Burdell’s birthday on April 1 and has been used over 200 times since its release.
“It was a fun experiment, and we’re going to keep it on there. And if people want to use it and play with it, that’d be great,” Dinerman said.
Dinerman invites other Tech students and alumni to not only use the filter, but also to try to build on it, tinker with it and make it their own.
“That’s also an inherently Tech attribute … Look at the InVenture Prize, what that’s turned into over the last 10 years, born out of just this desire to innovate and solve a problem,” Dinerman said. “And that’s what we do. Tech alum solve problems.”
Dinerman pictured the future of Burdell and his birthday celebration and how innovations like the filter might fit into that future.
“We want to continue celebrating Burdell’s birthday every year. We’ll celebrate Burdell throughout the year, of course, but particularly on April 1. It’s just a good opportunity to stop and think ‘What would Burdell do?’ and have fun with it,” Dinerman said.
“It’s not the kind of thing that we’re only going to pay attention to once a year…use [the filter], share it with us and show us everywhere farflung that Burdell has influence,” Dinerman said.