First TCC mod/sim grads earn degrees

Published 10:12 pm Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Whether they’re helping train Navy sailors on a carrier or helping local and federal emergency services coordinate during a biological attack, graduates from one of Tidewater Community College’s newest programs can get the job done.

The modeling and simulation program, which began fours years ago, graduated its first two students, Pat Butler and Lawrence Robertson, on Friday.

“Hampton Roads is such a big area for modeling and simulation,” said Jody Strausser, assistant professor of modeling and simulation. “I’m really happy to see the students graduating. We want to follow these students and continue to develop the program to meet requirements of the industry.”

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The modeling and simulation program is a two-year program, from which students graduate with an associate degree in applied science in technical studies with a specialization in modeling and simulation.

Robinson, 35, who is interning at Alion, used the modeling and simulation program as a gateway into a field that was weathering the economic recession.

“I’d heard it was an upcoming industry in the area and read a few articles about how the local area was looking to bring it into the area,” Robinson said. “I’d moved here from New York after working in aviation support. I hadn’t done much with information technology before but was looking for a new career.”

The program began after industry leaders such as Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Mymic, Alion and United States Joint Forces Command brought the idea to TCC and described having a need for trained individuals to work for their companies.

“At the time, there were PhD and master’s programs, but no one to assist on a lower level,” Strausser said. “They needed someone to develop the models and programming that go into making the systems effective for training and to develop someone at the technical specialist level to support the folks coming up with the big ideas.”

The program, which is highly involved with computer programming and visualization, teaches students how to use computers to create lifelike situations.

“We use lots of visualization for our training programs,” Strausser said. “At this point, it’s mainly defense based, but it’s quickly changing into healthcare as the next big explosion for modeling and simulation.”

Strausser said the program began with seven or eight students and has expanded to 68 students.

Many of the students in his courses get involved because of an interest in gaming.

“Hampton Roads doesn’t have a large gaming community, but we do have modeling and simulation,” Strausser said. “The skills used to build a game are highly transferable to the ones you need in modeling and simulation.”

While the program takes hard work, it gives students the skills they need to start in an expanding field.

“I spent an average of six to eight hours every day in front of the computer working on school,” Robinson said. “I believe my hard work will pay off. It’s been a great experience.”