John Vilk, BS
Degree earned at WPI:
BS, Computer Science
Minor in Mathematics
Degrees earned from other institutions:
PhD, Computer Science, University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Why did you choose to attend WPI?
WPI’s motto, “Lehr Und Kunst,” or “Theory and Practice” really spoke to me. In addition to the major projects that are part of the degree requirements, many classes have a project component, especially in computer science. While it is extremely important to understand ideas in the abstract, it takes applying those ideas to something tangible to gain valuable insight into how those ideas actually function in reality.
Before choosing WPI, I talked with current and former students who absolutely love WPI and highly recommended it. I did not hear a single negative thing. When it came for me to visit, I was greeted by extremely friendly faculty, students, and employees who were delighted to show off the school and enthusiastic about what they did.
How did your studies and experiences at WPI prepare you for graduate school?
My work on my MQP was extremely important preparation for graduate school; in fact, probably the reason I got into graduate school. I worked with Hugh Lauer and made my project more research-based. In the end, I had an 80-page MQP document that was all work of my own – all original research- that I could talk to people about. It gave me some great experience collaborating with a faculty member, which is what you do in graduate school – you collaborate with faculty and other grad students on research projects. I was glad that I was going into grad school with the experience of writing that large MQP document under my belt because there is a lot of writing and written communication when you are in grad school.
My MQP was highlighted during all my interviews and always became the main topic of conversation. I learned so much that I couldn’t have learned in the classroom that really began fleshing out my vocabulary and my understanding of the area I would eventually start researching in grad school.
I am a full-time student at UMass Amherst in the MS/PhD program in the area called “systems.”
How has WPI’s philosophy of Theory and Practice, and working with teams, prepared you for facing real-world challenges in the workplace or graduate school?
In both the workplace and graduate school, communication and team work skills are extremely important. All of my internships involved working on a project or part of a project that was tightly coupled with the work of others. For instance, at SoftArtisans, I was required to work beside other full-time developers and do the work they did. All of my experiences at WPI, from working in teams constantly in all of my courses, really helped me integrate myself with them, communicate with them, understand what they were looking for, and make my work applicable to them. Also, my presentation skills from WPI became very important as there were bi-weekly meetings where we were asked to present our work to the company.
At my second internship at MIT Lincoln Laboratory Group, I again had to integrate myself into a small team and learn how to make the testing tools that I was developing useful for them and make them understandable for them with proper documentation. These are all lessons I learned while on teams at WPI; you have to have your work understood by the other team members. When you are in these environments where your work is closely coupled with others, that communication and team work is extremely important.
In graduate school, students and faculty typically collaborate in teams on research projects. It was crucial that I learn how to communicate effectively with them to understand their portion of the work and to ensure that the work I was doing would be useful to them. Thankfully, my experience with teamwork at WPI had prepared me for these situations.
Groups or extracurricular activities you participate in at WPI:
- Helpdesk Student Supervisor
- Member of ACM
- Member of the Students for a Just and Stable Future.
Academic or professional awards you have received:
- Inducted into Upsilon Pi Epsilon, 2011.
- Awarded the Salisbury Prize, 2011, for completing all of my requirements at WPI “faithfully, industrially, and with distinguished attainment.”
- Recognized with the Dr. Neil G. Sullivan Memorial Award, 2010, for my demonstrated ability and promise.
- Nominated WPI Student Employee of the Year, 2009-2010.
- Included on Dean’s List, 2008-2011
- Named a Charles O’Thompson Scholar, 2008.
WPI has the faculty and resources needed to get a top-notch education in computer science as long as you put in the effort to take advantage of them. The MQP is an opportunity to pursue what you are really interested in. I cannot emphasize enough how great of an opportunity this is. Employers and graduate schools love to hear about these experiences. If you take a project that you are truly interested in and run with it, it can open a large number of doors that previously appeared dead-bolted shut.