Campus News Student Spotlight

Student Commencement speaker reflects on community

Sudhan Chitgopkar is the spring 2023 undergraduate commencement student speaker. (Photo by Dorothy Kozlowski/ UGA)

Cumming native to speak at spring 2023 Commencement

If you ask Sudhan Chitgopkar about the highlights of his time at the University of Georgia, he’ll pause before responding.

“I’ve got to think about this one,” he said. “It’s four years’ worth of memories.”

It is a lot to condense into a few words, but Chitgopkar will do his best as undergraduate student speaker at the 2023 spring Commencement ceremony.

Undergraduate student Sudhan Chitgopkar shows examples of his generative art, which he created through a combination of mathematics and coding. (Photo by Dorothy Kozlowski/ UGA)

“I think the most important thing that I carry with me is the community,” Chitgopkar said. “I’ve learned more than I thought I could possibly learn in four years, not only about computer science and international affairs, but also about who I am, what I enjoy, what I don’t enjoy. But every single thing that I’ve loved doing has also come with a community.”

Over the last four years, Chitgopkar has been a computer science and international affairs major, a research fellow and a teaching assistant. He’s also given a TEDxUGA talk, directed the 48 hour computer programming event UGAHacks 7 and founded computational problem solving group SolveUGA.

“There’s like a million little worlds on this campus, and there’s no way to explore them all,” he said. “But I feel like if I’m here for four years, how can I not try and take advantage of every single thing that campus has to offer?”

Changing paths

When he came to UGA, Chitgopkar was ready to hit the pre-law track running. But along the way, the people around him helped him find a new way forward.

This included several faculty members who shaped his college experience.

Gary Iliev, a Department of Mathematics lecturer, helped Chitgopkar learn to love mathematics. It was Chitgopkar’s first class as a college student, and he admittedly was not a math person. But after Iliev told the story of calculus, Chitgopkar had a new passion.

“Ever since then, every week for the last four years, I’ve been in his office. We’ll solve a math problem or just talk,” he said.

Brad Barnes, a School of Computing senior lecturer of computer science and CS undergraduate coordinator, helped Chitgopkar found SolveUGA, a student organization focused on computational problem solving.

“He was so ecstatic about working with me, starting a club, helping students. So we’ve now been running this club for like eight months now, twice a week every week,” he said. “And twice a week, he’s showing up from 6:30 to 8:15 p.m. every night, and he shows up after teaching hours of classes.”

Undergraduate student and club president and founder Sudhan Chitgopkar leads a meeting of SolveUGA, UGA’s flagship computational problem-solving team. (Photo by Dorothy Kozlowski/ UGA)

And Leah Carmichael, a lecturer in the School of Public and International Affairs and current director of active learning, helped Chitgopkar understand himself and take next steps in his career.

“When we talk about people that are incredible, not only as teachers but who are just incredible to have at a university, she is up there,” he said. “When I was writing my personal statement for grad school, I sat down with her to figure out who I am and who I want to represent myself as. She took eight or nine pages worth of notes as I was talking, and she said ‘This is what you need to focus on. This is your story.’ She helped me realize a lot of what I want to do in the future.”

Moving on

As student speaker at Commencement, Chitgopkar hopes he helps other students prepare for their next steps, wherever they’re headed.

“I think the job of the Commencement speaker is to motivate everyone in a way, to get everyone excited for what life is like after college,” he said. “It’s a nerve-wracking time for a lot of people—I know it is for me, even though I know what I’m going to be doing after college. I’m still leaving a beautiful place and a lot of the friends I’ve made.”

Chitgopkar is headed to graduate school at Harvard University, where he will study computational science and engineering. And as he moves forward, he is thankful for the foundations he created at UGA.

“I feel like there is no college experience that could ever compare to my undergrad experience here,” he said. “Being an undergrad at UGA really is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Not only do you learn more than you could possible imagine but the connections and memories you make in Athens and on campus are ones that you’ll take with you forever.”