Virginia TSA Alumni Derek Schact

Front Page Summary: 

Participation in TSA helped set a course for success for one Virginia TSA alumni.

TSA alumni, Derek Schacht, graduated from Middlesex High School in Saluda, Virginia in 2003. Derek describes his experience with his 15-member TSA chapter as “unique”. The chapter didn’t have a primary chapter advisor at that time and worked with different teachers each week. Chapter events were run informally by the students and interested parents. Derek helped supervise the chapter as an acting chapter president. At the time of his tenure with Middlesex TSA, chapter officer duties were shared among students in an informal way in an unofficial capacity. Little did he know then that his interest and ability in engineering and technology subjects through TSA would help him succeed as an engineer with a large government contractor immediately following his graduation from college.

“We were more about competitions and less about formality. My main event was System Control Technology from 6th through 12th grade, first at Saint Clare Walker Middle School, then at Middlesex High School. During my senior year, our team took first place in the event at the national competition,” Derek said. During the years leading up to his senior year, Derek’s chapter always managed to advance from regional events to the state competition in Virginia.

Engineering concepts interested Derek from a young age and participation in TSA was the perfect way for him to develop these skills. “I’ve always loved taking things apart and putting them back together, Legos, Erector Sets, you name it,” Derek said. Derek attended Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) and obtained a B.S. in computer engineering in 2008.

When considering the impact that TSA and its STEM based competitions had on his educational and professional aspirations, Derek said, “I loved the remote control cars, and could watch those events for hours at the conference. Implementation and user interface fascinated me. It goes to show that design is not all about functionality, you have to be able to use it. TSA opened my eyes in terms of what the world had to offer in engineering, computers or any technology field.”

“Competing at TSA conferences was exhilarating. You had a mix of nervous energy and excitement going in to it. TSA events taught hands on approach, and problem solving. The evaluation you received enabled you to figure out how to make things better. Learning problem solving is the best example of what’s great about TSA.”

Derek has been employed as a Tactical Software Engineer in the Ship Control group of the Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics since graduating from Virginia Tech. Ship Control is the group that writes software and builds the hardware that is necessary to control the motions of a modern submarine. General Dynamics delivers products and services to military, other government and commercial customers. Formed in 1952 through the combination of Electric Boat Company, Canadair Ltd. and other companies, General Dynamics grew internally and through acquisitions until the early 1990s, when it sold nearly all of its divisions except Electric Boat and Land Systems. Beginning in 1995, the company expanded those two core defense businesses by purchasing other shipyards and combat vehicle-related businesses. General Dynamics now has four business groups – Aerospace, Combat Systems, Marine Systems and Information Systems and Technology.

“I help advance the abilities and broaden the scope of products that I work on. This enables Electric Boat to use the work on multiple products. This helps reduce the design time of a given product and allows for commonality among the designs.” Derek was offered the job after submitting a resume during a career fair at Virginia Tech. “I get to write software, then test it on the manufactured device. If there are problems, we have to figure out if it is the software or hardware, then work on the solution to fix it. You have to learn the tools that you have to work with, and how to use the tools to get the desired results,” Derek said.

When asked how participating in TSA events helped prepare him for a career in engineering, Derek had this to say. “System Control Technology gave me the first glimpse of the capability that devices gain when they have a computer integrated into the design. Problem Solving showed me that the simplest of materials can be combined into a functional device where creativity and time are the only limits. Bridge Building taught me the lessons of considering all aspects of a problem before making a design. It does no good to have a very strong truss if the bridge collapses laterally (sideways) instead of along the span.”

Derek adds, “…everyone pursing education and careers in STEM fields need to be well-rounded. A good understanding of problem solving skills is a must. Being able to explain to your peers what you are doing is key to being successful.”