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Weisel Wants to Keep Pushing ODU M&S in New Directions

By Brendan O'Hallarn

Inquiring about teaching opportunities at Tidewater Community College nearly two decades ago, Eric Weisel dropped by Old Dominion University's Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center (VMASC), which was then in the same building, just out of curiosity.

"Two weeks later, I had enrolled in the then-new Ph. D. program in modeling and simulation and had a job as a project scientist," said Weisel, who was transitioning out of his job as a submarine officer for the Navy.

Today, Weisel is VMASC's interim executive director.

Working as a project scientist for VMASC while completing his doctorate, Weisel became aware of the many applications of the discipline of modeling and simulation.

"M&S is ubiquitous. It's everywhere," he said. "Computational models drive everything from the weather forecast you pull up on your phone to the selection of ads your social media provider posts on your news feed. M&S is a transformational technology."

Weisel was installed June 10 as interim executive director. John Sokolowski retired as executive director in April.

Weisel wants to continue to explore the intersection of modeling and simulation and related technology areas such as cybersecurity, autonomy and training systems. VMASC researchers have modeled everything from the spread of religion to the recovery of vulnerable populations from storm events.

"Through these adjacent technology areas, we have the opportunity to expand the scope and impact of VMASC to the benefit of both the University and the Hampton Roads region," said Weisel, who will continue to work to ensure a strong partnership between VMASC and regional employers.

Weisel's time as a Navy submariner, then at defense contractor General Dynamics, then as Old Dominion University's director of applied research, proved one thing to him: "The government contracting business is incredibly complicated."

However, VMASC's track record of contract research allows Old Dominion researchers not only to conduct M&S work for government clients, but also to leverage partnerships with other University researchers, in areas ranging from cybersecurity to big data.

Morris Foster, Old Dominion vice president of research, said VMASC is an under-appreciated strength in the University's research and economic development portfolio.

"Modeling and simulation can be applied to any content area and is increasingly important in the growth of a variety of economic sectors in Hampton Roads," Foster said. "Eric brings the right combination of business development, experience in both military and private sectors, and engagement with a variety of regional stakeholder groups to move VMASC forward in this transitional period."

VMASC is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. In its early years, a lot of its work was in support of U.S. Joint Forces Command. Now VMASC boasts a diverse portfolio of research and development work for a large number of clients.

"In the meantime, we've grown our research capacity to become much more diversified. Now we're looking to grow collaboration with faculty-led research centers across the University," Weisel said.

"Between us, we can build a significantly larger research enterprise."

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