Sharani White struggled in her first year at Georgia Tech, to the point that she almost had to transfer. Instead, through faith, perservance and help from a friend, she finishes her civil engineering degree this fall and has been accepted to graduate school. (Photo: Titilayo Funso)
Sharani White still remembers every detail about the conversation with her parents after her first year at Georgia Tech. She had returned home to Gonzales, Louisiana, and had to tell them a difficult truth: She was struggling.
“The only A I had was in GT 1000,” White said. “That's how you know how terrible I was doing.”
White had been a good student in high school, so when she sat on the living room couch and told her mom and dad she was going to have to retake two core courses, they couldn’t understand why.
“In my head, I just kept saying, ‘You guys don't understand. I study. I try. It's not working. It doesn't matter how many all-nighters I pull. I'm just not doing well.’
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” she said.
White’s is a family rooted in their Christian faith. Her father firmly believed God would not have put his daughter at a far-away, out-of-state school for no reason. She got into Tech. Surely, she could do the work.
Sharani White at FASET in summer 2013, left, and on her first day of classes at Georgia Tech in August 2013. (Photos Courtesy: Sharani White)
They gave her another semester to turn it around. In the meantime, to stay on track, she took Differential Equations and Economics at nearby Louisiana State University over the summer. And she did well, which she said boosted her confidence for her return to Atlanta.
“I kept thinking, ‘Oh, I'm good now. Whatever it is, I refocused, I pray more. Clearly, I'm doing better.
“And then I came back to Tech, and I started failing again.”
She also had reconnected with a chemical engineering major who’d been in a class she failed. She told him about her struggles, he offered to help, and then, White said: “My grades started climbing. He doesn't like to get any credit, but he really helped me.”
From her perspective, that help was an answer to prayer. She’d asked God for someone to help her figure out what she was missing. And it worked: That semester, she passed all of her classes.
We should pause here to say this: White’s story is one of perseverance and of faith — and maybe, just a little, it’s a love story. Because that friend who stepped up is her now years-long boyfriend. And that conversation where she told him she was struggling was also, in essence, a conversation about the end of their relationship. If she couldn’t make it at Tech, they probably weren’t going to continue dating.
“It was kind of a turning point. He realized, either I'm going to help her, or we're just going to part ways. He told me, ‘We're going to figure this out together.’”
That semester was three years ago. On Saturday, White will graduate from Georgia Tech with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering — and she’s on track to finish with honors. She has a job waiting at McCarthy Building Companies as a project engineer. She also has been accepted into the new Master of Real Estate Development program at Tech.
So how did she turn everything around? She meticulously planned her schedule, balancing challenging courses each semester with courses she knew would be easier for her. She calculated her GPA all the time, so she knew exactly what grade she needed in every class. She stuck to a strict study schedule.
“I was just studying differently, and I was believing in myself that I could actually pull through,” White said. “I feel that's a big part of it, because Tech wouldn't let you in if they didn't think you had the potential to actually do well here. They don't want people to struggle.”
White said she also brought her faith back into her academic life.
“I came to Tech, and I didn't forget [God], but I kind of left Him out of my academics. Once I realized that, during classes — I mean, people probably think I was talking to myself — but I was really asking God help me. Help me figure out what this means, because I have no idea what this professor is talking about right now.
“Whether it's your faith or just your belief in yourself, whatever it is, you have to keep it in your mind or in your heart that purpose for you to be here.”
White said she never thought she’d get to the point of being a Georgia Tech graduate. She said she’s an emotional person, so she’s been steeling herself for the Commencement ceremony.
“I'm so grateful that I came to Tech,” she said. “It was definitely the hardest thing in my life, but also the most fulfilling.”