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ODU Engineering Student's Passion to be Recognized at Commencement

By Brendan O'Hallarn

Christopher Day will not be at spring commencement exercises to receive his Doctor of Engineering degree from Old Dominion University.

Day's father, Stephen, will walk across the stage at the Ted Convocation Center to pick up the degree in his honor. Christopher died April 10 of bone cancer after an eight-month struggle. He was 34.

His fellow students and faculty members in the Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology remember Day's passion and kindness. They wanted to make sure Chris was with them in spirit when they receive their degrees.

"Our hearts are broken for all the reasons you can imagine," Stephen said. "Chris had a passion for life, and his illness and untimely death are a tragedy. But in half the time most of us have on this earth, he touched many lives. Even while undergoing intense chemotherapy and surgery, he continued to be a friend to everyone he met."

Day's wife Cory said he was passionate about his studies. "His research focused on executive teams, but he was trying to improve organizations for every worker, and truly believed everyone should have the opportunity to grow and be more," she said.

Pilar Pazos, associate professor of engineering management in the Batten College of Engineering and Technology, met Day when he took her Analysis of Complex Organizations class in 2009. At the time, he was a master's student in engineering at Virginia Tech and a full-time employee at Naval Facilities Command in Norfolk.

"He was passionate about it," Pazos said. "I could tell from the first time he was in class."

Day discovered that his research on executive teams was applicable to his full-time job. He enrolled in a doctoral program at Old Dominion, where his research interests meshed with those of Pazos. But more than just her student and research colleague, Day became a dear friend.

"He was very kind, very considerate. He was always trying to make a difference in what he did, not only for himself but for everyone he met," Pazos said.

Cory Day loved how he took his passion for his studies home, and incorporated it in how he lived his life. "He really saw it all as interconnected - how he thought businesses and organizations should work had so much to do with the way he thought people should treat each other in their personal lives as well," she said.

Nina Magpili, a fellow graduate student in engineering management, admired Day's drive and passion. She valued his friendship even more.

"The first time I listened to him speak as a guest lecturer in my class, I knew I wanted to be just like him," Magpili said. "He shared not only knowledge but also passion, connection, wonder and meaning. Those, along with his great support and cheers for me, will always live in me. I am honored that he has touched my life."

Despite his affinity for the coursework, balancing a full-time career and a doctorate was a struggle for Day. He met with Pazos last summer to set a plan to complete his dissertation. "Then two weeks later, he got the awful news," Pazos said.

Initially, his treatment appeared to be working. But in February, Day received word that the cancer had spread, and would soon take his life. That made Pazos determined that her student would receive recognition for the years of work he had put into his doctorate.

"The Ph.D. dissertation requirements are very strict," she said. "But working with Academic Affairs, Chris fulfilled all the requirements and was awarded a Doctor of Engineering, a professionally focused doctoral degree."

Robert Wojtowicz, associate vice provost for graduate studies, said that in recognition of the work Day had done on his dissertation by December, the Office of Academic Affairs backdated his degree.

Laura Vann in the Office of the University Registrar updated Day's transcript and printed his diploma. The University framed it, and Pazos took a picture and texted it to Day so that he could see it.

"That was one of the last times I communicated with him. He was so excited," Pazos said, blinking away tears.

Stephen Day said his family is touched by Old Dominion's efforts to ensure his son would receive his doctorate. The family is creating a memorial fund to honor his research on conflict in executive teams.

"We are so grateful to ODU, and especially Dr. Pazos, for their efforts to honor Chris and to celebrate his research efforts before he died. We are committed to carrying on his legacy, and it is our hope that the memorial fund will allow his research to continue."

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