Education Drive America Story

As the U.S. Department of Education’s annual bus tour made its way across the country in September 2012, it stopped at the Virginia Commonwealth University College of Engineering where Debra Saunders-White, Ed.D., deputy assistant secretary of education, addressed the link between education and jobs.

“We are living in a global space,” Saunders-White said. “We need to be first in the world in terms of being able to produce the type of intellectual talent that’s needed to sustain the U.S. and keep our national security intact.”

As a testament to VCU’s commitment to workforce development and educational excellence, six of eight engineering graduate students participated in the meeting where attendees included students and faculty from the College of Engineering and School of Education as well as the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences and the VCU School of Medicine. The students, all past or present fellows in the Department of Education’s Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN), shared their experiences in hopes of stimulating interest in post secondary science, technology, engineering, math or health (STEM-H) degree programs.

The GAANN program supports exceptional doctoral students who plan to pursue the highest degree available in their course of study in fields deemed critical to the U.S.: biology, chemistry, computer and information sciences, engineering, mathematics, nursing, physics and educational assessment, evaluation and research.


Sonya Bhavsar
Thesis Advisor: Amy Throckmorton, Ph.D.
Bhavsar received her master’s in mechanical and nuclear engineering in 2010 where she conducted research in congenital heart defects, specifically single ventricle anomalies. She is pursuing her doctoral studies abroad at RWTH Aachen University in Aachen, Germany.

Steven G. Chopski
Chopski received his bachelor’s in biomedical engineering in 2008. He is studying for his doctorate in mechanical engineering.

Joshua Clarke
Thesis Advisor: James T. McLeskey Jr., Ph.D.
Clarke received his master’s in mechanical and nuclear engineering in 2011 and continued in the doctoral program conducting research in energy conversion. After receiving his doctorate, he will work as a research engineer at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Va.

Christopher Gowen, Ph.D.
Dissertation Advisor: Steven Fong, Ph.D.
Gowen received his master’s and doctorate degrees in chemical and life science engineering in December 2008 and August 2011, respectively. He accepted a postdoctoral position at the University of Toronto where he is continuing his research.

Landon Holbrook
Dissertation Advisor: P. Worth Longest, Ph.D.
Holbrook received his bachelor’s in mechanical engineering with minors in physics and mathematical sciences in 2009 and continued in the doctoral program.

Dat Tien Nguyen
Dissertation Advisors: Krzysztof Cios, Ph.D., Rosalyn Hobson Hargraves, Ph.D.
Nguyen will complete his doctorate in computer science in 2013. With bachelor’s degrees in both information systems and computer science from the University of Economics in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, he received a master’s in computer science from National University in Ho Chi Minh City. One focus of his research is learning algorithms.

Marshall Louis Sweet
Dissertation advisor: James T. McLeskey Jr., Ph.D.
Sweet received his master’s in mechanical and nuclear engineering in 2010 and will complete his doctorate in 2013 with a dissertation titled “Water Soluble Polymer Solar Cells based on Electrospray Atomization Deposition.”

Kendra Woodberry
Dissertation advisor: Frank Gupton, Ph.D.
Woodberry received her master’s in chemical and life science engineering in 2011 and will complete her doctorate in 2013. Her research focus is in the development of heterogeneous catalysts used for cross coupling chemical reactions.