Photo Credit: Alan Norfleet, Veritas Spring Fling Sing, 2014
The “Portrait of an Alum” blog series gives a glimpse of life after graduation, with a particular emphasis on our students’ readiness for the transition to college and how their affections and outlook have been shaped through their experiences, teachers and Christian community at Veritas. For this portrait, Director of Communications Sara Kennedy interviewed Class of 2014 graduate Chris O’Kuinghttons, a second year student in the Aerospace Engineering program at the University of Virginia. This is a summary of their conversation.
By tenth grade, Chris was convinced – his future would include a career in aerospace engineering. Inspired by his father’s service in the United States Navy as an aircraft carrier pilot during the Gulf War, as well as his many years as a commercial pilot, Chris voraciously consumed Popular Science, Popular Mechanics and Air and Space Magazine each month. He watched with great interest as Virgin Galactic and Space-X launched private endeavors, boldly entering a field once thought the sole purview of government. He read and read and read the best science fiction, feeding his imagination and his drive.
Chris understood that his chosen field would require tremendous discipline and hard work. As a student at Veritas, he was characterized by both. His senior thesis on Science Fiction as a Medium for Social Commentary won the top prize in 2014. Entering the University of Virginia’s Engineering School that fall, Chris quickly found several ways to connect to others who shared his passion.
Trigon, an engineering fraternity that just celebrated its 90th anniversary, was his first and most important connection. Within the fraternity, students have the opportunity to network with alumni, receive support from faculty and fellow students and continue to investigate fields of interest, even beyond classroom study. Chris also joined the Fencing Club – for fun and exercise – and is an active cadet in the Navy ROTC program at UVA.
Within the corps, Chris is required to attend classes with fellow NROTC cadets, drill, train, stand watch and has been privileged to join the Honor Guard. With a more-than-full load of aerospace engineering courses, in addition to Fencing and NROTC duties, Chris is an incredibly busy young man.
While he notes that his first year Chemistry class was larger than the entire high school at Veritas, Chris has found that UVA is a great fit for him. His fellow students are “kind, caring, and intelligent … and willing to engage in tough conversations about all aspects of life, including faith.” For Chris, these conversations, with students and faculty alike, make even the hardest days full of the challenges that help him grow.
When asked to reflect on his years at Veritas, Chris expressed deep thankfulness for the writing and rhetorical training he received. Though many of his peers at UVA matriculated through STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs, well-preparing them for the rigor of the Engineering School’s science classes, many were not trained to communicate clearly and compellingly. This strength has served Chris well, not only in English courses, but also as an engineering student asking questions, sharing findings, reporting data and proposing research grants.
Chris is also thankful for the relationships he built with his teachers, and the guidance he received. As we hear over and over from alumni, knowing how to build relationships with faculty is one of the very best tools we give Veritas graduates. At UVA, he’s learned that teachers are “just regular people, with full lives and interests … its great to let them out of their box … to see their wholeness beyond their function in the classroom.”
When asked to share advice, Chris encouraged high school students at Veritas to do three things:
- Get to know your teachers – they are wiser than you might think
- Do your homework – even when no one is going to check
- Read lots of inspiring books, including his current favorite – What If: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe
For most of his life, Chris has watched his dad do amazing things as a pilot. He is well on the way to realizing his own dream of understanding, designing and flying the next generation of jets. We are thankful for the years Chris spent with us at Veritas – for the discipline and focus and generosity of spirit that he brings to every engagement – and believe the Lord will continue to use Chris to show a watching world the wonder of a vast, complex and very beautiful Beyond.