Distinguished Alumni Award from Georgia Tech’s Ivan Allen College and School of Literature, Media, and Communication

Jason Ellis holding his Distinguished Alumni Award while standing next to Georgia Tech's mascot, Buzz.
I’m holding my Distinguished Alumni Award while standing next to Georgia Tech’s mascot, Buzz.

On Mar. 29, 2023, Georgia Tech’s Ivan Allen College held its 2023 Distinguished Alumni Awards Ceremony. The Ivan Allen College’s six academic schools and its three ROTC branches give these awards to “celebrate excellence in the College community.” I was honored to receive a Distinguished Alumni Award from the School of Literature, Media, and Communication for my contributions as a teacher, scholar, and organizer. The award reads, “For outstanding achievements that inspire continued excellence and bring credit to the School of Literature, Media, and Communication, the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts, and the Georgia Institute of Technology.”

To honor all of the Ivan Allen College professors who made my success possible, I delivered these remarks after receiving the Distinguished Alumni Award:

I am honored and humbled to receive this Distinguished Alumni Award. I want to thank the Ivan Allen College, Dean Husbands Fealing, and all of the faculty, administrators, and staff who make the Ivan Allen College not only a indispensable and integral part of Georgia Tech but also a home for someone like me who is better at writing about science than doing science. It also feels like home, because I’ve spent so many years here—first, it took me 10 years to “get out” with my bachelor’s degree, and then, I returned as a postdoctoral Brittain Fellow for 2 years to give back to Tech as an instructor where I had received so much from my former professors. Throughout my career, all of the work that I have done as a scholar, an instructor, an organizer, and an administrator can be traced back to my education and professionalization in the Ivan Allen College. To name a few examples, when I was asked to help establish the City Tech Science Fiction Collection where I now work, I looked at the problem with the engineering mindset that Tech instills in its students. I drew on my experience working under Lisa Yaszek on research projects, public outreach, and donation runs for what was originally called the Bud Foote Science Fiction Collection and now the Georgia Tech Science Fiction Collection. After starting the collection, I inaugurated an annual Science Fiction Symposium to celebrate the collection and create a platform for scholars and students (including Lisa’s SciFi Lab undergraduate researchers) to interact and share their findings. That work over the past seven years was made possible by the experiences that I had with Lisa when she mentored me to create the schedules for the Monstrous Bodies Symposium in 2005 and the international Science Fiction Research Association Conference held in Atlanta in 2009. Lisa has had a profound influence on my career. She’s my hero and I strive to be like her. 

Other faculty have also played outsized roles in my development. Carol Senf and Narin Hassan gave me kind and essential advice at key points in my undergraduate career, and they also gave me some of my first editing work by asking me to proofread their respective manuscripts, which helped tremendously in the editing and collaborative writing that I have done over the years since then. In my teaching, I observed and learned from some of the best practioners. I want to excite my students in the way that Hugh Crawford can when talking about William Carlos Williams and bombsights, as detailed as Steven Usselman is about steam engine locomotives, or as illustrative as Robert Wood is when he talks about 15th century Florence. And I show my students compassion when things go wrong as Rebecca Merrens did for me when my maternal grandmother died, foster my students passions as Lisa Holloway-Attaway did for me in the two required freshman college writing classes, give my students a chance like Patrick Sharp did for me by readmitting me in 2002, give my students opportunities to contribute to the life work of our campus communities as Ken Knoespel did for me, and give students an opportunity to be successful and demonstrate learning when the student stumbles on a project they are ill fitted to such as the late Thomas Lux did for me by asking me to produce a Poetry Out Loud DVD for Georgia public schools in place of my atrocious writing as a poet. And while I never had the opportunity to take a class with Jay Telotte or Jay Bolter, their work had a significant influence on my early research, and I teach their scholarship to my students now. Most recently, Rebecca Burnett, the former Writing and Communication Program Director, led the Technical Communication theory and pedagogy seminar that I volunteered to participate in so that I could earn the opportunity to teach Tech Comm as a Brittain Fellow. That experience directly led to my job at the New York City College of Technology and my current position as Director of City Tech’s Professional and Technical Writing Program. Rebecca has continued to selflessly mentor me throughout my directorship. 

And lastly, I want to offer a special thank you to Professor Hanchao Lu, because his Asia in the Modern World class had a profound effect on my personal life. He encouraged me to research Taiwan for my final paper. Years later, when I met a Taiwanese girl in graduate school in 2007, I drew on what I had learned in Professor Lu’s class to talk about the KMT and DPP political parties hoping that she might notice me. And guess what? She did, and we got married two years later! Thank you, again!

I arrived in Atlanta a day early, because I wanted to walk around and see all of the changes around Georgia Tech’s campus during the 8 1/2 years since I was last there. Some things remained comfortably familiar, like the entrance to the School of Literature, Media, and Communication on the 3rd floor of the Skiles Building.

3rd Floor of Skiles, School of Literature, Media, and Communication
School of Literature, Media, and Communication, 3rd Floor of Skiles Building.

However, there were subtle changes like the addition of outdoor tables and seats on breezeway, which I utilized to finish writing my thank you remarks.

Outdoor seating on the 3rd floor breezeway in Skiles.
Outdoor seating on the 3rd floor breezeway in Skiles.

Besides the changes to buildings and the construction of new facilities, there are new pieces of art that convey important historical events as well as excite the senses.

The Three Pioneers by Martin Dawe.
“The Three Pioneers” by Martin Dawe.

Approaching Tech Tower, I was greeted by this striking bronze sculpture titled “The Three Pioneers” by Martin Dawe. It depicts the first three African American students to matriculate at Georgia Tech in 1961: Ford C. Greene, Ralph A. Long, Jr., and Lawrence M. Williams.

"Continuing the Conversation" by Martin Dawe.
“Continuing the Conversation” by Martin Dawe.

Walking toward the foot of Tech Tower, I sat in this engaging bronze and granite piece titled “Continuing the Conversation.” The viewer sits between two versions of Rosa Parks–42 on the right and 92 on the left. While Parks had never visited Tech’s campus before, this art reflects her influence on change and how we should be a part of that change moving forward.

Robert Berks' Einstein.
Me and Robert Berks’ Einstein.

Walking through the center of campus–the Library, Skiles Building, and the Student Center–I found Robert Berks’ Einstein installation. While some folks think the statue is out of place at Tech, it meant something personal to me. When I was in high school, I read Einstein’s Relativity: The Special and the General Theories, which among other works by Carl Sagan, Michio Kaku, Roger Penrose, and Stephen Hawking, directly led to my enrolling as a Physics major at Georgia Tech in 1995. That didn’t work out so well for me academically, but I love Physics and Mathematics despite my own deficiencies.

John C. Portman, Jr.'s KR+C Sculpture
John C. Portman, Jr.’s KR+C Sculpture.

Walking from the Einstein statute toward the green space between the back of the Library and the School of Architecture I encountered John C. Portman, Jr’s imposing KR+C (for Knowledge and Research plus Creativity) sculpture. Walking around its circumference reveals how it reshapes and changes depending on your perspective. I found that you can walk up the back stairs of the Library and Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons to get a bird’s eye view of this magnificent sculpture.

"Jetson" in the Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons.
“Jetson” in the Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons.

Walking into the Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons, I found art suspended between its the clean perspectival lines. The sculpture above titled “Jetson” is a collaborative team project initiated by former College of Architecture Professor Volkan Alkanoglu. Primarily constructed from water jet cut aluminum, this large, futuristic sculpture only weights about 110 pounds!

Walking through the Clough Commons into the Library, I met with my former colleague Wendy Hagenmaier, Digital Curation Archivist and RetroTech Manager, in the 3rd floor Data Vizualization Lab and RetroTech shared space. RetroTech is a working collection of born digital (and analog) art (and science) artifacts that students can use, support, and learn from. Before moving to Brooklyn, I donated four of my vintage computers (a Dell Dimension 4100, Apple Macintosh Perform 550, iMac DV, and Apple Power Macintosh 8500) to the Georgia Tech Library to help kickstart RetroTech, a lab for students to use and interact with older technologies–computers, video game consoles, cameras, slide rules, typewriters, etc. I was amazed at how much space RetroTech has in conjunction with the Data Vizualization Lab. Besides having equipment and space, Wendy is developing RetroTech into a sustainable initiative involving students and cross campus connections. I’m really happy to see how much RetroTech has developed under Wendy’s leadership.

Deanna Sirlin's "Watermark"
Deanna Sirlin’s “Watermark.”

Leaving the Library, I walked through Deanna Sirlin’s “Watermark” installation. The sunlight passing through the colored glass panes creates a changing projected artwork on the floor and surroundings inside this entrance to the Crosland Tower of the Library.

Kessler Campanile.
Kessler Campanile.

Walking back toward the Student Center, I stopped in front of the Kessler Campanile designed by Richard Hill for the 1996 Olympics. It was installed during my freshman year at Tech.

Spending almost a whole week in the ATL gave me a much needed boost. 99x is back on the air. I enjoyed not one but two meals at Del Taco. I talked computers with Grantley and Melanie. I met Carol Senf for brunch to talk teaching. I hung out with Lisa Yaszek and Doug Davis at the West End. Rebecca Burnett and Jeff Jeffries invited me over to their home for a wonderful dinner. I talked Doctor Who and Dirk Gently with Mark Warbington. I discussed books with Keith Magnes. And, I got to visit Mike Flanagan in his new house and see his wife Diana compete in a local tennis tournament. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to see everyone I know there, but I hope to get back to Atlanta before another 8 1/2 years pass!

My Distinguished Alumni Award lit by candlelight. Photo by Rebecca Burnett.
My Distinguished Alumni Award lit by candlelight. Photo by Rebecca Burnett.

Published by Jason W. Ellis

I am an Associate Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology. Also, I coordinate the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, which holds more than 600 linear feet of magazines, anthologies, novels, and research publications.