When Todd Danko signed off his work computer April 3, he let out a sigh of relief and then hoped the system he had spent two weeks working on nonstop wouldn’t crash over the weekend.Danko is an information technology specialist in the U.S. Military Academy’s physics and nuclear engineering department. When it was announced the cadets would not be returning to the academy after spring break as planned, his department, along with others across the academy, went into overdrive trying to set up remote learning.For Danko, that meant figuring out how to let cadets in the nuclear engineering major access software critical to their coursework. Typically, cadets would access the programs in the computer labs in Bartlett Hall, but that only works if the cadets are physically at the academy. Due to the size of the programs and access controls placed on them by the manufacturer, the cadets couldn’t simply install the software on their laptops.The PANE department had been working for two years to set up a system where cadets could access those programs by remotely accessing virtual machines with the software installed. The plan was to do a test of the virtual machines once cadets returned from spring break and then rollout the access to all nuclear engineering cadets in August.Then, COVID-19 caused cadets to stay at home and the options for PANE became figure out how to get the virtual machines online now or drastically change the coursework being taught to nuclear engineering cadets in the computational design and reactor analysis courses.“It was actually rather nail-biting,” Ken Allen, program director for nuclear engineering, said. “What I ended up having to do was shift some of the content in the course to give us more room. I wasn’t certain that we were going to not have to make drastic curricular changes up until really last week when it came online.”In two weeks, Danko and Allen, with help from IT services at the academy which control server and network access, were able to set up a rough version of the virtual machines to allow cadets to sign in and access the software from any computer with the correct virtual private network software installed.“Friday the third is when Dr. Allen sent out the email to the cadets with the files, the instructional video and everything,” Danko said. “At 4:30 when I finished for the day, I just had a sigh of relief like, ‘Ah, this is finally here. It’s happening.’ Then, I’m not going to lie, during the weekend (I was wondering) what if something goes wrong? But, so far, we’ve been up and running for over a week now, several cadets have connected and there was just one little issue that took maybe five minutes of troubleshooting.”Danko was able to set up 47 virtual machines with the necessary software installed. Cadets were then given a username and password that allows them to login through a VPN. The first time they login, they are assigned a specific virtual machine, which they then re-access every time they login. That allows them to start running a program on the software, logoff and then come back when it is complete.“I’d heard Dr. Allen speak about it earlier in the semester, and I was never really sure what he meant by it, but I always assumed it was going to make the course a little bit easier,” Class of 2022 Cadet Joseph Maddock, who is taking computation design this semester, said. “Now seeing it work, especially since I needed it and I needed a way to complete the coursework, I think that it shows advancements that can be made when needed. I’m blown away with what the virtual machines offer.”Maddock said having access to the software hosted on the virtual machine is “imperative. I would not be able to complete the work or model the problems without it,” because the software enables the cadets to map and model nuclear reactions and other parts of the course that would not be possible to recreate offline.For his most recent assignment in Allen’s class, Maddock said he was on and off the virtual machine for an entire day as he ran the program upwards of 50 times to model how a neutron transports within a nuclear reactor.“It’s really important in nuclear engineering to have simulation software, because the radioactive nature of nuclear things is you can’t just make models,” Allen said. “For a lot of other engineering disciplines where you could just make a pump if you were trying to make a water pump or something like that, I can’t just make a small nuclear reactor or anything like that. So, I have to depend a lot on modeling and simulations to do that kind of design.”Like every course and instructor at West Point, Allen has had to adjust how he teaches his courses during remote learning, but thanks to Danko and the ability to get the virtual machines up and running, the nuclear engineering cadets have been able to continue their coursework as if they were at the academy.“I keep assuring them that they’re getting the same experiences as though they were in the classroom,” Allen said. “In follow on courses, they’re going to be just as prepared as any other class because of this.”