By Dolly Rairigh Glass
A number of University of Central Florida and Daytona State College students have benefitted from successful years of fund raising for the National Center for Simulation, like UCF Graduate Research Assistant Rebecca Leis. The work continues at the 2015 National Center for Simulation and Lou Frey Institute Charity Golf Tournament on March 30, ready to give more students the support to help them realize their dreams.
Leis is this spring’s recipient for the Vince and Beth Amico Award. As part of UCF’s Institute for Simulation and Training, Leis is pursuing her Ph.D. in the Modeling and Simulation program, and is interested in neuropsychology, and how to measure peoples’ responses during real work tasks.
“My dissertation involves looking at operator workload using physiological monitoring systems during nuclear power plant tasks,” Leis explained. “I would like to take this experience and start my own lab that focuses on training and real world applications of physiological equipment.”
Leis is a native Floridian, and both of her parents are engineers. However, Leis admits that she really didn’t have any interest in STEM areas when she was younger, and felt ambivalence toward math and science in middle and high school.
“I wanted to make a place for myself and not follow in my parents’ footsteps,” Leis said. “However, I had always had an interest in the brain, and am naturally quote curious, so in high school I decided that I would pursue a degree in Psychology.”
After researching and learning that Florida State University and UCF had the state’s top programs for Psychology, Leis decided to attend UCF, even though both of her parents were graduates of FSU. “I wanted to be independent and take a different path than that of my parents,” she said.
But Leis credits her parents for helping her meld her own unique interests by introducing her to technology at an early age and placing a high value on education. “Computers have always been a part of my life,” Leis said. “One of my fondest memories was when my dad first taught me how to play Atari games on our home computer in the early 90’s, and I remember thinking the games were standard on every computer, and was thoroughly disappointed to learn otherwise.”
“My parents have always been my biggest supporters and are the most memorable mentors during my childhood,” she said. “Especially my mother who worked as a project engineer and instilled in me that women can do anything. I always saw my mother as confident and strong. She is my idol.”
And so her journey began. Since the start of her academic career at UCF, Leis has received multiple degrees, including three minors, an undergraduate certificate, a Bachelor’s, a graduate certificate, a Master’s, and now she’s working on finishing her Ph.D., all from UCF. “Even though I earned all of my degrees from one institution, Modeling and Simulation is the reason I stayed,” Leis said. “At the time I was admitted, UCF was one of only five Ph.D. programs for Modeling and Simulation in the nation, and currently Orlando is a hub for the industry, so I do not expect to leave anytime soon!”
Leis said that UCF provides an amazing opportunity for people interested in M&S, and that at UCF she has been provided with a multitude of networking and educational opportunities as they related to M&S.
“It’s interesting to learn about the different domains to which Modeling and Simulation can be applied, and it’s motivating to learn something new each day in fields like nuclear power operations, that I may not have thought about in another capacity,” Leis said. “And it’s intriguing to me to see how similar basic elements of various safety-critical fields can be. I have been able to apply my skills to military, medical and even philosophical applications.”
Along with her academic work, Leis is also the president of Modeling and Simulation Knights (MaSK), an organization focused on supporting students within the graduate program. “I would like to continue my current leadership efforts after graduation and start a non-profit organization that helps students in the M&S field,” Leis said. “I’ve actually started working on this goal using my scholarship award to enroll in ‘Technological Entrepreneurship,’ and I hope this class will help me be able to give back to the students, and the Modeling and Simulation community.”
“This opportunity at UCF has allowed me to critically think about my education and apply it to various real world settings, making me highly marketable and, more importantly, fulfilled with my work,” Leis said.