2012 Graduate Lands Position with Department of Defense

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Patrick Shafer (‘12)

Unlike most other graduates landing their first post-college job, Patrick Shafer, a member of Southern Virginia University’s graduating class of 2012, isn’t allowed to talk about his new position — not even with his family and friends.

“I always wanted to say ‘if I told you, I’d have to kill you’ at my high school reunion,” said Shafer, who accepted a job offer with the U.S. Department of Defense last month.

Beyond the basic facts — that his position is part of a computer science development program, will last three years, and will expose him to many different areas in computer science — Shafer isn’t allowed to disclose any information about the work he will be doing for the next three years.

Along with the position, Shafer, who majored in computer science and minored in math at Southern Virginia, will be able to pursue a master’s degree in computer science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

The program, though shrouded in mystery to outsiders, offers exciting prospects to Shafer. It also offers more personal ties, as his favorite professor, Alan Whitehurst — professor of computer science at Southern Virginia — went through a similar experience before he became a professor.

“I’m excited for him,” said Whitehurst. “In some respect, he’s following in my footsteps: I worked in the Department of Defense at the same agency that he’ll be working in. He’s on a fast track program moving around the groups of this agency to get exposure. It will all be very exciting and interesting for him.”

According to both Shafer and Whitehurst, landing this kind of position with the Department of Defense is not a simple task. After he applied in December, took an assessment test of more than 200 questions in March, was interviewed on the phone, and then called in for an in-person interview in the D.C. area in April, Shafer was finally offered a position with the department.

“It was a very competitive interview process,” said Whitehurst. “There were many candidates vying for positions and he was deemed to be one of the top candidates.”

Shafer, who transferred to the university from Virginia Western Community College, attributed his success to Southern Virginia — where he took the majority of his computer science courses.

“I definitely feel that my time at Southern Virginia University has prepared me for anything that I will face in my career,” said Shafer. “Southern Virginia has taught me better time management, leadership, critical thinking and problem solving skills, and how to work more effectively in group settings.”

Whitehurst said that though Shafer has been a hard worker and a bright, motivated student since he arrived at Southern Virginia, he has gained valuable knowledge at the university that will be vital for his new position.

“Patrick is going to be working in an environment where there is a lot going on,” said Whitehurst. “Information from lots of different sources is captured, analyzed and interpreted, and then used in a variety of different ways.”

Beyond the necessary skills in computer science, Whitehurst said that every aspect of Shafer’s education is needed for success in his new position.

“While Patrick’s computer science classes will have prepared him to work effectively and creatively with technology, just as important to his success will be his ability to communicate effectively and to see and understand the ‘big picture’: skills he has gained through his exposure to the liberal arts curriculum here at Southern Virginia,” said Whitehurst.

Shafer said that he remembers a specific class, Whitehurst’s programming languages course, where he felt that he had been better prepared for his future than any other class he had taken.

“It was the last senior class that I took,” Shafer said. “That class was a culmination of everything that I had learned as a computer science student: programming skills, software engineering, computer organization, computational theory and data structures. I had to use everything from critical thinking to group leadership skills. It was by far the best class that I’ve ever had.”

Whitehurst also remembered a moment during that same course when Shafer expressed to him how gratifying it was to see all of the knowledge he had learned coming together to be applied to a very hard problem that he was working on.

“My time at Southern Virginia was amazing,” said Shafer. “I have enjoyed the education, and the skills I have learned will be with me forever. I have met some of the best friends that I have ever had — people that will still be my best friends 30 to 40 years down the road. Coming to Southern Virginia was the best decision that I’ve made so far.”