Like Son, Like Father

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It all started one parents weekend in Midtown Atlanta.

Juan Villarreal came to Georgia Tech in Fall 2021 to visit his son, Patrick. Like most parents, he wanted to see how his son was adjusting to his first years in college.

Patrick, 20, had come to Georgia Tech to study mechanical engineering, following in the educational footsteps of his father, who studied engineering  40 years before at Kansas State and Cal Berkeley where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nuclear and mechanical engineering, respectively.

Because of his exposure to his father’s academic and professional journey, Patrick, who grew up in the Atlanta area and was captain of his high school robotics team, knew he wanted to come to Georgia Tech to study.’

“Hearing him talk about his college experience and his job inspired a lot of the things I’m interested in,” Patrick said.

Then when Patrick’s parents went to visit as their son was taking on his own Georgia Tech journey, it was almost inevitable that father would find inspiration from son.

“I saw not only the beautiful Georgia Tech campus but also was able to sense the incredible passion and support Georgia Tech has for its students and mission,” said Juan.

Juan found himself eager to continue learning.

After four decades in the power industry helping to set up nuclear energy plants, Juan’s work had begun shifting to include more involvement in how our nation’s power grids are advancing digitally and how to protect them from cyberthreats.

“The defense of our networks and the electric grid is really important,” said Juan. “I wanted to know more about the specific details.”

So, after visiting Patrick on campus, Juan decided to apply to Georgia Tech’s Master of Science in Cybersecurity program. He could have applied for an online model but wanted to be on campus to experience the energy and interaction with professors and classmates in person. That also meant he would be on campus right along with his son and many other students half, even a third his age or younger.

You might think most college students in their 20s would be worried about a parent cramping their style, but Patrick was all in on the idea.

“I think it’s super cool, you know, meeting up and talking about classes,” said Patrick.

He says it’s a fun story to tell.

“Sometimes my friends will come tell me, ‘Oh, I saw your dad yesterday walking out of the Student Center.’”

Patrick and Juan frequently meet up for lunch or coffee on campus, and quite often Patrick has a couple of friends in tow.

While they haven’t had any direct class overlap, they’ve already been able to help each other out.

Patrick helped his father navigate the online registration system and learn how to use the programming languages MATLAB and Python.

“Things have changed a lot since I was first in college,” Juan said. “Some of what he’s doing in physics is similar to what I’m doing in electrical engineering. It’s been good to exchange information and help each other.”

Patrick says watching his father take on this new challenge not only makes him proud, but he’s also inspired to press forward himself.

“One of the fears of every college student is: ‘What if I’m doing the wrong thing?’” he said. But reflecting on his father’s journey, he realizes that, in the future, “if I need to pivot, I know that’s possible.”

Patrick has been diving headfirst into RoboJackets, a student organization that builds and competes with robots of all kinds. He’s currently working on a Mars Rover-type spacecraft with the team. And while gaining new skills on campus, Patrick is still learning life lessons from his father, too.

“It’s never too late, right? You can always learn new things,” Patrick said. “He’s always been the one teaching me things, but here I am helping him, too. Everyone can help everyone else.”

Juan, meanwhile, says he’s having fun expanding his mind.

“It’s great to be around all these smart people and professors,” he said. “I would recommend this to anybody at any age who wants to go back to school. Don’t let stereotypes say you can’t do it.”

And there’s a big bonus, Juan has found: spending time with his son. Two could soon become three as Juan’s son and Patrick’s younger brother, Christian, was just admitted during early action acceptance.

“I traveled a lot during my career, so now this has allowed us the opportunity to reconnect, and I never expected that. So, coming to Georgia Tech has had double the benefit.”




  • Workflow Status:Published
  • Created By:Steven Norris
  • Created:02/02/2023
  • Modified By:Tamara Wilder
  • Modified:02/03/2023


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