To say that Shannon Gerhard, a third-year student in the Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE), likes to stay busy is an understatement. In addition to taking an ambitious slate of classes each semester – she’ll graduate next year with a double major in ISyE and computer science (CS) – she’s also an undergraduate teaching assistant (TA). Gerhard serves as a TA for a course in electromagnetic physics, where she mainly offers help with Python coding, as well as a long-term TA for ISYE 2027, taught by Professor Robert Foley.
That course is Probability with Applications, the first major-related class that all ISyE undergraduates take. Gerhard said that she arrived at Georgia Tech having taken AP Statistics and a few other advanced math courses in high school, and thus assistant teaching for ISYE 2027 was a natural fit for her. Some of her responsibilities include holding review sessions and office hours.
“I really like working under Dr. Foley, because he pushes the students to understand the concepts instead of just regurgitating the material,” she said in a recent interview. “If the students grasp the principles he teaches in 2027, they will be set up for success in the rest of their ISyE classes.”
Gerhard said that being a TA interested her because she wanted to get involved in ISyE more than merely joining a club. She continued, “I wanted to have a leadership role. I’ve always been really intellectual but not as much career-minded. I’d really like to go to grad school and potentially work in academia, so I felt that being a TA would give me a good purview of that.”
Beyond the classroom, Gerhard also served as an undergraduate researcher, working with ISyE’s Harold R. and Mary Anne Nash Early Career Professor and Assistant Professor Yao Xie on Xie’s Big Data project with the Atlanta Police Department. In this capacity, Gerhard helped with the logistics of the process – doing basic data analysis, creating data visualizations, and making presentations. She credits the research project with opening her eyes to the possibilities of how she could apply her ISyE studies and giving her the impetus to get a second degree in CS. “I realized that if I combined CS and ISyE, it’s a powerful double major.”
During her rare free moments, Gerhard indulges in what might be considered a somewhat unusual hobby for a college student: She loves to bake and has an Instagram account (@shannon.gerhard) devoted to photographs of the luscious goodies coming out of her oven.
Gerhardt explained that she first got started in the kitchen through a Christmas tradition she shares with her mom: The two partake in what Gerhardt described as “really extravagant baking sessions.” Eventually, Gerhardt realized that she wanted to expand her baking to more than the holiday season and began baking in her college apartment last summer. She has turned out raspberry white chocolate scones, gorgeous apple pies, fun ice cream sandwiches, and even blueberry macarons – a fragile, merengue-based cookie, among other goodies.
“A lot of my inspiration comes from looking at what food bloggers have done and modifying the recipes or taking out ingredients I don’t like, or trying new methods to create what they made,” Gerhard elaborated. “And some of it is stuff I want to do – like the blueberry macarons. I used a base macaron recipe, but my whole goal was to make them blueberry flavored. That was challenging, in that I had to consider the chemistry behind it.
“That’s another reason I enjoy baking,” she continued. “I really like chemistry, and that’s not something I get to do in school. You have to consider things like putting fruit into ice cream – the water in the fruit will freeze. If you candy fruit instead, then it won’t freeze, and it’ll be the soft texture you want. There are small things like that that I’m able to catch because of the chemistry I learned in high school and here at Tech. I use it to make my food better.”
Baking provides a much-needed stress reliever for Gerhard, amidst the intensity of her school-related demands. “It’s definitely a creative outlet,” she said. “Sometimes I’ll go on baking binges late at night instead of going to sleep, and it relieves the pressure.”
It also teaches her how to handle failure.
“Failing at baking in particular is really annoying, and I get really mad,” she laughed. “I usually just redo the recipe right then and there – I won’t stop until I get it right. I don’t burn things anymore; that happened at first. My biggest fail was probably salted caramel ice cream. I used salted butter and then added more salt, and because salt doesn’t freeze, the ice cream wouldn’t freeze.
“I didn’t have the time to remake it because it was for my mom’s birthday. I ended up putting the ice cream in a cake tin and freezing it in the freezer instead of the ice cream maker. It didn’t get all the way frozen, but it took a shape. It still looked good, so it was okay!
“Sometimes with baking, it’s not a complete failure, and you need to improvise,” Gerhard added. “I try as much as I can to improvise and not throw everything away, but sometimes you just have to start over.”
Up next for Gerhard is this spring semester’s Senior Design project, and then a summer internship with Goldman Sachs as a technology analyst intern doing quantitative finance. Food-wise, she plans to start a food blog over the next few months. At this point, she has been showcasing beautiful pictures of her homemade creations on Instagram, but the public has to wait to access her signature recipes until her blog is up and running. In the meantime, she’s offered to share a couple of her recipes here to whet our appetites (see recipe cards in the sidebar).
Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering