From gtg to Bachelor’s Degree
When Andrea Laucella first enrolled at Georgia Tech in 2001, iPhones didn’t exist. There was no Clough Commons, but G. Wayne Clough was Tech’s president. Her email address began with “gtg,” a prefix that wouldn’t lead to Tech-themed rap songs for another seven years (and which most of today’s undergraduates wouldn’t understand).
After a 16-year journey, Laucella graduated this weekend with a bachelor’s degree in international affairs. It took three starts, but she’s finally finished.
During the first month of her freshman year, the country endured the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. With family in the New York area, the national event hit home and added stress to the already tough transition to college and familial issues. After a rocky first year, Laucella was academically dismissed.
“I was still teaching at a dance studio back home, so I went home a lot,” she said. “I didn’t really get connected to campus life.”
After a required leave of absence, she returned to Tech in 2003. By then, she’d taken a new job in the restaurant business and began balancing work with going to school. She stayed enrolled through 2007 when, again, the stress of family transitions compounded and she was academically dismissed.
“At the time it felt like I failed one class the last semester, but looking back I was really spiraling down that whole year,” she said.
Laucella directed her energy toward her career, working her way up to the role of general manager for an Italian restaurant in Sandy Springs. After eight years away from Tech, she came knocking again in 2015.
She knew if she didn’t return to school within 10 years, she risked losing all her previous credits. She only needed nine classes to graduate, and she felt a pull to finish her degree. It took two applications and several conversations with Tech administrators to find a path back to Tech. She re-enrolled for the final time in Fall 2015.
“I wanted to know what the end of the road was here,” she said. “I worked really hard in high school to get in here and I didn’t want to go anywhere else. Getting readmitted was a miracle.”
Since then, she’s taken two classes per semester on top of continuing to work full-time. Every new semester has meant a new work schedule, new commute, and working with employees under her to cover the restaurant. This time, though, she’s been able to handle the load. She was determined to prove that Georgia Tech was right to give her another chance.
“I’m basically doing all the same things I was in my 20s, but I can actually handle it now,” she said. “And this time, having professional experience, I’m able to communicate with professors and tell them when something’s going on.”
Unlike many undergraduates, the stress of the job hunt isn’t on Laucella’s mind. For now, she’s looking forward to enjoying free time, seeing friends, maybe taking a dance class, and saying goodbye to the stress of studying and battling a commute to campus.
Eventually, she’d like to integrate her business acumen with her international studies, perhaps in a career in international hospitality. She minored in Spanish, which she uses in the workplace and also got to use on a trip to Peru with her mom.
“That trip really encouraged me and gave me confidence in what I’ve been studying,” she said.
And despite getting the chance to change her email address, she kept the “gtg.”
“When I thought about it, it just felt like it’s part of who I am.”