Alumni News Blog

  • Seeing Red


    It never hurts to throw your hat into the ring. At least, that was Dan Carey’s thinking when he decided to apply to become one of the first humans ever to step foot on Mars—and never again return to Earth.

    “The possibility of participating in the human exploration of the solar system is something I just couldn’t walk away from without at least putting in a piece of paper and a video,” Carey says.

    Carey, AP 85, thought it was a long shot. He was one of a reported 200,000 people who started an application to the Mars One project. But after making it through the first two elimination rounds, Carey is now one of just 100 people selected as potential colonizers of the red planet by Mars One.

    Mars One is a nonprofit organization based in the Netherlands that hopes to launch the first manned mission to Mars in 2026. The organization plans to fund the mission with private investments and revenue generated by broadcasting the mission on TV. It’s backed by some heavy hitters in the space exploration field, including several revered scientists, engineers and even a former chief technologist from NASA. But there are many skeptics who question whether Mars One can make these plans a reality.

    DanCarey_3In any case, Carey says he’s inspired by the organization’s unconventional approach to space exploration. And that includes the fact that Carey is not an astronaut—he’s a data architect. He doesn’t have a PhD, and doesn’t have any of the technical training that he would need for a space mission with NASA. But he’s made it this far in the selection process because Mars One is interested in more intangible qualifications.

    “They’re not looking so much for a particular skill set. If you have someone who’s reasonably intelligent, you can train them,” Carey says. “But you have to find the right personality to deal with people in a very limited circle. It’s a one-way trip—you’re going to be living with these people forever.”

    Carey’s interest in the Mars One mission stems from a life-long love of space. His first library book at age 5 was about the Mercury space program, and the Apollo astronauts who went to the moon were his childhood heroes.

    But his candidacy does comes with a price. He’s a husband and father who will have to leave his family forever if he’s selected for the program.

    “Prior to Mars One coming along, I couldn’t conceive of something that would make me want to leave my wife and my children and the rest of my family and friends,” Carey says. “But because I do believe a human mission to Mars is important enough and would have a beneficial enough effect, it feels almost like an obligation to go.”

    Carey understands there are many critics who can’t understand why he would consider giving up everything for a cramped and isolated existence on a far away planet. There are obvious reasons—to pioneer, to explore, to hunt for signs of life—but also a desire to give people back on Earth a reason to prioritize better stewardship of the planet.

    “When people see how stark Mars is—it’s beautiful in its way, but it’s stark—when they see how we have to really work and struggle to survive in the second best place to live in the solar system, that may make them pay a little more attention to Earth and take a little better care of it,”
    Carey says.

    While he has thought a lot about Mars, Carey’s departure from Earth is far from a done deal. First, he still has to make it through the remaining selection process, which will whittle the Mars One candidates from 100 to 24. A selection committee will observe the remaining candidates as they go through group dynamic challenges and assess how each of them works together. The 40 strongest candidates will then proceed to the next phase, where they will spend nine days in an isolation unit.

    “It is very important that the candidates are observed closely to examine how they act in situations of prolonged close contact with one another,” says Dr. Norbert Kraft, Mars One chief medical officer. “During the journey to Mars and upon arrival, they will spend 24 hours a day with each other. It is during this time that the simplest things may start to become bothersome. It takes a specific team dynamic to be able to handle this and it is our job to find those that are best suited for this challenge.”

    After the isolation phase, 30 candidates will be chosen for an extended interview to determine their suitability for Mars settlement, after which the final 24 candidates will be offered full-time employment with Mars One.

    Carey understands those skeptical of the mission. “There are a ton of challenges to be met,” he says. But he can’t help being optimistic. “Believe in the future. Believe in humanity. This will be one of the great things humankind undertakes.”


  • Anchoring With Authenticity

    On the Field - chris_cotter_ESPN

    Some legendary ESPN SportsCenter anchors such as Stuart Scott and Dan Patrick were known for their distinct styles and witty catchphrases, but it’s fitting that current deskman Chris Cotter doesn’t bother with building up an oversized on-air persona. Instead, he sticks to the shtick that brought him to sports broadcasting’s biggest stage: being himself.

    “For me, it’s all about being true to who I was,” Cotter says.

    Cotter’s broadcasting brand is his authenticity—he’s the same guy during broadcasts that he is when he’s off camera. That businesslike approach has brought him a long way. He’s been working for “the worldwide leader” in sports broadcasting since 2012.

    “I felt like if I could go to ESPN and succeed there, at worst, that opens up opportunities in so many other areas,” Cotter says. “But I came here with the intention of being here the rest of my career.”

    Cotter’s career is even more impressive considering its relatively late start. As a Georgia Tech undergraduate, broadcasting wasn’t even on his radar when he was studying business management. In fact, his first job in broadcasting was handling radio ad sales for 790 The Zone in Atlanta.

    But one fateful evening in 1997, Cotter was invited down to the station during a nightly sports radio program, just to observe how a show was put together. That night, two of the show’s three hosts called in sick. The third host met Cotter at the station’s front door and told Cotter he was going in front of the microphone.

    “‘It’s just you and me tonight,’” Cotter recalls being told. “‘For the next three hours, you and me are doing sports talk radio.’”

    The morning after, Cotter had earned the station owner’s praises—and an offer to contribute on more programs. He was working on his MBA from the University of Georgia at the time, and he thought he was moving forward with his business career.

    “Going back to school get my MBA was one of the best decisions of my life because it gave me a totally renewed focus on my personal life and career,” Cotter says. “I was much more willing to take chances and to embrace failure as an opportunity. That
    attitude certainly helped make the decision to move into broadcasting full time an easier one.”

    Bristol, CT - July 27, 2015 - Studio F: Paul Johnson coach of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Chris Cotter and Brad Edwards on the set of College Football Live (Photo by Joe Faraoni / ESPN Images)

    As sports talk radio grew in popularity and spread to stations across the country, Cotter had an enviable position: He worked in a large market with an entrenched following. Over time, he even started contributing segments to CNN on sports-related topics, such as Barry Bonds and baseball’s steroids scandal.

    Such opportunities served as meaningful rungs on Cotter’s career ladder. But no moment was more pivotal than when, in the spring of 2005, he was fired from his gig at 790 The Zone.

    “Sometimes you need to get pushed,” Cotter says, “and that really pushed me to look into some other avenues.” Cotter started to work his connections around Atlanta. Within half a year, he had an agent representing him.

    “Once I made that move, all kinds of doors started opening up,” Cotter says. “I always tell young broadcasters that finding good representation is much tougher to do earlier in a career than it is later, but that’s a huge move. They have all the contacts that you don’t have. They were able to open a lot of doors for me.”

    With an agent in his camp, Cotter joined SportsNet New York in 2006. In 2009, he went to Fox Business Network as an anchor, and did so expecting to stay on board for a long time.

    “I probably would not have left Fox for very many places,” Cotter says. “But when the opportunity to move to ESPN came along, I jumped on it.”

    Cotter says ESPN’s opening came out of the blue: His agent called with an interview lined up, so Cotter traveled up to the company’s headquarters for meetings and an audition. Two weeks later, he got an offer.

    ESPN has been an experience unlike his past career stops. “Just the sheer size of the network, and navigating that, was a new challenge,” he says. But the company’s extensive operations have made it easy for Cotter to get involved in his areas of interest, specifically covering NASCAR and college football.

    This fall, Cotter has moved into his largest role yet: ESPN announced in July that he would host the college football studio coverage every Saturday on ESPN2. Those opportunities are one reason why Cotter, who happens to be in a contract year, doesn’t see another employer in his future. “I’m thrilled with these new responsibilities,” he says.

    Most importantly to Yellow Jackets fans, Cotter’s dueling GT and UGA degrees haven’t split his allegiances on game days. “At Georgia, I was sort of infiltrating behind enemy lines,” Cotter says. “For me, it always will be Georgia Tech.”

  • Putting the Literary in Sci-Fi Literature


    For those with even a passing interest in science-fiction literature, the name Kathleen Ann Goonan should ring a bell. A leading light in literary sci-fi for many years, Goonan has garnered starred reviews for each of her seven novels by such renowned review journals as Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Review and Booklist. In 2007, Goonan received the Campbell Award for best science-fiction novel for In War Times. Goonan recently stepped away from her keyboard to tell the Alumni Magazine why she loves writing science fiction and teaching the topic to students at Tech.

    You earned a degree in English and were a Montessori teacher for a decade. Where did your interest in science fiction originate?

    My father was an engineer and read science fiction when I was growing up, so there were always sci-fi paperbacks around the house. Though I didn’t interact with the genre much as a kid, I always thought of science fiction as very intellectual literature, and the older I got, the more interested I became.


    Your books are a wonderful mélange of concepts involving consciousness,
    literature, music and sci-fi. What’s your primary wellspring for ideas?

    It really depends on the work. Some ideas come from life—you read something interesting in the newspaper and say to yourself, “What if the characters were in a different environment or a different technological period?” Others appear randomly. For example, I got the idea for my novel Queen City Jazz while jogging—I had a vision of a city with large flowers on top, which in turn suggested giant bees, and I thought “How did this situation come about?” Then I thought about bees—how they communicate, how they perceive the world, etc.—and the story spun out from there.


    In a 2001 Library of Congress talk, you spoke of the ghettoizing of science fiction in the U.S. and expressed hope that this was changing. Have your hopes been realized?

    No. The attitude that science fiction is less serious literature remains entrenched in our culture. The face of the genre today is gaming and movies, both of which are very different from literary science fiction. Many view science fiction as literature for children and young men, which seems particularly sad to me because we’re living in a deeply technological age.


    You’ve observed that “the job of science fiction is to imagine what will later be made real.” What are you imagining these days?

    I’m very interested in neurological developments and brain science. Our lives have been dramatically altered by antibiotics, germ-free surgery and advanced communication tools, and I think humanity will be similarly changed as we learn more about the human brain and the brains of other creatures who inhabit our world.


    You teach creative writing; literature; and science, technology and ideology at Tech. What do you enjoy most about the pedagogical process?

    I love finding ways to get individual students into a subject—I try to construct a bridge of relevance between them and their environment by showing them how they can be part of a subject that they want or need to learn about.
    Why Georgia Tech?

    I was invited to teach here by Lisa Yaszek in 2010, shortly before my novel This Shared Dream was published, and I jumped at the opportunity. The School of Literature, Media and Communication is an amazing place. Students here are well-versed in the technological world, so I have the pleasure of teaching them to interact with the imaginary world by acquainting them with the history of science fiction and how it’s related to the history of technology.


    What issues occupy your students’ minds, and how do they manifest in their work?

    My students are very preoccupied with the idea of the apocalypse—radical change on a deep societal level. They’re worried about what’s coming next and how that’s going to affect their lives.


    What’s the most important concept you want your students to take away from your classes?

    I want them to know that they can make a difference, in their own lives and in the lives of others.


    You’ve been praised for your powerful imagination. How do you treat technology in your daily life?

    I embrace any technology that makes my job easier and my work more fun.


    You’ve been a leader in literary science fiction for years now. How would you like to be remembered?

    As someone who took my imagination to the limit and mastered the skills necessary to bring my vision to the public. I’m always working to be a better writer, someone with more depth who communicates with others in ways that are important. I’m different, and I have more novels left in me!


    Five Important Works of Sci-Fi Literature, According to Kathleen Ann Goonan

    1. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley (1918): “Widely regarded as the first sci-fi novel, it remains relevant as we edge closer to understanding consciousness and developing artificial intelligence that has the potential to be self-aware.”
    1. Anything by H.G. Wells and Jules Verne: “Contemporaries who generated interest in explorations of Earth and the moon, first contact scenarios, time travel, and our kinship with other forms of life. Their work remains a template for science fiction that focuses on the wider moral and social questions we continue to face today as technologies evolve.”
    1. The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guin (1968): “Le Guin pioneered the science-fictional exploration of gender and became the first woman to win the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award for Best Novel.”
    1. Neuromancer, by William Gibson (1984): “This book introduced cyberpunk and the intense, compact style that has made Gibson an international best-selling author and social visionary. It won several awards, and predicted the worldwide web and its hackers.”
    1. Patternist, Parable and Xenogenisist series by Octavia Butler: “Butler received a MacArthur Genius Grant for groundbreaking work that shows humanity immersed in radical, unavoidable change, often over vast periods of time.”
  • A Minor for Major Geeks


    Though the subject may be inherently fictional, Tech professor Lisa Yaszek will tell you that science fiction is not wholly divorced from reality. Thanks to the freedom of imagination, ideas in science fiction often lead to big developments in real-world science and technology.

    “Sometimes in modern scientific and technological research it’s easy to fall into a trap if you’re a scientist or engineer or policy maker of saying, ‘What I’m talking about is real, it’s not science fiction [or fantasy],’” Yaszek says. “It’s easy to lose sight of how scientists and engineers are inspired by science fiction to think differently and creatively about the world. Their work is as much creative and imaginative as it is practical and applied.”

    Georgia Tech was among the first universities to teach science fiction at the collegiate level, but had never offered any formal program of study in the field. But starting this year, Tech students may now officially pursue a minor in Science Fiction Studies.

    Yaszek leads the Institute’s Science Fiction Initiative within the School of Literature, Media and Communication. She says the minor was born in part from incredible demand from students. The science-fiction courses always fill up quickly, and students have consistently asked for more ways to embrace and study the genre during their time at Tech, she says.

    Students pursuing the minor will be required to take two courses—one on science-fiction literature and one on science-fiction film and television—and three other science fiction-related electives of their choosing.

    Yaszek says this is how students can tailor the sci-fi minor to their own interests. Those interested in creating their own science-fiction work could take courses in creative writing or video production, while a biomedical engineering student might take a course on biomedicine and culture that examines the representation of artificial or bionic body parts in science fiction, for example.

    “We feel that we can offer students a really thorough exploration of science fiction across a range of media, and also provide them a framework to talk about it in the technological and scientific contexts they’re working in elsewhere in their majors,” Yaszek says. “We can provide them a new way, and a hopefully fun and productive way, of thinking about the work they do and the kind of work other people do in the modern world.”

    In 1969, the first collegiate science-fiction course was taught at the University of Kansas. Just two years later in 1971, Professor Irving F. “Bud” Foote officially introduced science-fiction studies to Tech students.

    “Tech was a real pioneer in thinking about the ways fiction can be used to address real-world issues in science and technology,” Yaszek says. “The Institute has a very long-standing commitment to science fiction.”LisaYaszek

    Foote retired in 1999 and donated his personal collection of more than 8,000 sci-fi books, one of the largest of its kind in the nation, to Georgia Tech. Following his
    departure, Yaszek filled his role and became the faculty face for the Institute’s science-fiction studies.

    Two other prominent science-fiction academics have a home at Tech. Professor Jay Telotte is a leading scholar on film and television, and Professor of the Practice Kathleen Ann Goonan is a critically acclaimed sci-fi author and futurist.

    Yaszek says it’s unique to have three science-fiction scholars on staff, which makes Tech very competitive with other programs of its kind around the nation. Tech’s science-fiction program, of course, stands out because of its proximity to so much cutting-edge science and technology happening in other departments.

    Telotte believes the science-fiction courses are so popular because most Tech students have an innate passion for the subject matter. “I find them much more willing to speak up, to involve themselves in classes, to do outside viewing and basically bring their own experiences to class,” Telotte says.

    Because they are so exposed to the genre, students have a keen interest in better understanding it, Telotte says. “You can’t get around it: Wherever you look in the media and popular culture, you bump into science fiction in one form or another,” he says. “And if it is something we run into, we have to think about it because it conditions how we look at the rest of the world. It becomes imperative that we study it.”

    5 Must-See Science-fiction Films

    We asked professors Jay Telotte and Lisa Yaszek of Georgia Tech’s Science Fiction Initiative to recommend a handful of classic science-fiction movies everyone should watch.

    1. 2001: A Space Odyssey: “It’s the most visionary of science-fiction films. ‘Where are we going?’
      it asks. ‘What are we going to be like?’ ‘How might humanity evolve?’ — Telotte
    1. Blade Runner: “This story of humans and replicants provides the insight that, real or robot, we’re not all that different. We’re all products of our culture, and that’s OK. We can all share moments of love and freedom and expression. Also, visually, it sets the tone for so many of the dystopic high-tech movies we’ve watched over the past 30 or so years.” —Lisa Yaszek
    1. Forbidden Planet: “It’s THE film about space flight, alien cultures and robotics. It’s the film that effectively introduces the three laws of robotics that Isaac Asimov had propounded much earlier, and introduces them to a popular audience.” —Telotte
    1. Metropolis: “It’s one of the first full-length science-fiction films. It has the most amazing sets in the universe—they’re just beautifully, beautifully constructed—and its iconography is enduring. Much of the science-fiction imagery we see today can be traced back to Metropolis.” — Yaszek
    1. Snowpiercer: “I love it because it’s a truly international effort. It’s based on a French comic book that was turned into a movie by a Korean director and features a global cast of actors. It’s visually stunning, narratively compelling, and it’s the face of the future.” — Yaszek
  • Do Not Adjust That Dial


    The show begins, as it does every week, with David Bowie. On this Thursday at roughly 6 p.m., Sci Fi Lab co-host Chris Carl ventures into the vaults at WREK—Tech’s student radio station—and pulls the Ziggy Stardust LP from the shelves and shelves of musty records.

    Bowie in hand, Carl joins his co-host Travis Gasque in a loungey area to discuss the day’s topics and write some “future news”—fake headlines, kind of like Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update,” but with jokes about aliens, video games and post-apocalyptic scenarios instead of skewering the news.

    The duo bat several of these lines back and forth, shooting down some as quickly as they emerge. They talk a little bit about the movie Mad Max: Fury Road, which they will discuss on air. And then, with just a minute to spare, they casually head into the radio booth.

    The clock strikes 7 p.m. and Carl lifts the needle on the record player and sets it down on “Starman,” and just like that, their congenial,fanboy banter is beamed out to anyone with the radio dial on 91.1 FM.

    The Sci Fi Lab is a weekly radio show that serves as an outlet for students to explore their interests in science fiction work and criticism outside of the classroom. The show was born in part as a response to an ultimatum from Georgia Tech. In 2006, Georgia Public Broadcasting was interested in buying the campus radio station, which then played mostly music. Tech officials gave WREK a challenge: Come up with more original programming or, in six months, we’ll take the offer from GPB instead.

    So the student radio station reached out to faculty like Lisa Yaszek, a professor in the College of Literature, Media and Communication, who leads Tech’s Science Fiction Initiative, for help creating unique programs related to their areas of expertise. “We started the show in 2006 and it’s been running regularly ever since,” Yaszek says.

    The Sci Fi Lab show, which airs on Thursdays from 7-8 p.m. on WREK, welcomes a variety of guests onto the show, from Tech robotics professors to musicians to first-time authors, approaching science fiction from a variety of angles and cultural aspects.

    “There are as many definitions of science fiction as there are fans,” Yaszek says. “It absolutely changes year by year depending on the students involved.”

    For example, several years ago the students broadcast original science fiction radio dramas, while the current hosts are more interested in science fiction in education.

    Yaszek serves as an advisor and a facilitator, often using her connections in the broader science fiction community to connect the student hosts with authors, musicians and groups like Atlanta’s Black Science Fiction Collective. Otherwise, the student hosts run the show.

    “This is truly a student-run initiative and I have never seen such a group of dedicated and active and exciting students,” Yaszek says.

    Carl and Gasque, the current co-hosts, have different interests.

    Gasque, a graduate student who has been involved with the show since its early days, is big into narrative and role-playing games. One of his favorite Sci Fi Lab memories is interviewing Ross Payton of Role Playing Public Radio. Gasque says he also enjoys covering the many fan conventions, or “cons,” that take place in Atlanta, including Dragon Con, Onyx Con, and Momo Con, which started on Tech’s campus.

    Carl says he enjoys when he is able to merge his love of music with his love of science fiction. One of his favorite shows featured science fiction musicians from Paris called Remi Orts Project and artist Alan B., who created a concept album based on an old Russian sci-fi novel.

    “It’s just weird to get an email from people in France that want to be on your show,” Carl says. The French musicians are a pretty good representation of the show’s reach—fairly large, but eclectic. The hosts say they often are contacted after a show by people interested in delving deeper into a particular topic.

    “It’s a strange but devoted following, and I mean that in a good way,” Yaszek says.

    The show has a fairly open-door policy, and they’ve welcomed a variety of guests from Georgia Tech and the broader science-fiction community.

    “The great part of Sci Fi Lab is the true act of science fiction,” Carl says. “Getting people together to think about the future and science and technology and art and other people is not something we passively report on. It’s something we create continuously with fans and listeners, so that’s a super interesting and exciting thing to be a part of.”