Dr. Evan Welchman graduated from the Wake Forest Ph.D. program in 2017 and now works as a System Architect for Van Robotics. While a graduate student at Wake he worked in the laboratory of Professor Timo Thonhauser conducting research on materials which can be used to store hydrogen.

We reached out to Dr. Welchman to ask what he has been up to since graduating from Wake Forest and this is what he told us:

I currently live in Roanoke, VA and work for Van Robotics, which is an ed-tech startup based in Columbia, SC making an AI-enabled robot tutor for elementary-aged students. My title is Systems Architect, but I do a lot of things for our small team of developers. I manage our network and computing infrastructure, including our cloud footprint as well as the hardware that our robots run on, and keep the two communicating smoothly. I also do full-stack software development.

The subject matter that I work with now is totally different from the work that I was involved in at Wake Forest, but many of the hard and soft skills that I developed in order to be an effective researcher in Professor Thonhauser’s lab have turned out to be indispensable in my professional life thereafter. The more I learned about Linux, scripting, and parallel computing, the easier it became to set up and understand the many DFT calculations involved in answering a particular research question, and I got in the habit of figuring out how to use whatever tool could be useful to solve the problem in front of me.

After graduating, I stuck around for a while and joined the Systems Administration team in IS. I was only part of that team for about 18 months, but it was a period of intensive learning, definitely in terms of technical knowledge, but also in understanding all of the invisible things that keep a dynamic and capable enterprise like Wake Forest running smoothly, and the amount of work that goes into keeping them invisible.

Then, in 2019, I took a job with a startup boasting an ambitious mission to tailor a learning experience for every student in the classroom, and an exciting prototype. As one of the early members of the tech team, I turned my attention to turning this prototype into a reliable, supportable product that’s easy to set up and use, and I was given a lot of trust and independence to do so. 

Beyond the technical skills, it was important to be able to evaluate which of the many things that I could do on a given day would have the biggest impact on the finished product, and to recognize when I was wrong about something or had reached a dead end. That kind of perspective is hard-won, gathered over years of working with a supportive advisor and capable colleagues.

The students, staff, and faculty at Wake Forest are impressive across the board, and they are all better than you are at something. But it’s not just a research factory in an ivory tower. The people at Wake Forest are there because they value the liberal arts and the pro humanitate ethos. Go there to foster relationships, have the humility to learn from any and all of them, and grow – personally and professionally. I recently traveled across the country to attend the wedding of a former classmate, and I still play D&D with another. I’m proud of the research that I did in my graduate career, but for me, everything else turned out to be more important.

Evan Welchman, Ph.D.
Systems Architect
Van Robotics, Inc.