Alex Filippas, Akriti Sarswat, Sabrina Westgate

Alex Filippas, Akriti Sarswat, Sabrina Westgate

As a native of Greece pursuing his PhD studies at Georgia Tech’s School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (ChBE), Alexandros Filippas said he has faced some financial challenges because the average salaries in his home country are lower than in the United States.

That means his parents cannot provide as much support as they would like after he completed a costly relocation to Atlanta. “This is the case for many international students,” Filippas said.

With the cost of living rising in Atlanta, he was grateful to receive a $3,000 William R. McLain Fellowship in 2023 to supplement his annual graduate student research assistant stipend (currently $35,675).

“I was very fortunate to get it,” said Filippas, who started at Tech in fall 2020 following nine months of military service right after earning his undergraduate degree at the National Technical University of Athens.

“The fellowship made a difference in my everyday life. If you don’t have a car like me, you need to live near Georgia Tech, and it’s getting harder to find affordable places to live in Midtown Atlanta.”

According to Zillow, the average rent in Atlanta has risen 41 percent since 2018.

Expanding Student Support

The rising cost of Atlanta is why ChBE is seeking more endowment support for graduate student “topping” fellowships like the one Filippas received as well as fellowships for full funding. Currently, the School can award about 10 to 12 of the topping fellowships per year.

In fall 2024, the graduate student stipend will increase 9 percent, rising to $38,886, with another 6 percent increase for fall 2025 ($41,219).

“But we still need more funding support for students because the rising cost of living has really stretched many of them,” said Professor Martha Grover, associate chair of graduate studies for ChBE. “We need to remain competitive with what other top schools offer.”

Akriti Sarswat, a fourth-year graduate student in ChBE who received the Eckert fellowship ($3,000) last year, said she appreciated the funding because many graduate fellowships (such as the National Science Foundation’s) do not accept applications from international students.

“Any extra help means a lot,” said Sarswat, who plans to become a professor after completing her PhD studies focused on separations associated with the electrochemical conversion of carbon dioxide to ethylene. “Grocery and gas prices have been rising, and a lot of my stipend goes toward rent.”

Benefits of Atlanta and Georgia Tech

She added that living in Atlanta has been worth the expense, though. A native of the Jammu and Kashmir region of India who attended the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, Sarswat said: “I’ve never lived in as large a place before. There is great food and weather, with lots of opportunities everywhere. It will be hard to find the balanced diversity Atlanta offers wherever I move next for a postdoctoral fellowship.”

Fifth-year PhD student Sabrina Westgate, who also received a $3,000 Eckert topping fellowship last year, said she immediately used a good portion to pay off a chunk of student loan debt from her undergraduate studies at the University of Rochester. “It definitely helped take some pressure off of that financial concern.”

Westgate, who plans to work in environmental policy upon completing her PhD to build on her doctoral studies concerning air quality, explained how she chose to enroll at Georgia Tech: “I came for Graduate Student Recruitment Weekend, and I liked all the people I met. I was also impressed with the wide range of opportunities here, with lots of labs conducting various types of research.”

Fellowship recipient Alexandros Filippas added: “I applied to several doctoral programs, and Georgia Tech’s was the best by far. I was impressed the size of the faculty and diversity in terms of research. I wanted to study energy storage, and I’ve been able to research flow battery technology for my thesis.”

Professor Christopher W. Jones, the John F. Brock III School Chair of ChBE, said, “Graduate students are the research engine of Georgia Tech. We’re seeking more fellowship funding to ensure that the best students continue choosing to come here. Well-funded graduate students will more than repay the investment in their education with future success in industry, research, nonprofits, and academia.”

Please note gifts and commitments in support of graduate fellowships 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.