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Jamilah Middlebrooks is a senior sprinter on Georgia Tech's track team and is one of 120 Tech athletes who are tackling the challenge of being student-athletes and engineering majors. Here is what she had to say about her track and academic careers, and balancing the two.
Where did you grow up and why did you choose Tech?
I grew up in College Park but I went to school in Sandy Springs at Riverwood High School so I could take Japanese. I wanted to go to a college that had a good sports program but also really focused on academics. Riverwood had a similar environment.
I wanted to do something different. I felt like everyone studies French or Spanish as their language. Japanese was totally different, even if it may not be as useful around here. Not many people can say they speak Japanese, but I can.
Why did you choose to be an engineering major?
I really enjoy math and science. Math in particular comes pretty easily to me. My mom is a math teacher. I liked combining math with science. The tests are often free response and allow you to be creative. Even if you didn't give the answer the professor was looking for, it could be something the professor hadn't thought of. Engineering allows you to be inventive and learn more about yourself. I enjoy the challenge.
What made you choose chemical and biomolecular engineering in particular?
Chemical engineering is involved in just about everything. Chemicals are used in food manufacturing, computers, cars - everything. I wasn't sure what I wanted to study when I first came to Tech, but I knew if I majored in something with a broad base that touched a lot of different industries I would be fine. Now, in my senior year, I have so many options as to what field I want to go into. I'm very happy with my decision to go into chemical engineering.
Have you been able to narrow down what field you would like to work in?
I have. I really want to go into the cosmetics and hair industry, particularly working with smaller brands that are seemingly startups. I would like to help build those brands a little bit.
Have you had an opportunity to conduct research or work in a lab as an undergraduate?
Yes. I did some research with Dr. Elsa Reichmanis in her organic synthesis lab, and I also did some research during my internships at Northrop Grumman I worked in the contamination labs and chemical test labs. I have a broad experience in research, so it's all about narrowing down what type of research I'd like to do.
How challenging has it been to track and your studies?
It's been pretty difficult. One thing I realized is if you stay ahead of things and write everything down in a daily planner so you know what's coming up, then everything will be just fine. It's also important to communicate with your professors if you do need help. A lot of the time I was super-stressed out though. It's great to be an athlete though, because you can kind of go into another world with your teammates when you're at practice. You kind of forget about everything else for a little while. Then when you're studying for your classes you don't feel the pressure of athletics. They offer an escape from each other and give you balance.
Athletics also helped me keep a very balanced schedule. A lot of students I know are up at all hours and they're eating poorly. As a student-athlete I just can't do that. I have to eat healthy and get my sleep or it impacts my performance. The whole experience has really helped me develop as an individual.
What has been the highlight of your track career so far?
Last year I finally dropped down under 23 seconds in the 200m. But going into this year I have a whole season ahead of me and I'm already running faster in workouts than I did last season, so I think my best is still to come.
Are there certain meets that you have fond memories of?
Penn Relays is always fun. They have so many famous athletes there. My teammates met Carl Lewis there. Everyone in the track world comes together for that event, and Penn is just such a cool university to experience. It's also cold up there, so it's a different experience from what we get in Atlanta.
Is there anyone who has been an inspiration to you on the track or in the classroom?
Coach Page has definitely been a source of inspiration and motivation because he believes in me a lot and expects a lot of me. He's very honest with me and those are characteristics I really value.
Dr. Reichmanis has been very helpful with my career choices and helping me figure that out. She has a good understanding of my personality and my goals and understands the questions I have about where to go next, and how to do it. She's been great in that regard.
How helpful have your professors been when it comes to balancing athletics and school work?
Overall they've been great. Science professors in general tend to be more introverted than some of the other fields, so that can make it difficult to get to know your professors. That carries over to your classmates as well. There are some professors with more outgoing personalities though, and they are the ones I can more easily relate to. It's just a matter of personality types. Dr. Agrawal is great. He's very caring and is always there to listen to all of his students. Ami Ivanecky, who is an advisor, is great like that too. Overall I can look back at times I was in tough spots and the professors were always very helpful. They understood where I was coming from.
Chemical engineering is more male-dominated than some of the other engineering disciplines. Has that led to any challenges?
I think group projects can be challenging as a female student because the guys like to take over sometimes, but that's good practice for me. It's going to be the same way in the working the world, whether it's with men or women. It's great to have practice dealing with different personalities. I come across it in track too. Some people are boisterous and competitive and some aren't. You just deal with it. I've never felt like I was treated differently as a female student. I really enjoy my guy classmates. They treat me well and we all get along.