Derek Lewis and friends

First-year NRE student Derek Lewis and friends pose with Georgia Tech President Ángel Cabrera before attending a volleyball game.

The Grass is Greener at Georgia Tech for NRE Student Derek Lewis

He has fully embraced the student experience since joining the Woodruff School last fall.

February 6, 2024
By Chloe Arrington

Derek Lewis has fully embraced the Georgia Tech student experience since joining the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering and enrolling in the Nuclear and Radiological Engineering (NRE) program last fall. Though Lewis’ academic path took some twists and turns before pointing to Georgia Tech, it is clear it led him to the correct place.

Originally from Virginia, Lewis hadn’t even considered Georgia Tech initially. “I was originally leaning towards Virginia Tech or the University of Virginia, but after I visited Atlanta, I knew that Georgia Tech was my home,” he said.

Along with the culture, academics, and sports scene that resonated with Lewis, he was impressed by the breathtaking campus. “I always thought that the ‘grass is greener’ metaphor was just another cliché until I visited Atlanta. The grass literally is greener at Georgia Tech, and I love how beautiful the nature and landscaping on campus make everyday life.”

Before visiting campus, a small essay mishap, that Lewis can laugh about now, had him unsure if his application would even be considered. He applied to Georgia Tech on a last-minute whim after being peer-pressured by a couple of friends. In the days before the deadline, he opted to copy-and-paste a portion of an essay he wrote for a North Carolina State University application.

"After a Google search, in a mere 300 words, I very comprehensively detailed how interesting Georgia Tech’s nuclear research reactor was, completely oblivious to the fact that it had been decommissioned in the '90s,” he said.

After a whirlwind of anticipation and an early admissions deferral, Lewis regrouped and showed off a different side to his personality in a continued interest essay about his fantasy football league and was accepted in the regular decision round.

Derek Lewis and friends

Lewis' interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) began when he learned about the sun-like capabilities of an ordinary atom. As nuclear engineers, his mother and father naturally encouraged his affinity for the field. 

“For me, a take your kid to work day wasn’t just about shadowing my parents; it was about witnessing, first-hand, the revelations of atomic science in the past century, and seeing the table of nuclides wasn’t just about memorizing elements it was like peering into a blueprint of the universe,” Lewis said.

Since then, Lewis’ fascination for the atom has developed into a passion for nuclear and radiological engineering and its broad applications, from clean, sustainable energy that combats climate change, to interplanetary space propulsion that will eventually power a trip to Mars. “I felt that this major would best help me play a role in building a cleaner, healthier, and more technologically advanced future,” he said.

Freshman Cake RaceThough his love of science comes first from his parents, the character of Cooper played by Matthew McConaughey in the movie Interstellar also inspired Lewis' scientific pursuits. "The dedication, tenacity, and future-focused mindset of the character is inspiring to me as a nuclear and radiological engineering major because Coop has a willingness to overcome overwhelming odds to secure a future for humanity,” he explained. “This is like the technical hurdles of climate change and energy security that nuclear power aims to tackle.”

Now, halfway through his first year at Georgia Tech, the campus that initially won Lewis over has provided an experience-rich first semester for him. Lewis has been involved in several campus clubs and took first place in the Freshman Cake Race, a half-mile race held before sunrise on the morning of the Homecoming game every year. As a winner of one of Georgia Tech's greatest traditions, he received a cake and was brought to the field during halftime of the Homecoming game where he was congratulated by the Ramblin’ Royalty.

In addition to staying on top of his academics and participating in extracurriculars, Lewis believes mental health is an important and often overlooked part of society. To maintain balance, Lewis runs through Piedmont Park, takes naps after class, and even goes for an occasional ice cream break at Brittain Dining Hall.

“Another one of my philosophies that helps me relax is that nobody’s perfect, and at the end of the day, a 90 percent is the same as a 100 percent, so shoot for 90 percent and have some fun at the same time,” he added.

Lewis is also an accomplished athlete. He played ice hockey and ran track competitively and enjoys the chance to play a variety of sports whenever he can. “I'm very fortunate to have amazing friends that are competitive, athletic, and always down to try new things," he said. "One of my favorite parts of the day is going to Tech Green with them to play football, frisbee, Spikeball, pickleball, volleyball, or whatever might be in hand, and locking in for a few hours.”

When he isn't playing sports, Lewis can be found showing his support for the Yellow Jackets at various athletic events, cheering, dancing, and singing along to the Georgia Tech fight songs with friends. Lewis truly is a Ramblin' Wreck from Georgia Tech and a helluva engineer.

delivering the T

Before 'delivering the T' to President Cabrera at halftime of the Homecoming game.

Intramural volleyball

After a tough loss of intramural volleyball with friends.