The Virginia Tech Innovation Campus’ Master of Engineering students are taking major steps to build community ahead of the opening of Academic Building One, the Campus’ first academic building, in fall 2024. One group of students making a difference are the three Computer Science Student Ambassadors: Hannah Chen, Kirk Knutsen, and Minho Cho.

Hannah Chen worked for four years as an application and software engineer in Japan and Taiwan before beginning her master’s at Virginia Tech. She is a graduate of the National Taiwan University of Science and Technology in Taipei City. 

“Our mission is to provide the student view to current and incoming students,” she said. “Sometimes students think the only support available is from the school, but the ambassadors are here to make sure they know they have allies in the student body.”

Chen hopes to ease her peers’ nervousness about finding a job after graduation. She uses her Bloomberg internship experience as an example. 

“What I always tell students is if you don’t get accepted into an internship or job, don’t give up. When I first applied to the Bloomberg internship program last fall, I got rejected; but a few months later I got a call that my application had been given another look and I was accepted. You’ll find something. At the very least you can focus on what you’re learning, because no one can take that away from you. I always encourage them to think positively.”

Kirk Knutsen took this position to help students from non-science backgrounds transition to the tech field. He decided to pursue this himself after graduating with a communications (journalism) degree from George Mason University and working in the healthcare industry. He wanted to find a Master of Engineering program that had clear application requirements. The enrollment team guided him to enroll in course equivalents at the Northern Virginia Community College to fulfill those requirements.  

“The only thing that holds students back is not knowing – and that’s where the student ambassadors come in to help,” said Knutsen. “It’s important to share not only that we exist, but we’re also here to help and connect.”

The connection aspect is an important touchpoint for Knutsen when talking to other students about job opportunities. “Our location in Northern Virginia and the many transportation options available make it easy to connect with recruiters,” he said. “There’s something to be said about face-to-face interactions, given the move to online job applications. Many large corporations have their headquarters here and they’re constantly hiring. Being in proximity to them is a major asset when building your network.”

“Many large corporations have their headquarters here and they’re constantly hiring. Being in proximity to them is a major asset when building your network."

-Kirk Knutsen, Computer Science Student Ambassador and master's student

Like his fellow student ambassadors, Minho Cho commits several hours a week to fielding inquiries from incoming students. He is no stranger to the technology field. After he earned his bachelor’s in mathematics from the University of Washington in Seattle, he worked as a Korean-to-English translator, then a computational linguist. In that role he wrote grammar to help AI systems recognize what a user is trying to say. 

Ease of travel is one of the main reasons Cho chose to attend Virginia Tech. “Because I spent my undergraduate career in Seattle, I wanted a continued city experience. I enjoy taking public transportation. I tell incoming students that they can live anywhere in the DC Area because of how easy it is to travel around – especially with the implementation of the U-Pass program through the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.”

Chen liked Virginia Tech for similar reasons. “I grew up in Taipei, which has amazing transportation, so having transit options was important,” she said. “The university also has a national reputation; having an engineering degree from Virginia Tech is a great touchpoint for an interview.” 

In preparation for the 2024 opening, the Innovation Campus has been building up its Master of Engineering program focused on computer science and computer engineering for the past four years. At full build, the Innovation Campus will enroll approximately 750 master’s and 200 doctoral students and graduate 550 master’s and 50 doctoral candidates annually. 

“This is a great program that beats out other similar ones in the area," said Knutsen. “My goal as student ambassador is to help all students find success and show the world what the Innovation Campus has to offer.” 

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