First-year Bethanie Penna may be new to Georgia Tech, but she is already making history as the first Dean’s Scholar from the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE). Born and raised in Miami, Florida, Penna is the youngest of 10 siblings. Not only did she stand out in her academics and extracurriculars in high school, but her passion for community service also proved her an exceptional candidate for this scholarship. Her resume is packed with activities and accomplishments such as class valedictorian, president of her school’s National Honors Society chapter, and varsity athlete in soccer, softball, and cross country.
The College of Engineering (COE) Dean’s Scholarship Program, modeled on the existing Dean’s Scholarship Program in Scheller College of Business, was introduced in Fall 2020 through the philanthropy of David Flanagan, an ISyE alumnus (IE 76), and his wife, Ann. The Flanagans had noticed a need for a similarly successful program in the College of Engineering.
Each Dean’s Scholar receives $40,000, generally distributed for four years, with an additional one-time $2,000 enrichment fund. The ISyE seat in the cohort is endowed; the other engineering seats are distributed across the rest of the College. The supplementary funds are a unique addition to this program, in that they enable each scholarship recipient to participate in experiences such as study abroad, undergraduate research programs, and conferences. This supplement aims to eliminate the stress of medium-range expenses that can be challenging for students.
What does it take to earn this estimable award?
“The goal was to find extremely meritorious students who are not only successful academically but who have also exceeded in their contributions to their community leading up to their college careers,” David Torello explained. Torello, an academic professional in the George F. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering, is the faculty mentor for the program.
One cause that Penna is passionate about is increasing female representation in STEM. In high school, Penna discovered her love for research, especially statistical analysis. In her junior year, she published a research paper concerning the preparedness level of undergraduate students for higher-level education.
“In my research, I noticed a stark difference between women and men in STEM, and women felt significantly less prepared than men in the same career with the same degree,” she said.
She decided to apply that research by tackling the problem head-on, visiting five different elementary schools and six different middle schools to speak to young girls about STEM. Her goal was to introduce them to STEM careers and fields where women are underrepresented and instill confidence in their abilities.
Penna is dedicated to continuing this work at Georgia Tech. She has joined the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and is already planning on attending the national conference. Additionally, she is a part of Connect, a First-Year Leadership Organization, (FLO) where she helps other out-of-state students like herself acclimate to the Institute’s campus and culture.
Another goal of the Dean’s Scholarship program is to create a diverse cohort of excellent students with varying backgrounds and interests. The cohort-style program allows students to not only have an instant group of friends to rely on but also creates a sense of accountability among them.
The cohort meets with the COE Dean each year in a formal setting where they discuss their ambitions, their challenges – and simply what is going on in their lives. Torello has noticed two benefits of these meetings: “Speaking with the Dean, the students either get reinforcement on their current plans, or they learn about opportunities that they did not know were available to them, so the experience is extremely valuable.”
The Flanagans are pleased with the students chosen for the first cohort. “I hope that when this group of students become financially successful alumni, they, too, will help ensure other top students get a world-class education at Georgia Tech,” David said.
The Dean’s Scholars program is a life-changing opportunity for Penna. Her plans for the enrichment fund are to fulfill her dream of studying abroad at the Georgia Tech-Lorraine campus in Metz, France.
“I was so fortunate to receive this scholarship, which relieved the financial burden of college for me and my family,” she said. “I am incredibly grateful.”
H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering