Catching up with VCU Engineering’s first graduates: The Class of 2000

Robbie Staples, PE; Mia Sanchez de Lozada, D.D.S.

Twenty-five years ago, VCU Engineering opened with a cohort of 103 students who would become — significantly — the class of 2000, VCU Engineering’s first graduating class. Today, these intrepid alumni are making a difference across the nation and the world. We caught up with some of them to find out what they remember about the earliest days of the college.

Meet Robbie Staples, PE 

Business Analyst and Developer

Old Dominion Electric Cooperative

Glen Allen, Virginia

What do you remember most (or most fondly) about your time at VCU Engineering? 

I remember Dr. [Robert] Mattauch, Dr. [Gary] Tate, Dr. [Roslyn] Hobson and Dr. [Robert] Klenke as teachers who stood out to me. Dr. Mattauch was always so nice and Dr. Tate was my Engineering 101 professor. Dr. Hobson really enjoyed robotics and I did some of that, as well. It was always fun to visit and talk to Dr. Hobson after graduating. Dr. Klenke really prepared me for life after school by keeping things challenging and by exposing me to ideas that did not come to me so easily. Our senior design project was a robotic spider that navigated a maze. Dr. Klenke had the idea that allowed our spider to finish the maze!

What would people be surprised to learn about those early days of the program?

For the first two years, all our classes, including the engineering classes, were held in other buildings around campus, as West Hall was not completed until our junior year, in 1998. Getting West Hall was incredible and definitely made the Engineering classes more fun. The couches scattered throughout were a nice place to hang out.


Meet Mia Sanchez de Lozada, D.D.S. (Formerly Dieu “Mia” Pham) 

Owner, Smiles by Mia

Burke, Virginia

What would people be surprised to learn about those early days of the program?

There was no undergraduate biomedical engineering program in the first two years. I started in electrical engineering and then switched over to biomedical engineering in my third year. I was the only graduate of the biomedical engineering program in 2000 and the first undergraduate BME major in the state of Virginia.  

What was the campus like back then?

Much smaller, with only the main building [West Hall]. I visited two years ago and was amazed at how much it has progressed!

What was your goal when you first started at VCU Engineering? Did you achieve it?

I wanted an undergraduate degree that would prepare me well and set me apart from other aspiring doctors. I have always wanted to be a doctor, but didn’t want to do biology like everyone else. I received a full scholarship to VCU’s engineering school and was able to get into dental school without any problems — I think I was one of the only applicants with an engineering degree. 

What are you doing now? How did VCU Engineering help prepare you for it?  

I am a dentist and have had my own practice for the past 15 years in Burke Virginia, called Smiles by Mía. Engineering school really helped me with the discipline required for my studies in dental school.