Rowan's three-time NASA scholarship winner shoots for engineering Ph.D.

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He may be soft-spoken, but George Lecakes is one determined guy.
He may be soft-spoken, but George Lecakes is one determined guy.

Set to graduate May 14 with a master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering from Rowan University, Lecakes, 25, has been dedicated to his research of the new Constellation rocket systems that will be launched for Moon and Mars missions for the NASA-Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

“I’ve really gained an appreciation for the vast amount of talent and knowledge that has
gone into the space program,” Lecakes said. “More than anything, I’ve learned to appreciate the tremendous intellect of those who came before me in creating and running these systems for the past several decades.”

Lecakes, who was born in Hawaii and moved around his whole childhood because his father was a lieutenant colonel in the Army (he casually refers to his hometown as “the world”), has always been interested in graphic design. He especially enjoys designing video games. He’s even created three-dimensional, animated dinosaurs whose toothy, prehistoric terror can be experienced in the Cave Automatic Virtual Environment (better known as CAVE®), the virtual reality system at the South Jersey Technology Park at Rowan University.

“I’ve always loved art and work that I can really visualize,” he said. “And that’s what got me into the virtual reality lab.”

Above all, Lecakes hopes to continue his work in the CAVE® for his Ph.D. in a joint Rowan/Drexel University program. So far, he has received three annual scholarships from NASA¬—$30,000 each—as part of the Graduate Student Researchers Program (GSRP), a fellowship study for students earning their master’s and Ph.D.s. His latest one will help pay for his doctoral work.

According to Dr. Shreekanth Mandayam, Lecakes’ advisor and chairman of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Program at Rowan, Lecakes’ success as a graduate student has been nothing short of exceptional.

“NASA’s Graduate Student Researchers Program is a very competitive award,” Mandayam said. “The fact that George was provided the award for consecutive years is a testament to the quality of his research work at Rowan University.”

However, Lecakes attributes much of his success to Mandayam and the facilities at Rowan.

“The master’s curriculum here at Rowan provided me with so much independent learning,” he said. “It completely prepared me for the outside world. I’ve had to troubleshoot problems and also deal with failures on the day projects were presented. There are no kid gloves here. You have to perform, and if you don’t, well … you’ll be a washout.”

Right now, Lecakes is responsible for maintaining the virtual reality lab, training undergraduate and graduate students to use the CAVE® and continuing to further develop Rowan’s work with the NASA rocket test stands.

During his tenure at Rowan—starting as an undergraduate civil and environmental engineering student all the way through his graduate work in the virtual reality lab and soon as a doctoral candidate—Lecakes has fast become a leader and a role model for aspiring engineers.

So, with all of that experience and a bright future in professional engineering before him, what does Lecakes recommend to prospective and incoming freshmen engineers at Rowan?

“The program is what you make of it,” he said. “Rowan is a wonderful option to consider for engineering right now, with huge growth potential, not only in terms of the opening of the South Jersey Tech Park, but with many other projects right on the horizon. … Just find what you like and stay with it, because that hasn’t proven me wrong once.”

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