Meet ML@GT: Charles Lehman Transitions from Navy Engineer to Machine Learning Ph.D. Student


The Machine Learning Center at Georgia Tech (ML@GT) is home to many talented students from across campus, representing all six of Georgia Tech’s colleges and the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI).

These students have diverse backgrounds and a wide variety of interests both inside and outside of the classroom. Today, we’d like you to meet Charles Lehman, a second-year machine learning Ph.D. student who is also in the Navy Reserves, and the president of a start-up geared towards accelerating children’s literacy.

Name: Charles Lehman

Hometown: Manassas, VA

Advisor: Ghassan AlRegib

Current Georgia Tech degree program/year: Second-year Machine Learning Ph.D. student

Other degrees earned and from what institution: B.S. Electrical and Computer Engineering from The Citadel and M.S. Electrical and Computer Engineering Georgia Tech.

Tell us about your research interests. Where might people be impacted them in everyday life?

I am working on robustness for vision systems, meaning anytime there is a camera and computer working together where it may fail in undesirable ways. I want to understand how these systems fail to improve their design as well as develop diagnostic techniques for new failures.

What drew you to wanting to research these areas?

I really want to see smart cities and autonomous transportation become reality. We need autonomous systems that are safe and reliable in order to do that.

What inspired or motivated you to pursue your Ph.D.?

I used to be an active duty engineering duty officer in the United States Navy and worked as a project manager for maintenance, repair, and modernization projects on U.S. warships in Yokosuka, Japan. I started reading computer vision conference proceedings on a regular basis which led my robotics hobby to get out of hand. I figured the only way to really satisfy my curiosity was to do it full-time, so here we are!

Earning your Ph.D. requires a lot of work. What has been challenging, rewarding, or unexpected about this experience?

It’s a challenge to balance family, school, and my Navy Reserve duties. However, this has only highlighted the remarkable support available to me from all three. 

What have you been up to during quarantine?

Ph.D. work on hard-mode 🙂 . Research, internships, and learning to homeschool is a fun juggling act.

You’re also in the U.S. Navy Reserves. What motivated you to join the military and what do you do as a service member?

I served on the Active Duty side as an Engineering Duty Officer prior to transitioning to the Navy Reserves. I am currently working with the NAVSEA Heavy Lift Unit, which has the unique task of supporting transports of warships using bigger ships. The most recent missions were the transport of the USS McCain and the USS Fitzgerald following their collisions.

We’re at the beginning of a new decade. What are you most looking forward to in the next ten years?

Watching my kids grow. They’re 7 and 4 now, so a lot to look forward to!

Tell us about ConvexMind. What is it, how did you get involved with it, and what do you do in your role as president?

It started when I was a master’s student and my oldest son was on the cusp of learning to read at the same time. We decided to interview a bunch of parents and learned that, for the most part, they shared similar difficulty and frustration while looking for resources to help their young one’s literacy develop.

The company is a result of Create-X’s Startup Launch and we sell mobile games that track the cognitive development of children for their parents to help accelerate literacy. Since we are still a small operation, my role as president just means I have to keep track of and sign more paper :).


Photo by Raphael Andres on Unsplash

What place is at the top of your travel bucket list and why?

We want to visit Sweden because we made some very good friends who recently moved back there and we miss them!

Podcast, movie, tv show, or book? Why that medium and what are some of your favorites from your chosen medium?

Book/audiobook. I’ve just finished my 10th or 20th read through of the Dresden Files series in anticipation of the two new additions this summer.

Why do you think embodying Georgia Tech’s motto of “progress and service” is important, especially in regards to ML and AI?

There is so much potential tied up in the progress we have made in machine learning in a very short time. With the surprisingly short turn-around from lab to production, ML applications can be prematurely introduced to the public in dangerous and irresponsible ways. While progress remains at a breakneck pace I believe that civic-mindfulness is an important responsibility that is easily lost in the foray of industry.


Press Contact:

Allie McFadden

Communications Officer

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