Georgia Tech’s Focus Program Honors Martin Luther King Jr.’s Legacy

Posted January 30, 2023

In 1947, a then 18-year-old Martin Luther King Jr. wrote an op-ed for Morehouse College’s The Maroon Tiger, in which he wrote that education has a two-fold function to perform–utility and culture.

“Education must enable a man to become more efficient, to achieve with increasing facility the legitimate goals of his life,” King wrote. “The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals.”

It's in this spirit that each year during the weekend before the holiday celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and legacy, Georgia Tech invites students from across the country to learn more about what they can achieve through their graduate studies as part of the Focus Program.

This year, more than 160 undergraduate, graduate students, and postdoctoral scholars from more than 75 institutions across the country visited Georgia Tech to get an inside look at what it’s like to be a graduate student, research scientist, or professor at Georgia Tech, including information on fellowship and scholarship opportunities, as well as tips for success in the graduate school and academia decision-making process.

“Many people mistakenly associate power with dominance, force, or oppression,” said Sybrina Atwaters, Ph.D., director of the Office of Minority Educational Development (OMED) and director of the Focus program. “Alice Walker once said ‘The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.’ We invite our Focus Scholars and Fellows to see power as the ability to transform any program, project, or context through their contribution to their fields or industries, their research, and Georgia Tech.”

Since its inception in 1992, more than 3,000 prospective graduate students or faculty have participated in the Focus program, and at least eight Focus alumni have been hired into faculty positions at Georgia Tech, and many are in tenure-track faculty positions or are chairs and deans at other institutions across the country.

Participants were invited to visit with faculty and staff from their programs of interest to learn more about the department and degree programs and panel sessions featuring program alumni who provided tips on connecting with your adviser, building a community of peers and friends, and navigating the changing climate in STEM fields for those with advanced degrees.

During the Focus Program’s President’s Dinner, President Ángel Cabrera addressed students, faculty, staff, and program alumni, and shared a little about his time as a graduate student at Georgia Tech.

“Without talent, you’re not going to succeed in graduate school, and you’re not going to succeed in your graduate career,” he started. “But you need to have connections. You need to be able to see people like you, and that’s what you’re getting out of this program. You get to draw from the inspiration of those who look like you and have been in your shoes.”  

Attendees also had the opportunity to hear from Dr. Angela Marshall, MD, CEO and founder of Women’s Comprehensive Health, Inc., and a Georgia Tech alumna who provided the evening’s keynote address.

“Something I always say is that to be lucky, we must be prepared for opportunity,” Marshall said. “Be prepared and you will feel like the luckiest person in the world. You’ll have so many opportunities come throughout your life, but the difference between the person who thinks they got lucky and the person who thinks they got the short end of the stick lies somewhere in the preparation.

“So, prepare yourself to be lucky. Embrace rigor and discipline in your work. Prepare for your test. Prepare for your career. Prepare for your family. Prepare for your business meeting by getting certifications and prepare for your tomorrow.”

For more information about the Focus program, visit

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Tammy Parrett (she/her)
Communications Manager
Institute Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion