Spring 2011 Commencement

Publish Date: 05/18/2011

On Saturday, May 14, the Virginia Tech College of Engineering conferred degrees on the class of 2011, including approximately 60 Computer Science undergraduate students.  Graduate degrees were conferred at the Graduate Commencement on Friday, May 13.  On Friday evening, Computer Science graduates, their guests and families, enjoyed a reception in the Torgersen Museum.  Several students were recognized for outstanding achievements and contributions, including Ben Reid and Andrew Street for undergraduate academic achievement, Kristin Whetstone for service to the department, and Elizabeth Timmons as the Outstanding CS Senior.  Three graduate students were also recognized: Shaimaa Lazem for outstanding teaching, Mayank Daga as the outstanding Master's student and Dong Li as the outstanding doctoral student.  Both Michael Lapping and Thomas Carroll Jones were awarded the George Gorsline Memorial Scholarship Award, given each year to a rising senior who has made the most significant rebound from his freshman year.

 For pictures and more details about the event, please scroll down.

Undergraduate Awards

Kristin Whetstone was awarded the Computer Science Service Award. Kristin has spent untold hours in service to the department and the university. She has been a devoted and tireless undergraduate teaching assistant. As a member of the Association for Women in Computing she served as the Student Engineers Council Representative, Women in Computing Day Chair for 2011 (bringing ~90 middle school girls to VT to learn about CS), Vice President, and President. She was the Student Engineers' Council Director of Relations and Chair of Engineers' Week 2009. Kristin also has been an enthusiastic recruiter for our department. She has been a Computer Science Ambassador to help tell high school students and their families about Computer Science. This has involved presentations at our daily CS Information Sessions, weekend duty during Admissions and College of Engineering recruiting events, and travel to Northern Virginia to make presentations to high school students. Kristin has visited Hypatia (housing for women in Engineering) both as a CS rep through the CEED office and as part of Dr. McCrickard's research group.

Kristin states "Mostly if there was a service opportunity I tried my hardest to help in any way I could." After graduation, Kristin has accepted a position with IBM in the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, working on WebSphere CloudBurst. Congratulations to Kristin!


Andrew Street was awarded a CS Scholar Award.  Andy was unable to attend our reception because he is touring Europe with the Linux Laptop Orchestra; he was presented his award earlier in the week.  Andy has an impressive 4.0 GPA, with double majors in CS and Math.  While at VT, he was a recipient of multiple scholarships, and was a member of the Programming Team, Upsilon Pi Epsilon Computer Science Honor Society, and Phi Beta Kappa.  After returning from Europe, he will be headed to Palo Alto, CA, where he has accepted a position with Facebook.


Ben Reid also received the CS Scholar Award.  Ben has completed double degrees in CS and Math with a minor in Classical Studies.  Ben also has a 4.0. While at VT, Ben was the recipient of multiple scholarships, including the Hatcher Scholarship in Mathematics, the College of Engineering Eleanor Davenport Leadership Scholarship, and Computer Science Investment in Excellence and CSRC Scholarships. He was an undergrad teaching assistant for the Department of Computer Science, was on the COE Dean's Team 2008 through 2010, and interned with Fidelity Investments.  Ben won the local  ACM programming Contest 2007. He won the VT Regional Mathematics contest in 2008 and 2009. And he won the Division B Table Tennis Championship in 2007.

Ben is also an excellent math student.  In the spring 2010 semester, he won the Layman Prize for Outstanding Undergrad Research in Mathematics, and he is the 2011 Outstanding Senior for the Department of Mathematics.  In his spare time he served as secretary of the VT SalsaTech Club.  He is a member of Upsilon Pi Epsilon Computer Science Honor Society and Phi Beta Kappa.  After graduation Ben is headed to Eugene, Oregon, to attend grad school in Mathematics at the University of Oregon this fall.   Congratulations to Ben!

Elizabeth Timmons was awarded the CS Outstanding Senior Award, which is awarded to the student with the most well-rounded background in academics, research, and community service.  Beth has earned a 3.85 overall GPA, 3.94 in-major, and completed a math minor.

While at VT, she worked as an undergraduate teaching assistant, interned with NASA at Goddard Space Flight Center for 3 summers, and been involved in undergraduate research topics, including "Computational Study for Insulin Oscillation Related to Diabetes" and "Human-Centric Approaches to Computing."  She won the First Place Faculty Choice Award for Undergraduate Research in 2009.

Beth has also volunteered as the YMCA Middle School Tutoring Program Leader and One-on-One Tutoring Program Leader, as mentor for the Hypatia Women in Engineering Community, Computer Club Volunteer, Kid's Tech University, and Relay for Life.   She is a recipient of multiple scholarships, including the Anne and George Gorsline Scholarship award for 2008 and 2009.  She is a member Upsilon Pi Epsilon CS Honor Society and Phi Beta Kappa.

Beth has accepted a full time position with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD.  Congratulations to Beth!

Undergraduate Scholarships

Two students were awarded the George W. Gorsline Memorial Scholarship for the 2011/2012 academic year.  George Gorsline served as this department’s first head and was a member of our faculty for 20 years.  Affectionately known as Dr. G to his students, George was a champion of the “underdogs,” those students who faced unique challenges, but who persevered and overcame obstacles to complete a degree in Computer Science.  He advised and encouraged them, and then applauded their successes.

George died in 1987.  In his memory, his wife Anne and numerous grateful alumni established the George Gorsline Memorial Scholarship.  True to George’s spirit, this scholarship is given each year to at least one rising senior who has overcome obstacles to become a successful CS major. 

This year, the scholarship was awarded to T. C. Jones and Michael Lapping.  T.C. was a recipient of the scholarship last year and is proud to receive it again this year.  He was unable to attend this year's reception.

Michael Lapping was a freshman at Virginia Tech in Fall of 2002 and planned to major in Electrical Engineering.  He did not have an impressive start; he was placed on first suspension after only two semesters at VT.   He reached a low point in Spring 2006 when his semester GPA was .31.  He finally hit third probation Spring 2008 with an overall GPA of 1.71.  The next suspension would be final.

When Michael returned to VT Spring 2010, he decided to try Computer Science.  Michael states:  "I took my forced sabbatical not just for the mandatory one year, but three. In that time I started a business of my own, moved to a new state and was generally happy with my achievements. I had one regret: I never finished my engineering degree. When my fiancée's career took her back to Blacksburg in 2009, I decided that I would finish my engineering degree at Virginia Tech."

"Since returning to school, I have found computer science to be my favorite subject and I have decided that I will graduate with a degree in CS. Raising my GPA has been the single greatest challenge I've overcome."  Michael attributes his success "to sticking to a study plan, completing all assignments, (and) asking questions in class. I had never done any of these things the past, so disciplining myself was the difficult part. The rest came from a love of the subject and a desire to graduate! I look forward to seeing you all on graduation day in December 2011."

Michael's GPA during his semesters as a CS major is an impressive 3.7.  Congratulations to Michael!


Graduate Awards

Three graduate students also received awards at the reception.

Dong Li was the recipient of Outstanding PhD Student Award.  Dong received an MS in Precision Instrumentation from Tsinghua and an MS in Computer Science from the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden before pursuing his doctoral degree at Virginia Tech.  He completed his PhD work under Dr. Kirk Cameron.  Dong's work is in the area of high performance computing, focused on power-aware computing (i.e., how to ensure that algorithms don't just run the fastest but also consume the least amount of energy).  He has an extensive list of publicationsand has interned at Lawrence Livermore National Lab.  He will work full-time at Oak Ridge National Labs.  Although Dong was unable to receive this award in person, his achievements were recognized at the reception.

Mayank Daga was named the Outstanding Master's Student for 2011.  He completed his thesis under Dr. Wu Feng.  He studied automatic mapping and optimization of applications on hetergeneous computing systems involving CPUs and GPUs, with applications in biophysics and molecular modeling (with Dr. Onufriev).  His work showed performance improvements of more than 300 fold over hand-tuned implementations.  Mayank has contributed to several conference and journal publications during his time at VT.  He will work for AMD after graduation.  Congratulations to Mayank!



Shaimaa Lazem was named the Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant for 2011.  She has TA'ed for CS 3744 GUI Programming and Graphics, CS 5314 Concepts of Programming Languages, and CS 3304 Comparative Languages.  She has averaged a 4.9 out of a possible 5.0 in instructor ratings.  Dr. Sean Arthur says she is the best GTA he has had over his time at VT.  She was praised for going beyond the call of duty to help students grasp complex concepts.  According to Sean, "I believe she feels that it would be her failing if a student walked away without fully understanding the program and issues.  She is that thorough!  She takes on all the extra work of coordinating the course activities.  All I had to do was show up and lecture."  Shaimaa is studying with Dr. Denis Gracanin and hopes to finish her degree next year.  Congratulations to Shaimaa!


Please see our slideshow for more pictures from this event.