Stephen Sirard, Holden Voelger

Holden Voelger and Stephen Sirard

As a first-generation college student, Stephen Sirard said he experienced some headaches covering his expenses when he first started as a chemical engineering undergraduate at Georgia Tech in 1993.

“Having to work as a golf caddie on weekends while being a full-time student was very demanding,” said Stephen (BS ChBE 1998), who grew up in Stone Mountain, Georgia. But he eventually began to win scholarships to help cover his expenses as he excelled in his studies. “That was extremely helpful, and I thought one day I’d like to pay it back.”

And that’s exactly what he and his wife did in 2019, endowing the Ratchana and Stephen Sirard Scholarship in the College of Engineering, benefiting students in both the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (ChBE) and School of Material Science and Engineering.

Ratchana, who moved to the United States at age 4 as a refugee from Laos, experienced similar challenges paying for her higher education. She met Stephen at the University of Texas-Austin where they received their doctorates (hers in materials science, his in chemical engineering), and they currently reside in that city.

“Both of us saw education as extremely important for us in improving our lives,” Stephen said. “We strongly support helping engineering students. The world has a lot of problems, and engineers will be on the front lines.”

Easing Financial Burdens

Senior Holden Voelger was one of the first ChBE students to receive the Sirard scholarship during his sophomore year. A native of Long Island, New York, who loves to travel, Holden knew he didn’t want to attend college in his home state.

But with a tuition rate significantly higher than in-state Georgia students and without access to Georgia scholarships like HOPE, Holden said the Sirard scholarship has eased his financial burden for the last few years.

“I’m definitely grateful for the Sirards financing such a scholarship,” Holden said. “Every penny counts when it comes to out-of-state tuition.”

Holden had the opportunity to meet Stephen Sirard during the latter’s recent trip to campus. “My meeting with Steve really opened my eyes to how beneficial obtaining a graduate degree could be in terms of getting research experience,” said Holden, who will graduate in Fall 2024 and is still weighing career options. “I’ve always considered graduate school, and talking to him really opened me to the idea of it.”

Stephen, who focused his PhD studies on the interaction of polymer thin films with supercritical fluids, decided to go into industry after his studies. He retired in 2021 as technical director for advanced technology development at Lam Research. Ratchana is also retired from her career in the semiconductor industry, and the two are focused on raising their 11-year-old daughter.

ChBE Advisory Board Member

Since 2020, Stephen has served on ChBE’s External Advisory Board, which has members from a wide range of industries who meet twice a year with school leadership and students to listen and make recommendations. “We want to help Georgia Tech provide the best experience for students while maintaining and building its status as a thought leader in the engineering field,” he explained.

Stephen and Ratchana are considering future financial support for graduate fellowships to help students deal with the rising cost of living. He received a similar fellowship during his graduate studies, and said, “It helped me a lot so I’m hoping to endow something similar.”

He added: “I have a heartfelt appreciation for Georgia Tech and how much it’s done for me. I really believe in the Institute’s mission and hope to support it for as long as I can.”

Please note gifts and commitments in support of undergraduate scholarships are included in Transforming Tomorrow: The Campaign for Georgia Tech, a more than $2 billion comprehensive campaign designed to secure resources that will advance the Institute and its impact — on people’s lives, on the way we work together to create innovative solutions, and on our world — for decades to come.