Archive for October 2020

Tuesday Tea with Dr. David Conner

The Physics, Computer Science and Engineering department had the pleasure of chatting with Dr. David Conner on October 20th. Dr. Conner is from a small rural city southwest of Blacksburg, Virginia. He grew up near the Blue Ridge Mountains and spent his childhood days hunting, fishing, and riding a motorcycle. He lived on a working farm with cows and lots of land. As a kid, Dr. Conner described himself as a “geek.” He talked about having a microscope and chemistry set that he tinkered with during his adolescence. 

Dr. Conner described some of the must see attractions in Floyd County Virginia. There are the Blue Ridge Mountains with the Blue Ridge Parkway as well as the famous Mabry Mill. In addition, they hold Floyd Fest ( music festival. Besides that, there are wineries and lots of farmland and mountains.

Dr. Conner attended Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech or VT) as a first generation student. He wanted to stay in state and VT was close. Coming from such a small town, VT was a huge change with many more students and much bigger classes. Dr. Conner identified as being shy and struggling with making friends in this new place with all new people. He spent his undergraduate years alternating between working to pay for school and attending semesters at VT. Because of this, he graduated with no debt, but did not have a continuous group of classmates to go through college with. He graduated with a BS in mechanical engineering.

After graduating, Dr. Conner found a job and began working. He found that he loved the creative side of engineering like designing and math, but did not enjoy the management side. He decided to go back to school for his MS in mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech. He found that he wanted to continue his research and discovered the robotics program at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA where he went on to receive his MS and Ph D in robotics from Carnegie Mellon University. While there, he enjoyed the collaborative open door policy he was met with and the interdisciplinary faculty in the program. 

After getting his Ph D, Dr. Conner spent time working in the autonomous vehicles industry as a research scientist. After competing in the 2015 DARPA Robotics Challenge, he found he enjoyed working with students and decided he wanted to teach to have more impact in peoples’ lives. Going somewhere that valued teaching was important to him, so he chose Christopher Newport University and began teaching here in 2015.

Dr. Conner has tried many different things, research, graduate school, working in different jobs, and now he is teaching. He spoke of admiring the lack of fear of failure that Michael Jordan exhibited when he took a break from the NBA after winning 3 championships and pursued a baseball career before returning to the NBA. Dr. Conner encouraged students to try many different things. Dr. Conner’s advice for students interested in the creative side of engineering is to continue their studies in graduate school and get a masters. He advised students to find a program that specializes in the specific area they are interested in working in. 

Thank you to Dr. David Conner for joining us to talk about his experiences. He has shown us that it is okay to not know what you want to do and explore different options, and that failure should not be feared.

Tuesday Tea with Dr. Jonathan Backens

Dr. Jonathan Backens joined Physics, Computer Science, and Engineering department students and faculty on October 13 to reflect on his life experiences. Normally, Dr. Backens hosts these events with his excellent questions, but last week he had the opportunity to share about his own life. Dr. Backens grew up in rural South Dakota in a farming community. His family moved to Virginia when he was in 8th grade, so he attended high school in Virginia. When it came time to choose a University, Dr. Backens liked the size of Christopher Newport University and followed in his brother’s footsteps to study here. He originally planned to study mathematics, then transitioned to engineering. Dr. Backens graduated from CNU with a BS in computer engineering/ computer science. 

Dr. Backens in Voyages 2015

Almost immediately after graduation, Dr. Backens traveled to Botswana, Africa. There, he began to teach English and eventually got involved in IT and network work. After one year in Botswana, Dr.Backens got involved with a Dutch group in Zambia working to connect rural villages with internet. For the next three and a half years, he worked with mesh networks and network traffic in Zambia. 

Dr. Backens remembered the cultures he experienced fondly. He described a warm, relationship based culture where it was easy to connect and build relationships with people. In addition, Dr. Backens described the staple Nshima which is corn based and similar to grits. Nshima is the base to many meals with sauces, meats, and other things added. The one place he claimed you must visit is Victoria Falls in Linvingstone, Zambia. He said it was “hard to describe,” but definitely a “big highlight.”

Dr. Backens was inspired by his experiences in Africa to study communications and networking. He shared that his time in Botswana and Zambia “opened my eyes to the power and impact” this field has on people. When Dr. Backens returned to America, he started his graduate studies in wireless communications at Old Dominion University. He graduated with a Ph D in electrical and computer engineering. After graduate school, Dr. Backens was hired to teach engineering at his alma mater, Christopher Newport University. 

Dr. Backens advised undergraduate students “If you’re wondering if you should go abroad, you should. If you have the question, you’re the person who needs to do it.” He gained an incredible appreciation for being a minority and experiencing completely different cultures during his time in Africa. He encouraged travel saying, “you don’t know everything.” Given the opportunity to spend three weeks in Africa, Dr. Backens advised to spend the first week observing and understanding. Then, build relationships with the people and the community. Only then, begin to apply your own expertise and experience. Dr. Backens said it’s important to be aware that “other cultures exist and have developed and evolved to their current state. You don’t have to fix anything.”

Thank you to Dr. Backens for sharing your wisdom with us, and reminding us that there can be more than one right way of doing things. Perhaps we should all approach life with the intent to learn and observe.

Pizza My Mind Presented by the MITRE Corporation

The MITRE Corporation joined the Physics, Computer Science and Engineering department students and faculty on October 8th for Pizza My Mind. MITRE is a not-for-profit organization created to serve the public interest by focusing on science and technology and solving problems for the country. MITRE has seven Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs).  Presenters Lowell Asher (Project Leader and Multi-Discipline Systems Engineer) and Amndeep Mann (Hampton Roads STEM Outreach Coordinator) work out of the Hampton location under the National Security and Engineering Center FFRDC.

Mr. Asher, who is also a member of the Department of Physics, Computer Science and Engineering Industry Advisory Board, spoke proudly of the culture at MITRE. There, the environment is similar to an academic setting; grace and respect are important. Work is peer reviewed and coworkers address each other by their first name. There are community building opportunities such as local volunteering. In addition, MITRE made sure to take care of their employees when everyone started working from home due to Covid-19. Employees were given laptops and smartphones so they could continue to access the internet and their work. 

MITRE is passionate about learning and research. They offer technical conferences, engage in knowledge sharing, and have an Innovation Program to encourage independent research in disruptive technologies. Additionally, there are supplemental technical courses as well as courses to develop business and management skills. Not only that, but MITRE also offers loan assistance, tuition reimbursement, and bonuses for degree completion. 

MITRE is looking to hire summer interns to work in emerging technologies. Requirements include being a US citizen or permanent resident, a minimum 3.0 GPA, and being a current student or recent graduate. Interns work directly with sponsors and mentors and are often offered full time positions for post-graduation. 

For more information visit:

Thank you to MITRE and presenters Lowell Asher and Amndeep Mann for your awesome presentation!

Tuesday Tea with Dr. Marissa Walker

On October 6th, the Physics, Computer Science and Engineering students and faculty had the pleasure of learning about Dr. Marissa Walker’s life and experiences. Dr. Walker teaches physics and astronomy, and this is her second year teaching at Christopher Newport University. She is also very involved in research on campus, specifically in LIGO. 

When Dr. Walker was born, her parents were missionaries in Botswana, Africa, where she spent a good portion of her childhood. Dr. Walker shared some of the cool things she experienced in Botswana including being exposed to a different language and culture, attending religious services in a different language, and being outside in nature, close to wildlife, in a place where she could see the stars because there was so little light pollution. After middle school, her family moved to Texas where she stayed through college. Dr. Walker attended Abilene Christian University for her BS in physics and Louisiana State University for her Ph D in physics. 

During high school, Dr. Walker was inspired to spend extra time learning about physics as she enjoyed the challenge and found that she understood it well. Her parents encouraged her to go into math and science, which was challenging as no one in her immediate family is involved in STEM, but they value higher education and know how to navigate it. Dr. Walker said her family is always there to support her. 

Dr. Walker pursued studying gravitational waves in graduate school because of interest in the subject. She found that reading about LIGO was always more interesting to her than other areas of physics, and it seemed worth it to pursue further studies. After graduating, Dr. Walker spent a year in California for postdoctoral research. After that, she applied to teach at universities throughout the United States. Christopher Newport University was particularly appealing due to the existence of a LIGO research team. Research is a collaborative process, so it is important to Dr. Walker to be around people working on similar projects.

Alongside teaching, Dr. Walker is leading research projects with students. The LIGO group is a very active on campus research group. If any students are interested in participating in this research, they can reach out to Dr. Walker via email:

Dr. Walker shared her experiences with feeling out of place. Coming from Botswana, and being a woman in a mostly male dominated field have contributed to these feelings. Dr. Walker offered advice for anyone who may be facing similar struggles, “Find people to talk to that you can relate to. Find someone you work well with that you can be yourself around. Make friends, and find a supportive network.” Dr. Walker reported that overall, she has had a good experience in the field with some excellent mentors and awesome research groups. 

Thank you Dr. Walker for sharing your unique experiences!

Pizza My Mind Presented by Lockheed Martin

On October 1st, Physics, Computer Science and Engineering students and faculty had the pleasure of attending Pizza My Mind featuring Lockheed Martin. Lockheed Martin is a defense centric organization with four main areas: aeronautics, missiles and fire control, rotary and mission systems, and space. They serve primarily the U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. federal government agencies and have locations all across the United States as well as internationally.

 Presenters Dennis Coo (Director of Systems Engineering), John Rosebrook (Engineering Leadership Development Manager), Michael Hitt (Systems Engineer Manager), David Kroell (CNU Alum and Software Engineering ELDP), and Anne Baer (CNU Alumna and Systems Engineer) came from the Manassas Headquarters and work in Rotary Missions Systems. There are nine sectors in Rotary Mission Systems: command, control, communications, computer, cyber, combat, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance.   

 Lockheed Martin has a lot to offer their employees. They have positions available for interns as well as new graduates.  Employees are eligible for education assistance to help them earn their advanced degree or professional certifications. Additional benefits include 401(k) Plan, flexible work hours, and PTO. Lockheed Martin goes out of the way to promote a good work-life balance.

 In addition to benefits offered by Lockheed Martin, the Manassas area also has a lot to offer. There are a lot of fun things to do in the area including parks, historical sites, and the Air and Space Museum. Manassas is close to Washington DC and several universities including George Mason University. Other things available in the area are good restaurants and shopping. 

 Lockheed Martin is looking to hire all years and majors. Apply now!

 Thank you to Lockheed Martin and presenters Dennis Coo, John Rosebrook, Michael Hitt, David Kroell, and Anne Baer for joining us.  We hope to see you again soon!

Tuesday Tea with Dr. Antonio Siochi

On September 29, Dr. Antonio Siochi,who primarily teaches data structures & algorithms, computer science & theology led last week’s Tuesday Tea discussion and shared experiences from his cultural heritage with students and faculty.  Dr. Siochi is from the Philippines, and attended the same school, elementary through high school. He said his experiences throughout school shaped who he is today. He talked of being pushed by his teachers and consistently held to a higher expectation of learning. Students were given problems and expected to solve them. Also expected was a high level of respect for elders and superiors. It was in the Philippines at the Ateneo de Manila University that Dr. Siochi got his B.S. in Chemistry. Soon after, he came to Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (VT) to study computer science. Unfortunately, computer science was not a field available to study in the Philippines at the time. Dr. Siochi’s parents had come to VT for grad school,  so he followed in their footsteps and got both his M.S. and Ph. D. in Computer Science and Applications at VT.

Dr. Antonio Siochi

Dr. Siochi began teaching at Christopher Newport College in 1990. Here he has pursued researching topics he is interested in including making unit testing easier for students, using computer science to make teaching better, and generally making the user experience better. Currently, he is working with a graduate student on developing a way for students to not have to write the code for J-unit tests themselves.

Dr. Siochi found his passion for computer science when he realized, “this makes sense to me.” During his childhood he tinkered with a computer kit, but could not formally learn computer science until he reached VT. The path of academia “feels like what I was built for,” reported Dr. Siochi. He said the most rewarding part of teaching is “seeing the lightbulb go off” when a student understands something. Keys to success according to Dr. Siochi include trying to discover “who you’re supposed to be” and “playing to your strengths rather than trying to force something.”

When asked about his culture, Dr. Siochi was quick to talk about the common greeting. In the Philippines, people ask “Have you eaten yet?” rather than “How are you?” He also described a few of the tasty dishes he misses like boiled beef. Dr. Siochi also stated that if you ever visit the Philippines, you have to “be brave and sample the street food.” He also talked fondly of his Catholic faith, something very important to him.

Thank you to Dr. Antonio Siochi for your inspiring wisdom and reminding us that no matter where you come from, there is always something to be discovered and explored.

Student Spotlight – Samith Chowdhury

Over the past summer, the Physics, Computer Science and Engineering department has seen its students rise above and beyond to meet challenges and do amazing things. One such student is Samith Chowdhury, an electrical engineer set to graduate spring 2022. Samith navigated a busy summer conducting research with Dr. Hessam Keshtkar in Christopher Newport University’s Summer Scholars program. He also rose to the call of the Poetry Society of Virginia who needed an entirely new website.

Samith Chowdhury

Samith, alongside Dr. Keshtkar, worked on a research project studying electric vehicles (EV) and a Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) system. Electric vehicles are becoming increasingly popular, and this trend is expected to continue. The number of electric vehicles on the street impacts the power system which currently has little to no storage. The idea of a V2G system is to use the batteries of parked EVs as an energy source to compensate for high energy or emergency needs and keep the grid stable. Samith studied the effect of different energy generation units such as diesel engine generator (DEG), photovoltaic (PV) systems, and wind turbine generators (WTG) using a V2G microgrid model.

In addition to Summer Scholars research, Samith responded to the Poetry Society of Virginia’s call for a new website. They lost access to their old website, so Samith and migrated everything over to a new more user-friendly WordPress website. Terry Cox-Joseph, the president of the Poetry Society of Virgina, spoke highly of Samith and his work, “He renewed our website. And saved our sanity. Thank you, Samith. Thank you, CNU. Even as poets, there are no words to express our gratitude.”

Terry Cox-Joseph

The most challenging aspect of the summer, Samith shared, was the time management aspect of everything. With so many different projects and focuses pulling his attention, he had to allocate time and plan to make sure he was on top of everything that needed to get done. Despite being extraordinarily busy, Samith said “The work I do is genuinely something I’m passionate about, and that itself is what makes it all worth it.” Doing what he loves, was his favorite part of the summer.

Samith highly recommends participating in Summer Scholars, “Not only is it clout for you to get a jump in your career and stand out, but it’s also really cool to get into something you think is interesting.” He believes that everyone should pursue what makes them happy and get involved in projects they find interesting. Getting involved is a good way to gauge what you’re interested in and what you enjoy doing.

V2G Based Microgrid

Thank you to Samith for sharing about your summer experiences. Thank you to Terry Cox-Joseph for your feedback as well.

Pizza My Mind Presented by Amazon

Amazon presented Pizza My Mind on September 24th. Brian Riley (Head of Talent Acquisition HQ2), Michael Johnson (CNU alum and Software Engineer, AWS Key Management Services), and Sarah Newell (CNU alumna and Tech Recruiter, AWS) joined the Physics, Computer Science and Engineering department virtually to talk about Amazon’s culture and student hiring. Amazon focuses on e-commerce, cloud computing, digital streaming, and artificial intelligence. Many things fall under the Amazon umbrella including the well known, amazon prime, amazon fresh, amazon alexa, and Amazon Web Services (AWS). 

Amazon proudly stands by their leadership principles: customer obsession, ownership, invent and simplify, are right a lot, learn and be curious, hire and develop the best, insist on the highest standards, think big, bias for action, frugality, earn trust, dive deep, have backbone – disagree and commit, and deliver results. These principles are a big part of the culture at Amazon as reported by Mr. Riley.  

Amazon has a lot of job openings, especially with the construction of their new location HQ2 in Crystal City, Arlington, Virginia. They are a large and fast growing company looking to hire people from a variety of backgrounds that are passionate about invention. There are full time and internship opportunities available for recent graduates and current students. Amazon employees receive many benefits including competitive pay, relocation assistance, housing stipends, and mentors to guide them. Many events are held for interns to encourage community and connections. Employees get excited about intern projects; they attend the final presentations of the interns, and often the projects are turned into a real product used by Amazon.

Mr. Johnson’s recommendation for students is “study whatever your passion is.” He advised those looking to apply to follow the advice of the recruiters in the interview process. They send you links to prepare and tell you what the process will be. He also suggested that students “take an interest in technologies above and beyond what you see in the classroom.” Success requires a drive to learn.

Thank you to Amazon and our three presenters Brian Riley, Michael Johnson, and Sarah Newell for joining us.

To learn more about the Amazon internship process, visit:

To apply for a job with Amazon, visit: