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Current Graduate Fellows

For 2019-20 academic year, the AOE department is proud to recognize 26 graduate students who have been awarded 10 prestigious fellowships.  The future will be bright as this group of men and women leave Virginia Tech, move into the workforce, and serve as a force for positive change in the world.

Kevin T. Crofton Fellowship

Theresa Blandino

Theresa Blandino

Theresa Blandino is a second year Ph.D. candidate from Lexington, Virginia. She earned her undergraduate degree from Georgia Institute of Technology in 2018, studying mechanical engineering.

She has gained experience as a Pathways Intern for Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division. Here at Virginia Tech, she has been awarded the Kevin T. Crofton Graduate Fellowship, the Ted and Karyn Hume Center for National Security Fellowship, ans is a New Horizons Graduate Scholar.

Blandino hopes to make her mark by continuing working for the Navy to develop and implement control schemes on unmanned systems.

“My research focuses on using drones to simulate control systems used on SmallSats. This will allow for 6 degree of freedom hardware and control scheme simulations of individual SmallSats as well as constellations in a manner that reduces testing costs and development time.”

Faculty Adviser: Dr. Jonathan Black


William (Liam) Lambert

William Lambert

Liam Lambert is a first year Ph.D. student from Staunton, Virginia, studying Applied Mathematics. He completed his undergraduate degree at Roanoke College in 2019, majoring in Math and Physics.

During his time at Roanoke College, he served as president of Pi Mu Epsilon, was a member of Sigma Pi Sigma, a member of Alpha Chi, and historian of Alpha Lambda Delta. He also actively participated as a leader for YoungLife.

Lambert was a summer research fellow at Coastal Carolina University during the summer of 2018. He was awarded the Goldwater Scholarship his junior year; was named valedictorian of his graduating class and received the Senior Scholar Award in mathematics and Frank Munley Award in Physics his senior year at Roanoke College. 

Here at Virginia Tech, Lambert is the recipient of the Kevin T. Crofton Fellowship, as well as a New Horizons Graduate Scholar.

Upon completion of his doctoral degree, Lambert hopes to do civilian research for the Navy; however he is still unsure of exactly what aspect of research he’ll want to go into.

Currently his research is “geared towards developing a new maneuvering model for underwater vehicles near a wavy free surface. This can have major impacts for faster and more accurate control over autonomous vehicles such as torpedoes or offshore sensing instruments saving time and money.”

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Stefano Brizzolara


Wentao Ma

Wentao Ma

Wentao Ma is a first year Ph.D. candidate from Guangzhou, China. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Theoretical and Applied Mechanics from Sun Yat-sen University in 2014 and a Master of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Duke University in 2019.

He is the recipient of the Kevin T. Crofton Graduate Fellowship here at Virginia Tech, and he has aspirations to become an expert in computational fluid-solid interaction upon graduating.

“My research is in the area of computational fluid-solid interaction. I am currently developing a high-fidelity computational tool for evaluating the shock-resistant performance of elastomer coatings on structures. This study aims at revealing more insights into the mechanism of the coupling of fluid, structure and elastomer coatings, and therefore helping design real-world structures with better shock-resistant ability.”

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Kevin Wang


Virginia Smith

Virginia Smith

Virginia Smith is a second-year doctoral candidate from Lexington, Kentucky. She earned her B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Kentucky in 2018.

Smith has gained experience at NASA Langley, NASA Marshall, and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. At Virginia Tech, she is a member of the AOE Graduate Student Association.

She is the recipient of the Kevin T. Crofton Graduate Fellowship, as well as the Ted and Karyn Hume Center for National Security and Technology Fellowship. In the short-term future, Smith hopes to help develop space satellite systems or vehicles for planetary exploration in the short term. Long-term, she would like is to teach at a university and incorporate what she learned from industry.

“I am beginning to develop a tool to optimize high-altitude ballooning mission operations and systems that will plan a multi-balloon mission to achieve a single goal. This work could help design missions that test various satellite components to increase the chance for mission success when launched into space.”

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Jonathan Black


Davenport Fellowship

Julie Duetsch

Julie Duetsch

Julie Duetsch is a native of Blacksburg, Virginia. She is a recent graduate of Virginia Tech, earning her degree in Aerospace Engineering in 2019. She began earning credits toward her graduate degree through the UG/G program her senior year.

As an undergraduate, Duetsch served as president of the AIAA, as an open house volunteer coordinator for the College of Engineering, was a member of the College of Engineering’s Dean’s team, treasurer for the Society of Women Engineers, a member of Theta Tau Professional Co-Ed Engineering Fraternity and served as an AOE Ambassador.

As a graduate student, Duetsch is still active on campus, participating in the Society of Women in Aviation and Space Exploration (SWASE), AIAA, and the College of Engineering’s Dean’s Team.

Duetsch has gained experience during summers through programs such as NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates: Pratt & Whitney Assembly Engineering; and Boeing Aerodynamics Technology.

She is the recipient of the Davenport Fellowship and is a New Horizons Graduate Scholar. She hopes to one day work as an Aerodynamics Technical Fellow at The Boeing Company.

“My area of research focuses on collecting detailed experimental data on the 3D turbulent boundary layer separation over a smooth bump. This is a good test case for Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) models, which typically struggle to accurately predict performance in this flow regime. The data from this test, along with detailed documentation of the experimental set-up and facility, initial conditions, and flow qualities, will help to tune CFD models to better predict the separation over this surface. These improved models can then be applied to more complex cases, such as commercial aircraft or spacecraft design applications. Increasing the quality of CFD predictions reduces the experimental testing required to validate the performance of this vehicles, which will speed up the development timeline and drastically decrease costs, allowing for more innovation in the industry.   

Faculty Advisor: Dr. William Devenport


Dominion Energy Research Fellowship

James Gresham

Maj. James Gresham

Maj. James Gresham is an aerospace engineering doctoral student, specializing in Dynamics and Controls. He hails from Corpus Christi, Texas, and is an Active Duty US Air Force Flight Test Engineer, as well as a member of the AIAA and Sigma Gamma Tau.  

James is currently doing research on unmanned aircraft in the AOE Non-Linear Systems Lab, and has past experience as an Air Force Academy Assistant Professor, and as a graduate of the Air Force Test Pilot School, experience with F-16 and Special Projects Flight Tests.

He is the recipient of the Dominion Energy Fellowship, is a New Horizons Graduate Scholar and is part of the US Air Force Sponsored PhD program. He hopes to become a Commander and Air Force Academy Professor, post-graduation.  

“My research area is Non-Linear System Identification and Parameter Estimation for Unmanned Aircraft. Model determination of unmanned aircraft greatly enhances other areas of research including control system design, path planning, risk assessment, and atmospheric sensing. I am partnering with student and faculty colleagues conducting research in these areas and supporting their applications with improved aircraft models.”

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Craig Woolsey


Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory High Energy Density Fellowship

Robert Masti

Robert Masti is a fourth-year doctoral candidate from Cameron, New York. He earned a bachelor of science degree in physics and bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from the Rochester Institute of Technology.

From 2011 – 2015, Masti has completed four internships with Corning Inc.

This year he is the recipient of the Lawrence Livermore National Labs, Weapons and Complex Integration, High Energy Density Fellowship.  Upon graduating, he hopes to employ computational techniques to help support and maintain the nuclear stockpile, and further explore ways to harness nuclear fusion energy.

On his research, he noted, “Computational plasma modeling focusing on anomalous resistivity applied to high energy density pulsed power platforms. This research will support the plasma modeling group here at VT in the high energy density regime, as well as supporting the scientific community by characterizing the role anomalous resistivity may have on modeling the current drive of pulsed power current driven fusion platforms.”

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Bhuvana Srinivasan


Martin-Marietta Aircraft Fellowship

Megan McCracken

Megan McCracken

Megan McCracken is a first year Ph.D. candidate from Clarksville, Tennessee. She earned a Bachelor's of Science from Austin Peay State University in 2019, and was previously employed with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture.

Here at Virginia Tech, McCracken is a member of the AOE Graduate Student Association, a Critical Reading Group Leader for the New Horizon Graduate Scholars, and a member of the American Physical Society (APS).

McCracken has been awarded the Martin -Marietta Aircraft Fellowship, is a New Horizons Graduate Scholar, and a recipient of the Robert and Carol Tolson Scholarship. She hopes to become a research professor at an R-1 institution, and to be able to train the next generation of students within physics and engineering.

“My current area of research is in the numerical development of high order accurate shock capturing schemes for multi-fluid plasma flows. This research will be done in cooperation with an experimental group from MIT to better understand the interactions of multi-ion species flow within internal confinement fusion (ICF). This collaboration will lead to a better understanding of multi-species flows within shock regimes and allow for more in-depth research to be conducted in the pursuit of fusion energy.”

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Bhuvana Srinivasan


Carlos Michelen-Strofer

Carlos Michelen-Strofer

Carlos Michelen-Strofer is a fourth year doctoral candidate from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. He earned degrees in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, from University of Michigan, in 2012 and 2013.

Prior to arriving at Virginia Tech, he was employed for three years at the Sandia National Laboratories, performing research on marine renewable energy.

Michelen-Strofer is a student-member of the Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) and a member of the VPI Cave Club.

He has been awarded the Charles C. Walts Fellowship and the Martin-Marietta Fellowship and is a past recipient of the Kevin T. Crofton Fellowship and the Davenport Fellowship.

Upon graduation, Michelen-Strofer  would like to continue doing fluid dynamics and applied mathematics research either at a Department of Energy National Laboratory or through a career in academia. 

“My research is on applying data assimilation and machine learning techniques to fluid dynamics problems. Specifically I am currently working on data-driven turbulence models as well as field inversion problems in fluid dynamics. The goal is to come up with good methods of incorporating data from experimental results into our simulations to obtain improved predictions of fluid flows.”

Faculty Advisor:  Dr. Heng Xiao


Stefan Povolny

Stefan Povolny

Stefan Povolny is a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate and earned his undergraduate degree in Aerospace and Ocean Engineering from Virginia Tech in 2015. He is a student member of Tau Beta Pi, Phi Kappa Phi, and the AIAA.

In 2016, he spent the summer working at Orbital ATK, conducting trade studies on satellite structure using Femap with NX Nastran. There, he also assisted in preparation of vibrational testing of flight hardware and established compliance of shock response spectrum data. In 2019, he worked at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, identifying sources of error in shock simulations using the material point method and Developing, testing and verifying mitigation strategies for said sources of error.

Povolny has been awarded the Martin Marietta Aircraft Fellowship, and the Charles C. Walts Fellowship. Upon graduating, he hopes to work on exotic materials and constitutive modeling research at a national lab.

I research how numerical methods can be used to simulate exotic material systems. Specifically, I analyze the behavior of highly porous ultra high temperature ceramics (UHTCs) using the material point method. UHTCs stand to be a revolutionary material in the development of sharp geometries, e.g. leading edges, on hypersonic vehicles. However, they suffer from a relatively high density. This is mitigated by the introduction of porosity, but doing so affects the characteristics of the UHTC. My research seeks to characterize this effect. One impact is that such numerical models allow researchers here at VT and elsewhere to intelligently design UHTC-related experiments before investing precious resources into actual testing. On a more ambitious scale, the benefits to hypersonic flight that UHTCs could offer include the development of aircraft capable of traversing the globe in a matter of a few hours.”

Faculty Advisor: Gary D. Seidel


National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship

Vidya Vishwanathan

Vidya Vishwanathan

Vidya Vishwanathan is a second year Ph.D. candidate from Aldie, Virginia. She graduated with a BS in aerospace engineering from Virginia Tech in 2018.

Vishwanathan has been active on campus, co-founding the Society of Women in Aviation and Space Exploration (SWASE), serving as a member of the AIAA (VT Chair 2016-2017), and Sigma Gamma Tau (VT VP, 2016-2018).

She has gained experience with the The Boeing Company, GE Aviation, and studied abroad at the University of Paris in the spring of 2018.

This year, Vishwanathan was awarded the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship (NDSEG), and after graduation, she hopes to work in the research and design field for experimental vehicles for space and air application - particularly those involving wind tunnel testing!

“My area of focus is in experimental fluid dynamics, specifically in verification and validation experiments with the VT Stability Wind Tunnel. Through my research, I hope to bridge the gap between CFD simulations and experiments to form reliable analysis techniques that can be used in developing leading edge vehicles.

Faculty Advisor: Dr. William Devenport


Brian Nerney Graduate Research Fellowship

Mark Parsons

Mark Parsons

Mark Parsons is a fourth year doctoral candidate studying Ocean Engineering from Madison, Alabama. He completed his undergraduate degree in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering in 2016 from the University of New Orleans.

Here at Virginia Tech, Parsons has been active in the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers (SNAME), serving as the organization’s Graduate Student Representative from 2017 to present. He previously served one term as co-Vice-President of the AOE Graduate Student Association.

Parsons has been honored as a Science Mathematics and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholar and worked at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division as a SMART Scholar (2017, 2018, and 2019) and as an Intern (2014 and 2015) through the Naval Research Enterprise Internship Program (NREIP).

Parsons has been awarded SNAME’s Wilbur N. Landers Graduate Scholarship (2016-2017); the American Society of Naval Engineers (ASNE) Graduate Scholarship (2016-2017); the Charles C. Walts Fellowship (2019) and the Brian Nerney Graduate Research Fellowship (Fall 2019).

 He currently researches network-based methods to assess naval ship distributed system vulnerability, survivability, and battle damage recovery in concept stage design.  This assessment is typically done during the preliminary or detailed stages of design because of its perceived complexity and requirement for detailed analysis.  Trends in electric warship design indicate an increasing interdependence of combat, power, and energy systems, further complicating this task.  Considering vulnerability in concept stage design insures an effective, operable, survivable, and affordable final ship design.

He aspires to become the premiere naval architect in the naval ship concept design community upon graduation from Virginia Tech.

 Faculty Advisor: Dr. Alan J. Brown

John Rodman

John Rodman

John Rodman is a first-year Ph.D. candidate from Baltimore, Maryland. He earned a B.S. in Chemical Engineering / Physics from Syracuse University in 2019.

His past experience includes working at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab SULI, as well as the Brookhaven National Lab SULI, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst REU.

During his time as an undergraduate, Rodman was awarded the Earl H. Devote Prize for Outstanding Undergraduate Research and the Paul M. Gelling Award for Academic Achievement at Syracuse. Here at Virginia Tech, he is a recipient of the Brian Nerney Graduate Fellowship and the Robert & Carol Tolson Fellowship.

Rodman is also a member of the Virginia Tech Crew Team.

He hopes to work at a Department of Energy National Lab with research focus on plasma physics and nuclear fusion. “My area of research is high-fidelity simulations of high-energy-density plasma to study transport and instabilities in astrophysical and nuclear fusion contexts. In this regime, current simulations do not match experimental results.  My research will help to refine commonly-employed simulation codes and will involve some of the largest high-fidelity kinetic simulations in high-energy-density regimes.”

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Bhuvana Srinivasan


New Horizons Graduate Scholars

Daniel Weber

Daniel Weber

Daniel Weber is a first year Ph.D. candidate from Katy, Texas. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Space Physics, Magna Cum Laude, from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019.

Weber is a member of the American Physical Society (APS), the International Society for Optics and Photonics (SPIE), Sigma Pi Sigma Physics Honor Society, a FAA Certificated Commercial Pilot, an Advanced Open Water Certified Scuba Diver and is a tubist for the Blacksburg Community Band.

Weber previously worked in the Chemistry Lab at Embry-Riddle as a Laboratory Assistant. He has also served as a musician in the United States Marine Corps Band, and as an instrumentalist and a sound engineer for the Marine Corps Band New Orleans.

He appeared on the Dean’s List throughout his time as an undergraduate and was the recipient of the 2017 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship to study laser-plasma interactions from ablation on different materials. Here at Virginia Tech, he was awarded the New Horizons Graduate Fellowship through the College of Engineering.

“In the future, I would like to help develop some of the world’s first widespread nuclear fusion power sources. On top of that, I would like to work towards using this power in applications such as, spacecraft propulsion. With all of that together, I am still holding out hope that I could be an astronaut, someday, as well.”

“My area of research is on plasma physics and its use in creating a self-contained nuclear fusion power source. This would make Virginia Tech a leader in energy research as well as help humanity in its thirst for a sustainable power source.”

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Colin Adams


John L. Pratt Fellowship

Harsh Sharma

Harsh Sharma

Harsh Sharma is a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate studying aerospace engineering, and is also pursuing a masters in Mathematics. He hails from Ahmaedabad, India and earned his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from Indian Institute of Technology Bombay in 2015.

Sharma is a student member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA).  He also served as vice president for the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society at Virginia Tech from Fall 2018 to Spring 2019 as well as the vice president for the Blacksburg chapter of Association for India's Development (AID) from Fall 2017 to Spring 2019.

He has completed summer research with Dr. Taeyoung Lee at George Washington University and a summer internship at Modelling & Simulation Lab (LaMS), Roma Tre University in Rome.

Sharma is a two-time recipient of the John L. Pratt Fellowship. He hopes to work as a post-doc associate after graduating, and would eventually like to become a professor and do research in computational mechanics.

“My doctoral research is about structure-preserving numerical methods which involve numerical methods that respect the fundamental physics of a problem by preserving the geometric properties of the governing mathematical equations. This project involves fundamental research that will lay the groundwork for computational analysis tools that can improve our understanding and prediction of the behavior of complex dynamic systems, as wide-ranging as astrodynamics, particle physics, geophysical fluid dynamics, plasma physics, and molecular dynamics.”

Faculty Advisors: Dr. Mayuresh Patil and Dr. Craig Woolsey


Virginia Space Grant Consortium Graduate Fellowship

Christopher Krier

Christopher Krier

Christopher Krier is a third year doctoral candidate from Clemson, South Carolina. He completed his undergraduate degree in Physics at Clemson University in 2017.

His previous experience includes working with Jens Oberheide at Clemson University on the analysis of data from the NASA/TIMED mission.

During his time at Virginia Tech, Krier has been awarded the Brian Nerney Graduate Fellowship and Davenport Fellowship (2017-2018), and the Virginia Space Grant Graduate STEM Research Fellowship (2018-2019).

He aspires to be a professional scientist who solves fundamental problems relevant to understanding the Earth's space environment. “My area of research is space science.  This field is important to the world because understanding the Earth's space environment is crucial to limiting the impacts of space variability on space-based technologies and operations such as GPS, telecommunication, and manned spaceflight.  I am currently working on investigating atmospheric waves using data from NASA's ICON and GOLD missions.”

Faculty Advisor:  Dr. Scott England