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ODU’s First Class of MSVE Graduates to Receive Degrees

They are the pioneers.

They're four Old Dominion engineering students whose years of work have led to the university's commencement program on Saturday morning, when each will walk across the stage to receive a bachelor's degree.

But together, Tyrell Gardner, Lucas Lezzi, Tien Nhan, and Spencer Lane also comprise the country's first class of undergraduate modeling, simulation and visualization (MSVE) engineering students.

"They've spoiled us. They're very smart, very motivated, very focused and, more importantly, they're nice kids," said Roland Mielke, professor and chair of the MSVE department in ODU's Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology. "It's not often you get to work with a group of students like that."

Three of the students - Gardner, Lezzi and Nhan - are planning to do graduate work in M&S at ODU. Gardner, 30, from Virginia Beach, was the outstanding scholar in the engineering college this year. He ultimately wants to go to medical school.

"Modeling and simulation has given me the skill set to solve real-world problems," Gardner said.

The fourth graduate has his own incredible story. Lane, who is from Virginia Beach, came to the university as a 14-year-old, skipping high school altogether on the advice of his physician. Lane suffers from Crohn's disease, making it difficult for him to sit for extended periods of time.

Now 18, Lane has excelled at ODU, and has been accepted to the prestigious robotics and aerospace robotics graduate program at MIT.

"I think ODU provided me with a great opportunity," Lane said. "They took a chance with me. They saw my potential, and helped me to succeed as a student here."

The four students recently finished their capstone senior design project, presenting their vision for a virtual environment for physicians to receive obstetrics training to a panel of ODU engineering faculty and medical faculty from Eastern Virginia Medical School.

The presentation, at EVMS's Sentara Center for Simulation and Immersive Learning, could lead to elements of the students' research being rolled into instruction given to EVMS students.

The project fits with the ethos that the four graduates brought to their studies at ODU. "When I was in high school, I wanted to be an architect," said Nhan, 22, from Virginia Beach. "But an architect designing a building, even an engineer, can't benefit society in the way that this research can. We're searching for solutions to help solve real-world problems."

The students are also filling a vital need in the workforce. According to industry experts, there are currently 10,000 unfilled jobs nationwide for modeling and simulation workers, including 1,500 in Virginia and 200 in Hampton Roads.

Long a leader in the discipline of modeling and simulation, ODU added an undergraduate modeling, simulation and visualization engineering program in 2010. The program, which has attracted interest from students from across the country, is the first of its kind in the United States. It also makes ODU the only higher education institution to offer a complete postsecondary education in the burgeoning field of M&S, from undergraduate through postdoctoral.

"This program is almost exactly what we had envisioned at the very beginning when it was designed," Mielke said. "After getting feedback from modeling and simulation industry folks that this was what they were looking for, we haven't made any major changes."

Part of the reason the program has required so few changes is that the advisory board of industry officials gave many suggestions when the program was launched in fall of 2010, Mielke said. "If you get a chance to start from scratch, you'd be crazy not to take the advice of people who will hire your product."

Lezzi, 22, from Chesapeake, said that feedback from the undergraduate MSVE program's first class of students has been eagerly sought by the instructors. "It's been very interesting to go through and be part of the program as it's being developed," he said.

Mielke said in addition to filling needed gaps in the M&S industry, ODU would like to become the model for other universities that seek to create their own undergraduate MSVE programs.

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