It’s 6 a.m. and that all-too-familiar alarm tone sounds. You jump out of bed, get ready for work, and get out. For some, the alarm may sound earlier for a morning workout. Others might have breakfast before leaving.

For John Robie, his day starts a little like this. But when his working day ends, things start to look very different.

Robie works at Naval Support Facility-Dalghren in Dalghren, Va., and has worked there as a scientist since 2017. Much of his workday is spent modeling, predicting, and testing the behavior of radio frequency systems. Robie earned his bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, which landed him Dahlgren’s job, and he has always enjoyed engineering in the form of complex problem solving.

Call for more

Robie realized that in his professional career he used a set of engineering skills on a daily basis and that a deeper understanding of the discipline would benefit him. He longed for more. A new challenge. This next step.

“Every day at work, I would research newspaper articles to find solutions to a problem. During my research, I kept finding things from Virginia Tech faculty and others associated with the university. When I came across the masters program in engineering [M.Eng]the decision to pursue my education at Virginia Tech was one of the easiest decisions I have ever made.

The Virginia native always knew he wanted to further his education, and Robie seized the opportunity of the M.Eng program and the flexibility that came with its virtual/hybrid option.

“With working full-time and not being very close to the Northern Virginia campus, I didn’t think I would have time in the evenings after work to go to in-person physical classes,” said Robie said. “The freedom to take classes from almost anywhere made the program really appealing to me.”

At the end of Robie’s workday, he takes off the Dalghren employee hat and puts on his M.Eng student thinking cap.

“Most of my classes took place immediately after my work day,” he said. “They usually start around 4pm, so I usually have a 4-5:15pm, then a 5:30-6:45pm. , it doesn’t seem strange at all.”

By joining classes synchronously over Zoom, Robie is able to ask questions in real time as he would if he were physically present in the classroom.

“I don’t feel any loss there [not being in person]he says. “Actually, it’s more convenient for me. With a full-time job, it’s a lot easier than having to get in my car, fight traffic, and drive to attend classes in person.

Of course, almost every working professional knows that sometimes things happen at the last minute during your working day. This is where the flexibility of the M.Eng program really shines.

“Fortunately, I have the flexibility to attend classes synchronously most of the time, but if something comes up, like a meeting that I can’t reschedule, I just contact my teacher with as much notice as possible and work considerations are always understood.

Graduate students who miss a live lecture can rewind and watch the recording later. Follow-up questions are always answered in a timely manner by the faculty teaching these courses as well.

Robie and other students also have the ability to remotely interface with lab equipment they may need for research. All lab hardware is networked, so students can access the lab server via VPN and gain hands-on experience from almost anywhere.

Robie said the flexibility of this program is also made possible by other students in the master’s and doctoral programs who are part of his research group.

“There are some things that have to be done in person, but luckily there are full-time students at the research center who are always willing to help swap out an antenna or something, if needed,” said he declared. “It’s nice to know that I can rely on my research partners and that something wouldn’t need to be fixed or out of order until I could drive there.”

This type of hands-on learning program (in person or from networked hardware) is a signature of the Master of Engineering program and is called project-based learning.

The goal is to create a learning environment that engages students with genuine, real-life problems or challenges during the program. It is considered a high-impact practice because of its effectiveness in promoting learning, collaboration, problem solving, and critical thinking.

“Master of Engineering students immerse themselves deeply in a research and development environment and solve real-world business problems in a team environment,” said Vassilios Kovanis, college professor and director of the M.Eng program. for Northern Virginia, which recently joined the faculty of the Innovation Campus in Alexandria. “As a result, they learn to manage interpersonal conflict, understand the client’s needs, and become subject matter experts.”

The Virginia Tech Advantage

Virginia Tech is among the top 20 electrical and computer engineering graduate programs in the nation. In addition to this higher billing, Robie said the professors in the M.Eng program made his decision to continue his studies at Virginia Tech even more valid.

“If you go down a technical rabbit hole about something very specific, I’m always amazed because more often than not there’s someone at Virginia Tech who not only studies that particular niche topic, but they are often the go-to person for this research,” Robie said.

He also talked about the great learning experience he had by taking courses taught not only by professors but also by industry professionals. Many faculty have an industry background, and the M.Eng program leverages industry partnerships such as that with the world’s leading aerospace and defense company, Northrop Grumman. The Falls Church-based company has committed $12.5 million to a new center for quantum architecture and software development in Alexandria. Quantum engineering research will be an important addition to the already innovative curriculum offered to Computer Engineering and Computer Science M.Eng students.

Robie said he is excited to one day pass on the knowledge he has gained by mentoring other young engineers in the future.

Future plans

Robie knew that to get the technical credibility he was looking for, furthering his education was the way to go.

“No one is making you go back to school. It was really about wanting to further my education on my own in a very advanced way,” Robie said.

He began his graduate studies journey in the fall of 2020 and will finish this fall. His intention is to continue and start preparing his doctorate in January. Although still undecided about wanting to teach in the future, Robie definitely sees himself in the entrepreneurial space. He is particularly interested in defense and cybersecurity.

“Particularly in the field of electrical engineering and computer engineering, there are a lot of professors who are tenure-track professors who have taught but also started their own businesses. They’re building a team of alumni and creating something that’s helpful to federal customers in the DC area — especially when it comes to hot topics like defense and machine learning,” Robie said.

One particular teacher that Robie admires in this area of ​​entrepreneurship is Angelos Stavrou. Stavrou is one of the founders of Kryptowire, a leader in cloud-based mobile security and privacy solutions and who is also a new faculty member at the Innovation Campus, where he will be responsible for entrepreneurship. Stavrou’s goal is to give students the education and opportunity to incubate new businesses.

As Robie’s mentor and advisor, Stavrou complimented Robie’s diverse background as an industrial engineer and government researcher. Stavrou also said he looks forward to continuing to work with Robie in the future as he pursues his doctorate. of Virginia Tech.

“While most students perceive the M.Eng as an industry-focused degree, there is a small percentage who decide to continue pursuing a PhD. and mature their knowledge and ideas within academia,” Stavrou said. “We are very enthusiastic when our students decide to pursue their studies because, being in an applied field, it offers them more opportunities to develop intellectual property that they can then exploit at their leisure. what are the next steps in their career.

Final Thoughts

Robie said being back in school, especially in the graduate program, is something he enjoys and would recommend to anyone looking to further their education in a field that has a lot of future growth potential. Being able to work while graduating in a timely manner made her decision easier.

“In my experience, it’s the best program available to me in the country, and the flexibility is what really made it doable for me.”