Even though he’s enrolled in what is a rigorous engineering program at Laurel Ridge, Michael Roberts-Tsoukkas enjoys working on engineering projects on campus in his spare time.
That sort of endeavor is encouraged by engineering faculty who ensure that all of the necessary equipment and technology are available to students like Roberts-Tsoukkas.
While he also enjoys art and writing, the formerly homeschooled Clarke County resident expressed an early interest in rocketry.
“When I was very, very young, I had a fascination with rockets and space flight,” he said. “I would just be glued to a computer screen watching rockets go up.”
Several years back, he fell in love with the Kerbal Space Program game, which only intensified his interest in space flight and the possibility of being an aerospace engineer.
“That led me to math,” Roberts-Tsoukkas said. “I started studying math all the time. In 2018, I started teaching myself calculus.”
His parents suggested he dual enroll at Laurel Ridge, and he took his first class, calculus, with Professor Cyril Petras.
“That was my first class here,” Roberts-Tsoukkas said. “It was quite difficult, but I felt as if it really shaped my character, and gave me a lot of confidence. Professor Petras is the best teacher I have seen in the realm of math, science and engineering. That is, he was a better teacher than those in recorded videos from MIT, Stanford, etc.”
While all of his professors have been great, he said, he also really admires Physics Professor Ray Rogers, who previously worked for NASA.
“He went above and beyond in his teaching,” he said.
After earning his associate degree in engineering, Roberts-Tsoukkas plans to transfer to Virginia Tech or the University of Virginia to study aerospace engineering.
“My absolute goal is to go to graduate school and study whatever I decide on,” he said.
Whatever he ultimately ends up doing graduate school-wise and career-wise, Roberts-Tsoukkas is glad his parents encouraged him to enroll at Laurel Ridge and that he is in the engineering program. He is particularly happy with the faculty’s encouragement of open-ended student projects.
“It’s been an extremely rewarding study,” he said. “They do a lot of in-person demos. The professors are always working to improve the course. This program is a great way to get involved in engineering. I feel that if I had gone any other way, I wouldn’t have gotten into this project studying sometimes way above my head. It’s been a really great experience.”
But don’t expect the program to be easy.
“Engineering is a very difficult subject,” Roberts-Tsoukkas said. “It’s well known for its difficulty. That difficulty is with good reason because people’s lives will depend on your work in some cases. It’s going to be a difficult path for any engineering student coming in, but I think it’s an extremely rewarding and enjoyable experience at the same time.”
Laurel Ridge Community College was known as Lord Fairfax Community College until June 2022. For consistency purposes, the college will be referenced as Laurel Ridge going forward.