The Good Word | by Matt Winkeljohn
She brings an unusual name and plays a special game, yet Coral Kazaroff stands out as a volleyball player at Georgia Tech for one reason above all others.
The redshirt junior, a Yellow Jacket by way of the University of Virginia, is the one and only student-athlete among 350 or so on The Flats who is majoring in nuclear and radiological engineering.
Before you finish rolling that around in your head and trying to guess what it might mean, she’ll gladly tell you.
“It actually covers a pretty wide range of things,” Kazaroff said. “In computational, you can go into industry; there’s a big part in the Navy for nuclear subs; there’s nuclear thermo compulsion — using nuclear energy to power rockets, which is pretty interesting because it can last a lot longer than any other source of energy . . . “
There are a lot more potential fields in which Kazaroff may one day stand out as a professional. There’s nuclear plant design and management, nuclear waste disposal, and on the radiological side, there may be multiple applications to the field of medicine.
She’ll figure all of that out later.
For now, she’s happy that she’s about to get back to playing volleyball instead of just watching it like she did last year after transferring from Virginia.
It won’t be long before the 5-foot-3 native of Apex, N.C. will dig in and root out spikes for the Yellow Jackets.
“I’m a libero/defensive specialist,” she said. “We stay in the back row and try to dig everything other team hits. It’s fast. A lot of times you see small people, ready to dive. It’s a very dynamic position. I went there as a default; I’ve always been short. You get to make these awesome digs that get your teammates really pysched up . . .
“As far as volleyball, I’m so excited that I can actually play now and physically be with my teammates everywhere.”
An only child, Kazaroff began playing volleyball while she was in middle school. Her parents, Rani and John, thought it would be a good idea to have her try multiple recreational sports. Coral favored volleyball above all.
“The main reason they put me in was I was really, really quiet and they thought it would help me be more outgoing,” Kazaroff explained.
That doesn’t seem an issue now. Coral is fully engaged in multiple ways.
After spending a couple weeks at home after the spring semester, she returned to Tech, where she is in working as an undergraduate research assistant in computational reactor engineering while taking classes and keeping pace in volleyball workouts.
It took some exploration to find her path.
As an outstanding high school student, she had a pretty good idea that she wanted to become an engineer, yet Kazaroff wasn’t entirely sure what field would best suit her. She built a double major at Virginia, in mechanical engineering and physics, and the deeper she got into the physics, the more she liked it. Finally, in the second semester of her sophomore year, the classwork touched on the nuclear world, and that set off a trigger.
“In physics II, which is more modern . . . I started really liking physics and math and was wanting to stay in engineering,” she said. “I took an intro nuclear physics course, and really fell in love with them. Nuclear engineering was the best way to provide all of that . . . they didn’t have that major.
“I was looking for somewhere to combine the two, and I looked at the course work [at Tech} . . . “
And soon, Kazaroff became a Yellow Jacket.
Although her summer class schedule is clouded with classes that she would’ve taken as a freshman and sophomore if she were at Tech all along — she called them “weed-out classes” — Kazaroff is deep into her business.
For all intents and purposes, her work as an assistant — where she is surrounded mostly by graduate students — she’s already in the middle of her field, helping research potential nuclear reactions. Over and over again, she and her colleagues plug equations into computers to predict what might happen.
“There is a lot of programming, to simulate what’s going on in a reactor — we’re also making sure the power doesn’t get too high, and we have the right materials,” she said.
Kazaroff is plenty busy, and she’ll stay that way. While she’s not certain what she’ll do with her life after graduation, there will be options.
“’I’ve always been a bit of a planner so my dream is to go onto a math PhD, preferably math and physics at any of the top schools, maybe Cambridge or MIT, and hopefully go into research or a professorship, maybe work at a national laboratory,” she said.
“As far as volleyball, I’m so excited that I can actually play now and physically be with my teammates everywhere. We’re a pretty young team. With all of the freshmen and sophomores, I think we have a really good attitude. We’ve got a good work ethic. I’m looking forward to the season.”