Engineering Student
Explodes – and Goes Viral


September 2013

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Nick Selby didn’t aim to become an Internet sensation last month, when he starred in a video that has received well over three million hits at last count and has appeared on almost every nightly news program in the country. But when he encouraged Georgia Tech’s incoming freshmen to make the most out of their college years, it was as if this mechanical engineering student was talking to every student in the country. Maybe every person. It was about his school, but it was about a feeling and a passion all of us hope to hold on to. The feeling that we are without limits.

So what did he say exactly?

You can watch the video of him screaming at the top of his lungs, but here is an excerpt that embodies the message: “We here are all such innovative people. So I am telling you. If you want to change the world, you’re at Georgia Tech, you can do that! If you want to build the Ironman Suit, you’re at Georgia Tech, you can do that!” He continued, almost possessed, for 1:55 in the video.

So where did this internet sensation come from, and where is he going? Coming off a summer internship at Sandia National Laboratories, he’s now working on a volunteer satellite project and trying to keep his 4.0 GPA going, all while taking the time to do a few interviews. From CNN to Fox News, he’s clearly having his 15 minutes of fame. But he won’t allow himself to take it too seriously.

Georgia Tech's President G. P. "Bud" Peterson (left) and Nick Selby (right) holding a t-shirt with a quote from his “epic” speech. Image: Gatech.edu

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and my favorite response has been from friends and family,” he says. “They’ve been supportive and have been enjoying it along with me.” And he says a few of the people in his life even helped him pull off his memorable performance. His cousin Mike Civerolo provided pieces of advice in the speech, and additions such as “You can do that!” came from his high school debate coach at Desert Vista High School in Phoenix, AZ, Andy Stone.

Stone’s tutelage also had a hand in his effective delivery.

“Speech and debate is great,” he says. “Public speaking is important in engineering to convey great ideas and it helps you have confidence in any kind of speaking. Even working in a team or leading a project, even just talking to one person. It’s given me confidence.”

And so has mechanical engineering. Dreaming of being an inventor since he could remember, Selby credits his first successful invention to wanting to stay dry. “The house I lived in had these sinks that were really short and the faucet would spray on the countertop because the sink wasn’t long enough,” he recalls. Creating a homemade extension, the problem was solved, though the result admittedly wasn’t exactly pretty. “My parents let me keep it on the sink, even though it was kind of unsightly, purple, plastic,” he says.

Looking back, Selby feels honored to have been chosen to give his speech, crediting part of his enthusiasm to the college friends he’s made as much as any of his activities. And, despite his long-term dream, Selby still doesn’t know what he’ll try to invent in the future, only that he hopes it outlives him. “I want to create something that makes a difference,” he says.

It seems a group of students and a few million viewers on the internet believe he already has.

Eric Butterman is an independent writer.

Public speaking is important in engineering to convey great ideas and it helps you have confidence in any kind of speaking.

Nick Selby, student, Georgia Tech

 
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by Eric Butterman, ASME.org