At first glance, you might mistake Marc Canellas and Matthew Miller for any two Georgia Tech graduate students. In fact, one of their ironic claims to fame is the low profile they manage to keep on Tech’s campus, despite the fact that they hold the highest offices for graduate students on campus.
Canellas and Miller are the 2015-16 president and vice president for the Graduate Student Government Association (Graduate SGA). In addition to the time they put in as doctoral students, they choose to dedicate most of their free time to trying to make life better for graduate students.
Canellas hails from St. Louis, Missouri, and earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Missouri. Miller, who is originally from Kingsland, Georgia, earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Georgia Tech in aerospace engineering. Both are now pursuing Ph.D.s in aerospace engineering and work with Karen Feigh, associate professor in the Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering, in the Cognitive Engineering Center.
We recently asked them a bit about what they hope to accomplish and what they love about Tech.
Why did you get involved in SGA?
Canellas: I started in the Graduate Student Senate in fall of 2013, and I saw the work being done by Graduate SGA with the Special Institutional Fee. I’m a problem-solver by nature, and being in Graduate SGA is another way I can apply engineering to the world around me. I had also done a space policy program in Washington, D.C., and have political interests.
Miller: I like to straddle the line of politics and engineering. I work a lot with NASA already and know how politics influences science. I tend to gravitate toward the human-centered and people issues within engineering.
Why did you want to take on the roles of president and vice president?
Canellas: I wanted to run for president my second year in SGA, but I waited another year. I strong-armed Matthew into running with me. You need someone you’re going to trust because the VP basically runs the Senate, so he or she has to be fairly autonomous.
Miller: We like to say Marc has a hard time taking off his superhero cape. My goal is to help him take it off at the end of the year.
What are you hoping to accomplish this year?
Canellas: We want to refocus SGA on the graduate students. In the past, most of our time has been spent reviewing bills that are funded by the Student Activity Fee, which are mostly undergraduate-focused. We want to be more focused on improving the quality of graduate student life. (More on Graduate SGA’s priorities below.)
Why should graduate students care about or get involved with SGA?
Canellas: Everyone has a list of things they want to fix or change.
Canellas: Right. You have the choice of whether to be voiceless or influential. You can’t be silent.
Miller: We need people to speak up.
Canellas: You have to think about it long term. We’re not doing this work for us but for graduate students who will be here four, five, or six years from now.
If you could only accomplish one thing this year, what would it be?
Miller: Fill up Senate positions, get people to stay through Senate meetings, and get a split fee structure within SGA.
Canellas: Get the Graduate Student Experience Survey done.
What do you do when you have free time?
Canellas: Play soccer, watch Netflix, and spend time with my fiancé and our dog.
Miller: I play tennis with the Atlanta Lawn Tennis Association, and I run. I used to run competitively.
What’s the best thing about being at Georgia Tech?
Canellas: The faculty and administrators I’ve met are some of the best people I know. They care and are dedicated. They’re really role models. As far as the students go, everyone is so brilliant and doing so much. Undergrads are doing a million things, and graduate students are doing fewer but really, really amazing things. You get caught up in it.
Miller: The reputation that comes with me when I leave campus is something I didn’t appreciate until more recently. People are willing to accept your abilities with just the Georgia Tech name. The more time I spend in the field, and the more interactions I have there, the more I’ve realized how much it means.
What’s the greatest challenge in your roles?
Canellas: Empowering graduate students to take control of their portion of the Institute.
Miller: Graduate students are the heart of research here, which is at the heart of Georgia Tech.
Why do you all work well together?
Canellas: We complain about the same things. When you get into any relationship, you have to be able to be pissed off together. Matthew’s experience as an undergrad at Tech also really helps.
Miller: We balance each other. I’m more of the glass half empty, and Marc is the opposite.