One-year study abroad was a life changer
Apr 30, 2018 | Atlanta, GA
Julia M. Fraser had always known that she wanted a career in mathematics and science. These were always her favorite classes, but she was unsure in which one she would major. Math? Science? If so, what kind of science?
She settled on chemistry, knowing that at Tech, there would be no shortage of options if she decided to change. Her first instinct turned out to be right, and now Fraser is graduating with a B.S. in Chemistry with an International Plan Designation and a Minor in Spanish.
The Bethesda, Maryland, native was always heavily involved in school. At Walt Whitman High School, Fraser was an avid athlete, playing water polo and track and field. In the summers, she served as a counselor in an aquatics camp.
Sports and science weren’t her only interests. She was also a reporter for her high school’s television show and volunteered with Manos Unidas, a club that helps the Spanish-speaking community.
How did Georgia Tech meet your expectations?
My cousin, an Emory University graduate, told me, “Georgia Tech prepares you to get a job.”
Georgia Tech exceeded my already high expectations. It challenged me to be the best student I could be. I learned about preparing professionally for careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), such as how to present myself as a strong candidate.
I did not always feel academically respected as a scientist in an environment that’s touted as an engineer’s world, but I found respect and community in my water polo team, my dorm community, and friends.
“In addition to gaining skills, I learned that research is driven by passion, and I experienced the excitement of contributing new knowledge to the scientific community.”
What are your proudest achievements at Georgia Tech?
My proudest achievements include studying abroad as an exchange student for a year, becoming the first chemistry student to graduate with the International Plan designation, playing for the Women’s Water Polo Club at Georgia Tech for four years and growing the program, contributing to my research group, and balancing these things while being a student.
I went to Spain by myself and navigated a new city, school, language, and culture. I figured out how to do life on my own. Living in Spain was a quarter of my college career, but it feels like more because it was a pivotal point in my life. It is one of, if not the, proudest achievements of my life thus far.
Which professors or classes made a big impact on you?
Synthesis Lab II, considered the most difficult laboratory class for chemistry majors, was one of the most challenging and useful classes I took. I learned skills that can be applied in any laboratory. The difficulty is heightened by the high level of independence required of students. I was forced to think critically and pull all my chemistry knowledge together.
I would not be graduating from Georgia Tech without my advisor, Carrie Shepler. She helped me through everything, academically and otherwise, always without hesitation. Her care for students is unmatched.
What is your most vivid memory of Georgia Tech?
Georgia Tech for me was a compilation of – corny as it sounds – experiences that shaped me into my current self.
How did Georgia Tech transform your life?
Georgia Tech pushed me academically, introduced me to inspiring people, and showed me exciting opportunities. Georgia Tech pushed me to constantly improve. Even when I think I have something down, another challenge comes. The accumulation of skill and knowledge through this constant push to improve made me the best student I can be.
When asked about Georgia Tech, I tell people about the boundless ambition of people here. Nobody is here to slide though life. Everyone wants to do something big. The available opportunities, when met by that ambition, are incredibly exciting.
What unique learning activities did you undertake?
I studied abroad for a year as an exchange student at the University of Granada, in Granada, Spain. I studied chemistry, genetics, and Spanish history, all in Spanish. It was difficult to keep up in class and hard to do well on tests. Luckily, my professors gave me advice, and my friends helped me fill the blanks in my lecture notes.
In my second semester in Spain, I joined the College of Sciences club volleyball team. I made great friends, played tournaments, and returned to a sport I loved.
I had the best host family, who are now my family. They cared for me unconditionally. I miss them and hope that they visit me soon. Or that I go back!
In Amanda Stockton’s lab, I worked on the development of the “iChip” device, a small plate containing chambers built to culture microbes in extreme environments. I also helped characterize samples of Icelandic tephra, which are rock fragments from volcanic eruptions, as a part of the Field Exploration and Life Detection Sampling for Planetary Analogue Research (FELDSPAR) team.
I loved doing chemistry outside of class and working on a long-term project-based goal. I am inspired by those around me. I aspire to have the same passion and drive they have for research. In addition to gaining skills, I learned that research is driven by passion, and I experienced the excitement of contributing new knowledge to the scientific community.
What advice would you give to incoming undergraduate students at Georgia Tech?
Georgia Tech offers endless opportunities, through classes, clubs, services, programs, facilities, conferences, talks, and more. Take advantage of as much as you can. Use these resources to find what makes you happy and excited.
Although it may take time, you will find the right community somewhere. As someone who once did not feel welcome here, I assure you that Georgia Tech has lots of good people.
Where are you headed after graduation?
I will be working as a member of the FELDSPAR team in Amanda Stockton’s lab analyzing tephra samples, performing managerial tasks, and participating in a field expedition to Iceland.