The Volgenau School of Engineering at George Mason University is fortunate to have a distinguished group of senior executives who serve on the Dean’s Advisory Board. Dr. H. Gilbert Miller, Corporate Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of Noblis, Inc. recently accepted the volunteer position of Vice-Chairman of the Board. This appointment comes at an important time in the history of the engineering school as the school celebrates its 30th anniversary. Although it is a young school, the Volgenau School of Engineering’s influence on the metropolitan DC area has been profound—it has become an integral partner with the thriving companies in this region.
Dr. Miller has been engaged and involved with the engineering school for many years and additionally serves on Department Advisory Boards for the Systems Engineering department and the new Data Analytics Engineering Master’s program. Noblis has been honored by the engineering school for its support of STEM education at all levels from kindergarten through college.
WashingtonExec: Executives are busy. What prompted you, as a busy executive, to volunteer your time for this initiative?
Dr. H. Gilbert Miller: We are all busy, but education, especially STEM education, is a critical part of solving the challenges that we face as individuals, as organizations, and as a nation. Serving on the Volgenau School of Engineering Advisory Boards is a great way to stay in touch with the academic community and serve the academic community by adding our perspectives to their programs and work. At this point in my career, I am focused on returning the help and support I received much earlier from educational institutions.
WashingtonExec: Have there been mentors who’ve helped you similarly in your life?
Dr. H. Gilbert Miller: Early in my career, I was fortunate to be surrounded by people who encouraged my continued education, folks like Dr. Bill Gouse and Dr. Barry Horowitz, and later people who encouraged me to serve in advisory or teaching roles, like Dr. Lydia Thomas. Mentoring and education are important values where I call home — at Noblis, a non-profit science and technology organization.
WashingtonExec: What do you hope to accomplish in your new role as vice chairman of the board?
Dr. H. Gilbert Miller: Well, first and foremost, the Advisory Board’s purpose is to support and advise, so I look forward to working with Board Chair Charlie Joyce — who has served as Chair since 2009 and who has been a significant technology leader and entrepreneur in the Northern Virginia technology community over the last 40 years — in bringing the perspective and support of the private sector and industry to George Mason University’s Volgeneau School of Engineering. I am very interested in supporting Dean Ken Ball, who has brought to Mason a passion for helping students discover knowledge in the engineering field, in his continuing efforts to further develop the engineering school as a major player nationally recognized research university.
Second, I am interested in continued development of intern programs. I would like to support expansion of internships for Mason students, perhaps with a connection between interns and a mentoring concept that Dean Ball is creating.
Third, I would like to assure the Volgeneau School of Engineering continued responsiveness to the challenges faced by the Northern Virginia technology community. Challenges such as the continued need for sufficient, highly educated and practiced engineers. I think that we can continue to expand the Mason spirit of support and service to initiatives at the state and federal level. For example, George Mason University is uniquely positioned to help and support Governor McAuliffe’s initiatives in bioscience, cyber security, and big data analytics.
WashingtonExec: Tell us about the school’s 30th anniversary — why is this so noteworthy?
Dr. H. Gilbert Miller: This is an exciting time for those of us who have professionally grown up in the Northern Virginia region, which started as a relatively sleepy suburban community and has grown into a thriving science and technology force solving critical national and global problems. And Mason, and especially the engineering school — now the Volgeneau School of Engineering — grew during that time of regional expansion to help lead and expand the science and technology base in Northern Virginia. Mason provided highly educated grads, from their engineering undergraduate and graduate programs, but also provided a critically needed research university here in the Northern Virginia area.
The engineering school was blessed to have exceptionally talented faculty, as well as innovative deans, such as Andrew Sage who started the school, Lloyd Griffiths who matured and stabilized the school, and now Ken Ball our current dean who is bringing a fresh perspective and has begun new programs in mechanical engineering, data analytics, and cyber security engineering. The new programs are addressing critical needs in the Northern Virginia region and enabling multidisciplinary approaches to grow.
WashingtonExec: What impact has the school had on the larger DC region?
Dr. H. Gilbert Miller: Thirty years ago, the visionaries who established what would become the Volgenau School of Engineering realized that information technology would play a key role in all engineering disciplines and in expanding the economic base of the region. So as the region grew in internet, systems, telecommunications, and bio technologies, the school was there to provide academic programs and a strong research foundation. The school continues this support today by embracing the data analytics and cyber programs and is continuing to build a research foundation in these areas.
WashingtonExec: How long has Noblis been in contact with the engineering school?
Dr. H. Gilbert Miller: In January, Noblis will celebrate its 20th anniversary. George Mason University has been a partner to our work and our success. We are a consumer of their graduates, BS, MS, and PhD. If you look at the top schools that Noblis draws from, Mason is in the top four schools. We are a provider of adjunct faculty, which keeps our staff finely tuned.
We engage Mason students in our internship program; over 10 percent of this summer’s 56 Noblis interns came from Mason. George Mason University and Noblis collaborate on joint programs. Perhaps the most notable was our joint, with the Department of Systems Engineering and Operations Research, Center for Network-based System from which, under joint NSF funding, GMU and Noblis researchers invented new analytics to predict internet performance as video and voice traffic was added to the internet. And, lastly, Noblis leaders are serving on four advisory boards within the Volgeneau School of Engineering.
WashingtonExec: Tell us about the Data Analytics Engineering Master’s program and how it fits into your efforts?
Dr. H. Gilbert Miller: The Volgenau School of Engineering’s data analytics engineering program was established over 18 months ago to address the problem of big data and the need for analytics that work efficiently at scale and at speed. This graduate-level program is multidisciplinary, drawing on faculty, research, and students from across the Volgeneau School of Engineering. We currently have about 100 students in the program; the first graduate earned her degree in May 2015 and others will complete their coursework soon.
Noblis is providing both adjunct faculty and students to the program. Of course, Noblis has many initiatives in the space of big data, advanced analytics, and high performance computing addressing challenges in human and pathogen genomics, fraud detection, transportation congestion and safety, and national security and intelligence.
The Volgenau School of Engineering’s data analytics engineering program is a great example of collaborative efforts of the school and the Northern Virginia technology community.
WashingtonExec: Can you share a bit about Noblis’s support of STEM education?
Dr. H. Gilbert Miller: Noblis, and our staff, recognize the critical need for STEM education — in the region, in the Commonwealth, in the nation. Noblis continues to be a supporter of programs like high school robotic clubs, both in Northern Virginia in Danville, Va., where we house several of our supercomputers. In fact, our Danville staff is about to launch a new program to coach, instruct and mentor students using Raspberry Pie computers. Noblis runs an annual intern program and other STEM activities, for example, supporting the Einstein Fellows and NWS teachers and students programs.