Finding my home in numbers and words

Photo by Dani Sisson Student Publications

My freshman year at Tech, I floated from class to the dining hall to my dorm feeling like my life at college was empty and hollow. I was lonely, homesick and unsure about who I was. There were only two things I knew about myself: I really enjoyed my calculus class and loved picking up copies of the student newspaper. 

After finally working up the courage to show up to a Technique meeting, I walked into the old student media office in the Flag Building and felt inevitably drawn to this world of fact-finding, interviews and obscure grammar rules. 

The office was full of stacks of old newspapers lying on every surface, awards celebrating the Technique’s work hanging from walls, desks brimming with Rolodexes of phone numbers and gorgeous bound volumes of papers from decades ago lined up on bookshelves.

 Surrounded by relics of the people who had come before me, I felt a part of something larger than just me, something that had a clear purpose. Seeing my name printed in the paper felt like I was proving to myself that I was indeed a student at Tech; I was not simply a body existing in the few spaces I felt comfortable in on campus. As much as I considered pouring my energy into other activities at Tech, I could never quite convince myself I would enjoy anything as much as writing for this paper.

Well, there was one exception. The Technique anchored me to Tech and gave me a sense of belonging, but majoring in industrial engineering gave me a sense of wonder and excitement every day. My love for integral calculus wasn’t just a fluke — I loved math, problem-solving and everything else my classes taught me. And now that I have the advantage of retrospection, it makes perfect sense why math and journalism gave me a home when I felt so lost freshman year.

Journalism gives us a framework to record the world around us. It’s a formula — a quote here, a statistic there, schedule an interview for this time, remove an Oxford comma. There are rules you follow to prevent biases, conflicts of interest and so on. Follow these rules, and you have a well-written and factual article. It is no surprise my brain, which loves formulas and patterns, has also found comfort and familiarity with being a journalist. 

With that being said, journalism is not one simple formula. It is not just adding two numbers together, nor is it something as repetitive as memorizing digits of pi. Fortunately, mathematics, as a field, can be the source for so much creativity. One theory could have multiple proofs, and each of those proofs could be varied and different. It takes a unique perspective to approach a concept in a new way. However, the purpose of each of those proofs is the exact same.

In a similar way, one breaking news event could be covered in so many creative ways. You may choose to cover a topic by looking deeper at the people it affected and conducting interviews. Perhaps you may rely on data and statistics to tell your story. Or maybe instead, you comb through historical records to piece together causes for an event. But, the end goal is to find the truth and communicate that information to your readers.

That’s why at such a STEM-focused school, journalism has its perfect home. Even though Tech might not have a school of journalism or the resources many other schools around the country have to support student media, its students are so well-equipped to be journalists. I wish that journalism was more accessible to those who feel they are not natural-born writers, because I promise that you too can be a journalist. 

Maybe it’s because of the constant presence of writing for a newspaper in my life for so many years that I already have intense nostalgia for something that’s just barely ended. I miss the feeling of removing Oxford commas, of spell-checking names and aligning text boxes perfectly. 

Making everything perfect for its publication. I miss getting ink on my fingers, the feeling of turning the pages of a freshly printed newspaper for the first time. I miss pouring over the pages that I spent hours on. But I don’t just miss the words, I also miss the numbers I found to ground me in it all. The 20 pages, the five sections, the 108 volumes, the 27 issues a year, the room number 137, the six desks, the Tuesdays at 7. 

To say that I grew as a person while working at the Technique would be an understatement. I could list off all the professional development the Technique offered me, and I can similarly list off the niche knowledge I acquired that I (most likely) will not have a use for after graduating. Will I need to know whether it’s spelled “Ramblin’ Reck” or “Ramblin’ Wreck” as I start my new engineering job? Probably not, but I’ll file it away, just in case. 

Most importantly, though, I found a space at the Technique to learn more about myself. It taught me lessons beyond those of just the grammatical (or mathematical) type. 

The final lesson it taught me was how to say goodbye to something you hold so closely to your heart. In a matter of weeks, I’ll be walking across the stage at graduation and leaving Atlanta, my home for the past 21 years. My goodbye to journalism is only one of many I will be making — yet one of the hardest.