On March 21, the campus community received the heavy news of the death of undergraduate student Chengming “Julian” Gu, third-year CS.
After the Division of Student Life sent the memorandum, a group of friends started working to memorialize his impact on the computer science community on campus.
“An academically high achieving student, Julian was a teaching assistant in computer science and was passionate about machine learning and systems architecture and loved sharing these passions with fellow Yellow Jackets,” wrote Dean John Stein, vice president for Student Life.
Gu worked as a teaching assistant (TA) for CS 2110 and 2051 for multiple semesters, where he used his teaching skills to help students navigate some of their first courses in the computer science discipline.
A testament to Gu’s presence on campus, a Reddit post sharing the original email almost immediately began collecting student’s well-wishes and received more than 400 upvotes.
Katherine Shen, first-year CS, created a digital scrapbook open to the Tech community, where more than 30 friends uploaded photos and wrote letters to him.
The letters were translated into both Chinese and English, so family members in Shanghai could also read them.
“Julian was one of the first people I became friends with when I matriculated into Tech, and he became one of my best friends,” said Shen.
“He never failed to lend a helping hand to anyone who needed it, and he was the type of person to brighten up any conversation he was a part of. We usually would talk throughout the day every day about shared interests like e-sports and anime, and he’d always lend an ear if I needed to vent.”
Four students including Shen attended the Undergraduate House of Representatives meeting (UHR) on March 23 to share their requests for remembering Julian Gu.
One of the students used his time to share on behalf of a friend’s negative experience at Tech’s Center for Assessment, Referral and Education (CARE). Arvind Srinivasan, third-year CE, described feeling worse after visiting CARE, like he was “just another case to be closed as quickly as possible.”
“Thankfully, with the support of my friends, I managed to secure an appointment with an actual therapist who worked with GT psychiatry to get me the help I needed. How many people at Tech are not as fortunate as me?” Srinivasan wrote.
“How many people at Tech lack the resources necessary to help them, rough out the initial intake? How many people at Tech look at the daunting road ahead of them at GT care and simply give up looking for help?” Srinivasan wrote.
“The Georgia Institute of Technology and its student body failed Julian, but he is only one of many. Let’s try to make sure we don’t fail, anyone else.”
Alice Zeng, second-year CS and a friend and fellow TA, also echoed these sentiments.
“Some friends and I, who were friends of Julian, have been talking on changes that we wish to see, and we’ve come to the conclusion that what we want is essentially a change in GT CARE.”
Dean Stein, who also attended the meeting, held a moment of silence for Julian Gu and promised to escalate the student speakers’ concerns to the director of CARE.
After these comments were heard, undergraduate and graduate legislative bodies both unanimously passed resolutions remembering his legacy and offering condolences.
A few representatives agreed to work on legislation to help make a physical memorial.
“In the past there have been things done to memorialize students who have passed, and I would be happy to work with the students who are the friends of this student in order to try to get something like that to happen,” said Kelly O’Neal, fourth-year MGT, “so this isn’t just like kind of a dry political statement, and that we’re not just like passing this and then forgetting about it.”
Aditya Diwakar, first-year CS and MATH, envisioned a memorial plaque after hearing the impact he had on other students as well as himself.
“Julian left a positive impact on everyone that he interacted with. Regardless of my relationship with Julian being mostly online due to COVID-19, he left a positive impact on my life,” Diwakar told the Technique.
“He was one of the first people that I met and talked to at Tech … We bonded over simple things: math and cooking, but those conversations remain to have a special place in my heart,” Diwakar said.
“None of this is unique to me, Julian had a positive impact on much of the community whether it be through teaching, computer science, cooking, or one of the other dozen things he was interested in.”
Through their friendship, Gu became the reason Diwakar decided to stay in his major and even inspired him to want to become a TA.
“Our goal with the physical memorial is to create a plaque with his name and a short quote. This would, ideally, be placed somewhere in the College of Computing which is where Julian TA’d for over the course of many semesters,” said Diwakar.
In the aftermath of Gu’s death, Diwakar expressed thankfulness for the Dean’s office in helping to communicate with him and other family members.
According to a student, Gu’s emergency contact information on file for family in China was incorrect, but friends were able to collaborate with the Division of Student Life and reach the family.
Friends in the states plan on checking in with the family members to assist in the days ahead.
“The response coming from the Georgia Tech community after his passing has been astounding,” Diwakar said.
“It gave us a great deal of closure to be able to see how much of an impact Julian left on the people he talked with.”
Note: The Technique would like to offer our condolences to the friends and family of Julian Gu. We truly wish we these circumstances were not the reasons we were writing an article highlighting his impact under. If needed, students should find grief counseling and mental health support for students through care.gatech.edu. Students can also reach support by calling the phone number 404-894-3498 and selecting option 1 to speak with the after-hours counselor and receive immediate support.