Tag Archive for Tuesday Tea

Tuesday Tea with Dr. Farideh Doost Mohammadi

On December 1, 2020, Tuesday Tea featured Dr. Farideh Doost Mohammadi, a professor here in Christopher Newport University’s department of Physics, Computer Science and Engineering. Dr. Mohammadi is from Tehran, the capital of Iran. She got her BS in electrical Engineering at the Iran University of Science and Technology, her MS in Electrical Engineering at the Amirkabir University of Technology, and she came to the United States to get her Ph D in Electrical Engineering at West Virginia University. 

Dr. Farideh Doost Mohammadi

Dr. Mohammadi reminisced about the differences between life in Tehran and here in the United States. Once a year in Iran, there was an entrance exam (students choose between engineering, medicine, or law) held for all students who wanted to attend university. All students who took the entrance exam were ranked, and this determined what universities they would be able to attend. Dr. Mohammadi chose to pursue engineering, because there were more options within the field and many of her family members are in electrical engineering. 

The difference between Iran and the United States extends beyond education. Dr. Mohammadi shared that she was shocked by the change of pace from Tehran where “everyone is running,” to the United States where things are calmer. She also spoke fondly of holidays she celebrated with family in Tehran like the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox.  She spoke of how mothers in Iran have a great skill for cooking, and when she was a kid her family always ate food at home rather than going out. Iran is famous for hospitality, and she shared that people will welcome you into their homes.

Dr. Mohammadi worked as a teaching assistant during her bachelors and masters program and found that she enjoyed teaching and wanted to stay in academia. However, becoming a university professor in Iran is much more difficult for women, so she came to the United States. Dr. Mohammadi likes Christopher Newport University for the connection between the university and industry and the focus on experimental and practical learning.  Dr. Mohammadi’s studies focus on power system controls and renewable power. 

Thank you to Dr. Mohammadi for sharing about her life and experiences.

Tuesday Tea with Dr. Lynn Lambert

Dr. Lynn Lambert joined students and fellow professors October 27 for Tuesday Tea. Dr. Lambert is a computer science professor as well as the Interim Director for Graduate Student Studies here at Christopher Newport University. 

Dr. Lynn Lambert

Dr. Lambert grew up in Florida, but applied to two schools in vastly different parts of the country. She had spent about a year near Chicago and loved the city, so applied to the University of Chicago. Her older sister wanted to go to Wellesley College, but couldn’t. Dr. Lambert applied and ended up studying at Wellesley, an all women’s college in Massachusetts and the sister school of MIT. Dr. Lambert majored in Latin, but also took the two computer science courses that were offered and several math courses during her undergraduate studies. 

After graduating, Dr. Lambert applied for various jobs and got hired as a Payroll Programmer for the Navy. There were few computer science degrees at the time, so major didn’t matter as much for programming jobs. She began taking graduate level courses that segued into teaching.

Dr. Lambert traveled to Christchurch, New Zealand. There, she taught at the University of Canterbury, gave talks, and spent time touring New Zealand. In research universities such as Canterbury, most professors taught only one class a semester and were quite removed from the students. Her time in New Zealand gave Dr. Lambert an appreciation for what it’s like to teach at one such research institution. She gave talks about computer science education in the United States. The New Zealand Secretary of Education attended one of her talks.

Dr. Lambert arrived at Christopher Newport almost by accident. She applied to over 100 universities around the United States. Christopher Newport gave her a call, and despite this school being nothing like what she was familiar with, she came for a campus visit. Upon arriving here, she realized that the faculty were incredibly welcoming and the environment was upbeat and exciting.

Now, Dr. Lambert is the Interim Director for Graduate Student Studies and oversees the four graduate programs at Christopher Newport University. This is her “favorite thing [she’s] done at CNU.” She offered advice for students about to graduate, “As much as you can, be curious. The more curious you are, the more opportunities you will find.” She also advised students to “try new stuff,” because that is how she got where she is. 

Thank you to Dr. Lynn Lambert for sharing her wisdom. Hopefully we can be inspired by her curiosity to all explore the world ourselves and be open to new opportunities.

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 (https://floydfest.com/) 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.

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: marissa.walker@cnu.edu.

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!

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.

Tuesday Tea with Dr. Anton Riedl

September 22nd’s Tuesday Tea featured Dr. Anton Riedl, the Physics, Computer Science and Engineering department chair. Dr. Riedl is from Bavaria, Germany. He grew up not far from Munich. It was there he attended Munich University of Technology to pursue a five-year degree (Diplom Ingenieur). During that time, Dr. Riedl spent a year at Purdue University in Indiana where he got his masters in electrical engineering. He returned to Munich to first complete the Dipl.-Ing. degree and then his doctorate, both in electrical and computer engineering.

Throughout his life, Dr. Riedl had an interest in engineering which drew him to pursue further study in the topic. While studying at the university, he was inspired by his professors and also by graduate students who worked as teaching assistants. He thought, “I would like to do that, too.” Another contributing factor to becoming a professor and staying in academia was his wish to be in a position to help students and provide guidance in things like college, scholarships, and job applications.

Dr. Riedl was also particularly drawn to the environment of teaching and working at a university. He enjoys working alongside people and in a diverse environment. This and a passion for learning new things in new fields and being able to apply this knowledge have made teaching at Christopher Newport University a good fit for him.

Being from Germany, Dr. Riedl spoke fondly of his cultural background. Bavaria has a lot of opportunities to engage with people outdoors. There are mountains and hills to go hiking and little places to stop and eat along the way. Germany and the surrounding areas also have some cool old castles. And, of course, there is the Oktoberfest in Munich, about which Dr. Riedl said, “You have to experience it for yourself.”

For students, Dr. Riedl offered the advice, “work hard and you can do really well.” He advised fully committing and applying yourself to your work. In addition, “build your relationships and networks.” Sometimes knowing the right people opens incredible opportunities. Also, having spent a few weeks as an exchange student in the U.S. during his high school years and later on a year for his masters, he highly recommends studying abroad for anyone who gets this opportunity. It’s a great way to engage in diverse cultures and get a better understanding of international communities around the world.

Thanks to Dr. Riedl for sharing his life experiences.

Tuesday Tea with Dr. Mohammad Almalag

The Physics, Computer Science and Engineering department at Christopher Newport University hosts an event called “Tuesday Tea” every Tuesday for students and faculty to meet, drink tea, and chat. This semester, the events are held virtually and feature a different international professor from the department each week. Students and faculty who tune in get to learn about their culture, which is a great way to foster diversity in an organic way. This past Tuesday, September 15, Dr. Mohammad Almalag shared about his life.

Dr. Almalag was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. There, he grew up and attended King Saud University for his undergraduate degree in computer science. This was not always his intended major, however. When he first started university, he was studying pharmacy. Taking an anatomy class, Dr. Almalag quickly realized this was not what he wanted to do, so he followed his passion for computer science. 

After graduating, Dr. Almalag received a scholarship to come to the United States to get his masters at Ball State University and Ph.D at Old Dominion Univeristy, both in computer science. He chose teaching over several other job offers, because it is his passion, and “life is too short” so you should “do what you love.” Dr. Almalag’s current research projects include researching traffic patterns before, during, and after the pandemic and refining an algorithm for cloud computing. 

Dr. Almalag is very proud of his home country and culture. There are a lot of historical landmarks in Saudi Arabia including castles in mountains and scuba diving in the Red Sea that he listed as must see attractions. Having great respect for elders is very important, family is everything, and you can always know you have a great support system surrounding you. Dr. Almalag spoke longingly of the good middle eastern food he misses. 

Besides teaching and research, Dr. Almalag loves to grill and fix or build new things. He gave some great advice for students pursuing computer science: Make sure you like what you are doing and are putting in the work necessary. “Focus on your strengths.”

Thanks to Dr. Almalag for sharing his life experiences.