Spring 2012 Commencement

Publish Date: 05/18/2012

On Saturday, May 12, the Virginia Tech College of Engineering conferred degrees on the class of 2012, including approximately 90 Computer Science undergraduate students.  Graduate degrees were conferred at the Graduate Commencement on Friday, May 11.  On Saturday morning, Computer Science graduates, their guests and families, enjoyed a reception in Owens Banquet Hall.  Several students were recognized for outstanding achievements and contributions, including Kyle Akers, John Kurlak, and Marco Leung for undergraduate academic achievement, TC Jones for service to the department, Alexander Obenauer as the outstanding undergraduate TA and Marco Leung as the Outstanding CS Senior.  Three graduate students were also recognized: Kevin Buffardi for outstanding teaching, Gabriel Martinez as the outstanding Master's student and Yinan Li as the outstanding doctoral student.  Both Caroline Galecki and Paul Robertson 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.  The first annual David Heilman Memorial Research Award was presented to Craig Estep.

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

Undergraduate Awards

During the commencement reception, a posthumous degree was awarded to the family of David Heilman on his behalf.  David Heilman was a freshman CS major in Fall 2007. He immediately established a record of academic excellence earning a 3.8 GPA in that first year. But David had more than the usual challenges facing college students. He was battling leukemia. David was out of school the next year to receive treatment.

He was able to return in Fall 2009 ready again to tackle a full schedule for his CS major and Biology minor. He did ask for one accommodation. He needed a Biology lab moved from late Friday afternoon because he needed to return to northern Virginia once per month for treatment. That semester David earned a 3.94.

David's outstanding scholarship and interest in combining CS and Biology lead him to earn a research position with the Bioengineering and Bioinformatics Summer Institute during Summer 2010.

David was always upbeat and positive. According to his Dad, "David loved Virginia Tech and he was a Hokie first and always. " But David's cancer returned and he was not able to return to VT in Fall 2010. In May of 2011, David lost his battle with cancer.

Today we are honored to present to David's parents his diploma.  David's diploma included his recognition as an Honors Scholar and his academic honors status as summa cum laude.


Also in David's memory and in honor of his excellence in scholarship and research, the Department of Computer Science established the David Heilman Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research. The first recipient is Craig Estep.

Craig is graduating this semester with a 3.88 overall GPA, summa cum laude and as a Commonwealth Scholar. He will be staying for the next academic year to complete an MS degree at Virginia Tech. While a student here Craig has interned with Salesforce.com and was a member of CS Squared, a CS community service organization. He has been the recipient of the Griffith Strader Christian Scholarship and a Computer Science Resources Consortium Scholarship.

Craig's research has been in two very different areas; one in the area of computer science education and another in computer systems.

Craig's first undergraduate research experience was with Dr. Steve Edwards, working on adding clustering support to the Web-CAT project. More recently he has been working with Dr. Ali Butt on a project involving virtualization and cloud computing.


TC Jones was awarded the Computer Science Service Award.  Since summer of 2008, TC has served as a Computer Science Ambassador, a select group of students who meet with prospective students and their families during CS Information Sessions and on weekends for special recruiting events. He is one of our most enthusiastic and dependable ambassadors. His good will, humor, and experiences as a student of CS at VT always impress visitors. His enthusiasm for Computer Science and love of Virginia Tech is contagious.   

TC has also found the time to serve as the student representative to the VT Americans with Disabilities Act Executive Committee.

While a student here TC has been involved in undergrad research, twice been the recipient of a Gorsline Scholarship, and completed a Biology minor. After graduation TC will be staying at VT as a graduate student in Computer Science.







Kyle Akers was awarded a CS Scholar Award.  Kyle is completing his CS degree with minors in math and biological sciences. He has been in the Marching Virginians, and interned with IBM and SAIC. He will be working with Amazon after graduation. His overall and in-major GPAs are 3.94.













John Kurlak also received the CS Scholar Award.  John has an overall GPA of 3.98 and an in-major of 3.94 with a minor in math. John has interned with Microsoft and IBM, and will be working with MSN team at Microsoft after graduation.








Marco Leung was awarded a CS Scholar Award and the CS Outstanding Senior Award.  The Outstanding Senior award is given to the student with the most well-rounded background in academics, research, and community service.  Marco is completing his CS degree with minors in Business and Math. His overall GPA is 3.98, and his CS GPA is 4.00.

Marco has interned with Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport RI, and with Genworth Financial in Richmond, VA.

While at VT, he has served as Vice President of the Class of 2012 and oversaw the preparation for the Ring Dance of 2012, Director of Freshman Leadership Experience for the SGA, Director of Student Outreach for the SGA, and Vice President of Communication of the Student Alumni Association.   He also served on the College of Engineering Dean's Team and is a member of Delta Sigma Phi.

Marco will be working for Deloitte after graduation.


Alex Obenauer was recognized as the outstanding undergraduate teaching assistant. In addition to the usual work associated with being a UTA, Alex’s contributions were unusual in that he played a lead role in introducing new curricular innovations to one of our courses. Alex was one of the lead developers of “VT Bus Tracker,” an information system that enables passengers of the local bus system to track the location and movement of buses using smart phones. Based on that experience, Alex lead an effort to design, deploy and evaluate new lab exercises in CS 2114 that allowed students to develop interesting applications that connect to real-world and real-time data, using the VT Bus Tracker infrastructure. This project served as important preliminary work that has now led to an NSF proposal in CS education research --- a proposal that NSF has indicated is very likely to be funded.

Undergraduate Scholarships

Two students were awarded the George W. Gorsline Memorial Scholarship for the 2012/2013 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 Caroline Galecki and Paul Robertson. 

Caroline Galecki was a freshman Fall 2008, and made a C in the first CS course. But Caroline's grades, particularly in CS, have steadily improved since that first year. She has completed internships with Norfolk Southern and FGM Incorporated, and this summer will be interning with ViaSat in Germantown, MD.  Caroline states "I am really honored that I was chosen for this scholarship. It feels amazing to be validated for the hard work I've put in to bring my GPA up."



Paul Robertson was first a student here in1976 in Electrical Engineering. It was not always pretty, but he did complete a degree in EE in 1981. Paul states that he worked in technology until 1997, then pursued other goals, including bookstore owner, high school teacher and mystery novelist.  Two years ago he brought his daughter to VT for freshman orientation. During Orientation we often hear parents say they also get excited about VT and comment that they would love to return to school themselves, but Paul actually did it, this time in CS. Paul's GPA since he returned to school, even with the added responsibilities of a family, is 3.88. And he now has 2 children who are also students in the College of Engineering. Paul says "I want to thank everyone - my teachers, my fellow students, my family, and especially my wife Lisa for everything."


Graduate Awards

Three graduate students also received awards at the reception.

Yinan Li was named the outstanding PhD student.  The oustanding PhD student award recognizes doctoral thesis work of exceptional quality and achievement. Besides publications and presentations, the originality and long-term impact of the candidate's work are taken into account. 

Yinan obtained his PhD working with Dr. Ing-Ray Chen from our Northern Virginia campus. Yinan’s PhD research concerns design and analysis of data management protocols in wireless networks. He has published 3 top-tier journal papers and 2 conference papers and has also successfully completed internships at IBM Research and at Oracle. Yinan's research has a direct impact on how bandwidth-demanding applications can be supported on the Internet. His algorithms help reduce network traffic without sacrificing reliability and security.

Gabriel Martinez was named the Outstanding Master's Student for 2012.  Gabriel is a graduate of our integrated 5-year BS/MS program in computer science.  He is Virginia Tech's first-ever recipient of the CRA Undergraduate Researcher Award (Honorable mention). His research is in the area of multi-core and many-core computing architectures. Working in collaboration with his advisor, Dr. Wu Feng, and the Communication Network Services (CNS) department at VT, Gabriel designed a translator to develop parallel programs for new computational architectures. This work also garnered for him the best undergraduate poster award at the prestigious IEEE/ACM Supercomputing Conference.

Kevin Buffardi was named the Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant for 2012.  The outstanding teaching assistant award recognizes graduate students who play a crucial role in our teaching mission. Teaching assistants work with professors in lecturing, grading, lab management, and course delivery, and sometimes teach courses themselves.

Kevin has made broad and valuable contributions to the teaching mission of our department. In the past few years he has served as a GTA for three different courses in CS, plus working as a GTA for the Department of Engineering Education for one year as part of his Dean's Teaching Fellowship. All of the faculty members with whom he has worked have ranked him as an excellent TA. In addition, Kevin has served as lead instructor for three different courses, including a large Java programming course for students from the College of Business. This past semester he taught a section of CS 2114, our second course in software design & data structures for CS majors. In each assignment, Kevin has distinguished himself as someone who genuinely cares about students and who has a clear talent for explaining things in ways students can relate to. One CS 1054 student, when asked on a class evaluation what Kevin did well as an instructor responded, "Everything. I was very engulfed in the course (in a good way)."


Please see our slideshow for more pictures from this event.