An ODU Ph.D. Is Latest Stop on Long Educational Journey for Local Grandfather
Mike White has done his postsecondary education on the 35-year plan.
It's a journey that has traversed more than half of his life, taken him around the world, and will lead him across the stage at Old Dominion University's Ted Constant Convocation Center on Saturday, when he receives his Ph.D. in modeling and simulation engineering.
"It's been an amazing experience," said White, 61, a father of four and grandfather of six.
Finishing high school and enlisting in the Army right away, White never intended to live an academic life. But his time in the military afforded him the opportunity to pursue college courses, first by correspondence while stationed in Germany, and continuing part time throughout his active military service.
"I've never actually gone to school full time since 1977," White said. He earned a bachelor's degree in professional aeronautics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, based in Daytona Beach, Fla., in 1983.
That degree, followed by an M.B.A. (also from Embry-Riddle), paved the way for White's selection for Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Ga., giving him more academic opportunities, including his first exposure to the psychology methods that would form part of the basis for his dissertation.
After retiring in 1997 and settling in Hampton Roads, White continued to pursue an advanced degree part-time. His work in the transportation field led him to modeling and simulation research, which in turn led him to ODU and its world-renowned Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center.
He started taking modeling and simulation classes in 2002, again part time, while he worked in different careers connected to modeling and simulation. White's professional roles and responsibilities have varied from designing simulations, to writing requirements documents, to participating in live and virtual simulation integration.
"It's actually something I've been interested in since the first M&S class I took back when I was an undergraduate," White said.
His dissertation, "A Framework for Delivering Contextually Appropriate Opportunities for Warfighter Practice," pulls together many of the elements of M&S research he has utilized in his military and post-military career.
White said the research has a foundation of modeling, simulation and visualization engineering through the use of technology to deliver warfighter training. But human-factors concepts provide the backdrop for delivering that training in the conceptual model he built, which reverses the traditional process of how training is delivered, allowing the instruction to become more than merely descriptive
White's adviser through his dissertation process has been Rick McKenzie, professor of modeling, simulation and visualization engineering in ODU's Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology. White said McKenzie helped him put all of his varied research interests into a singular focus. "Dr. McKenzie has been such a help through the entire process," he said.
White currently works as an assistant vice president for Alion Science and Technology, handling a variety of duties ranging from M&S business development to servicing the firm's modeling and simulation clients. He'll go back to work on Monday as a newly minted Ph.D.
"It's not something I planned; it's not something I figured would happen in my life. But once I started, I got interested, and didn't want to stop."