L.J. Yankosky Soars to New Heights on the Mound and in the Cockpit

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Barbara Christopher
Industrial and Systems Engineering
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L. J. (Leonard Joseph) Yankosky could have picked up the diploma for his master's in industrial engineering at the Spring 2000 Commencement, but he didn't make the ceremony. He was at work, pitching against Knoxville. Like most Georgia Tech graduates, Yankosky had a job lined up before graduation. But few graduates can claim an 11th-round draft pick by the Atlanta Braves! This was actually Yankosky's second season in Greenville, South Carolina, pitching for the AA Greenville Braves. "My goal is the major leagues, but you set a lot of goals in between," he says. The next step up is Richmond, Virginia, and then, Turner Field in Atlanta - the "Show". If he's really lucky, he'll bypass the AAA team and go straight to Atlanta. "You rise through the ranks, and the factors are out of my control. It depends on the performance of the other teams - how the other players are doing. It can work for or against you." He adds, "There is a lot of uncertainty and not much feedback. But you know when you're doing good."

Either way, it's a long climb for a guy who has already accomplished what many can only dream. And it's especially unusual circumstances for a Tech graduate, who could be living comfortably on a high-figure salary to be living in motels in successive small Southern cities. The 25-year-old Yankosky, a native of Springfield, Virginia, has set a lot of goals for himself, and it's the light at the end of the tunnel that keeps him going. School already seems like a long time ago. He completed work on his master's in February just days before reporting to spring training. Recipient of a prestigious NASA fellowship, his graduate work focused on the Cockpit Display of Traffic Information in Airplanes, a facet of human-machine systems. Yankosky teamed with ISyE professor Dr. Amy Pritchett to add information to the cockpit's display. The ultimate goal is to increase the level of the pilot's responsibility, without taking any responsibility away from the controllers. This makes the skies safer for everyone.

"We hope to give pilots a better level of understanding of what is going on around them in the traffic flow in the air," he explains. "Additionally, we created new operations that are not currently performed by pilots in air traffic control. The two things we're having the pilots do are now being done by controllers. So what we're trying to do is give the pilot more information in the cockpit by virtue of displays and procedures instead of having to rely so heavily on the controllers and the controllers' commands to execute."

"The two new operations during their arrival routes are maintaining in-trail separation from another aircraft and having pilots merge their aircraft behind another aircraft to a common arrival stream to the airport," he says. "Our results showed that this research warrants more investigation, and we're very excited about the prospect of having this work become incorporated in the near future."

Aiding Yankosky all the way was Dr. Pritchett, whom he quickly names as a favorite professor. "She made all this possible. She's a dynamic individual "very understanding of my schedule and willing to work with me. We met when I was looking for a research program in human-machine systems. She told me this was the luckiest day of my life." Lucky, because Dr. Pritchett had just received a grant from NASA, and she needed a graduate student.

Yankosky also has high praise for Dr. Alex Kirlik, who introduced him to human-machine systems. "I always made it to his class. He made it fun. He's the kind of professor that is invaluable to the institution "he gets students excited."

Despite the dual life he's led for the past several years, Yankosky is still debating connections between baseball and engineering. "People accuse college players of being analytical, but I don't see that. What I do see is the importance of the discipline and time management skills I acquired at Tech. We played up to five games a week during the season as well as attended classes. In some ways this is easier."

He hasn't run into too many other engineers on the field, either. "I haven't seen anyone else with an engineering degree. There are a few out here with degrees, and a few who are close, but not in engineering. Even at Tech, all the players were in management," he remembers. "There are plenty of smart players out here, though. Many made the choice to go professional straight out of high school because of financial or other personal reasons."

Most of Yankosky's Tech memories include baseball. "I really enjoyed the experience of college baseball as a whole," he says. "I made friends for life at Tech. I had the opportunity to sign professional after high school, but this was the best move I could have made. Georgia Tech's been great to me, and I hope I can represent it well."

In fact, his trip to the professional mound was delayed more than the four years he originally planned. Injured as a freshman, he still had a year of eligibility left when he completed his bachelor's in 1997. No professional team came calling, so he opted for a fifth year of college ball. On the field that year he led Tech to a 41-22 record, a berth in the finals of the NCAA Midwest Regional, and a final national ranking of 15. He finished his college baseball career with a 25-4 record, the third highest winning percentage of any pitcher in Tech history.

Not that baseball was the only thing he accomplished at Tech. Yankosky made GTE Academic All-America, twice, and was on the ACC honor roll every year. He earned Georgia Tech's Total Person Athlete Award, the highest honor given to student-athletes. He finished his bachelor's with a 3.6 GPA and his master's with a 4.0. His personal life includes his wife Shannon, an auditor for Arthur Andersen. "She makes the money," he laughs, and two cats.

So what's next for a guy with the future in the palm of his hand? "I wish I could tell you," he says. "Right now I'm 100 percent devoted to baseball." He's interviewed with a company that understands the needs of his split personality, but the possibility of fall ball may make that impossible. "I don't want to burn any bridges," he adds.

Yankosky was once quoted as saying his goal at Tech was "to make sure that I leave this institution with having contributed something both academically and athletically." Yellow Jackets have to agree - Yankosky is destined to soar.

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H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISYE)

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Engineering, Research
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Status
  • Created By: Barbara Christopher
  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created On: Feb 28, 2001 - 8:00pm
  • Last Updated: Oct 7, 2016 - 11:06pm