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Taking Flight with Philip “PJ” Costello ’17

May 04, 2017


PJ Costello outside of Mary Branch"I knew as a freshman that I wanted to go into politics and law after graduation," says Randolph-Macon College student Philip "PJ" Costello '17.  "After taking my first political science course at R-MC, I immediately declared a major in political science." Costello had no intention of picking up a second major—that is, until he took an introductory computer science course.

"I had such a great experience in that class, which was taught by Computer Science Professor John McManus '84, that I continued to take few more computer science courses," he explains. "After a completing a couple of classes within the department, I knew that I wanted to be a computer science major as well."

The Edge
Throughout his college career, Costello has regularly met with staff from The Edge, R-MC’s four-year career program that provides students with a competitive advantage when applying for jobs or graduate school.

As a freshman, he began working with Edge staff to create a résumé, and in subsequent years he consulted staff for career advice, job interview preparation, and for assistance in updating his résumé. He also attended Boot Camp, a two-day program that helps students identify their career passions and hone their interview and communication skills as they prepare for life after college. For Costello, the most valuable lessons he learned during Boot Camp happened during mock interviews, with business leaders—including alumni—serving as interviewers.

"Sitting face-to-face with a business professional or potential employer can really make a difference when it comes to the hiring process, or even create an opportunity that did not exist before the conversation," says Costello. "You never know when you are being interviewed." In 2016 and 2017, Costello returned to Boot Camp, this time as a student-ambassador, helping fellow students take full advantage of this unique experience.

High-flying Research
Costello completed two Schapiro Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) projects during his tenure at R-MC. SURF offers students the opportunity to conduct 10 weeks of original research under the guidance of a faculty mentor. Under the mentorship of McManus, Costello researched Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (drones), first investigating the vulnerabilities of civilian UAV systems, and then developing a modular drone-based sensor package. In 2015 he visited NASA Langley Research Center's Autonomy Incubator and observed how they took UAVs and modified them to use various sensors.

"I decided to develop a platform that was cost effective for smaller research institutions like Randolph-Macon," he recalls. During SURF 2016, Costello worked on programming the drone's sensors and syncing them.

"SURF is an amazing program," says Costello.  "Being able to design your own research project is something most students would not have the opportunity to do at a larger institution. I learned a lot during SURF—including skills like time management, self-discipline and organization."

Costello's SURF experience also yielded a published research paper, which he presented at the 2017 SIGCSE (Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education) conference in Seattle, Washington.

"I am extremely grateful for the SURF program, as it provided me the opportunity to publish a paper and attend SIGCSE and two other conferences," he says. "Presenting my research while representing R-MC at SIGCSE—an international conference—was the experience of a lifetime."

"It has been a pleasure working with PJ in the classroom and as a part of the SURF program," says McManus. "He is highly motivated and has worked hard to develop his knowledge and abilities. He is a great example of how a student can leverage the broad range of opportunities available at R-MC. He has been successful in the classroom, as a summer research fellow, and as an athlete."

Yellow Jacket Pride
"The best thing about being a Yellow Jacket is being able to have one-on-one relationships with professors," says Costello, who is a member of the tennis team, the Student Government Association, Theta Chi fraternity, and Pi Sigma Alpha, a political science honor society. "I'm especially grateful to my advisors, Professor Thomas Badey (political science) and Professor McManus, for their constant support."

After graduation, Costello plans to enter the defense industry.

"I'd like to either work for the Department of Defense or for a defense contractor," says Costello. "I also plan on pursuing my pilot's license."