Va. Rep. Don Beyer returns to school more than 50 years after college graduation

For Northern Virginia Congressman Don Beyer, it’s never too late to go back to school. At 72 years old, Beyer — who represents Arlington, Alexandria City, Falls Church and parts of Fairfax County — is a part-time student at George Mason University.

“I’m pursuing a graduate degree in computer science with emphasis on machine learning, and according to George Mason University, that’s the closest to quote unquote artificial intelligence,” said Beyer, a 1972 graduate of Williams College in Massachusetts.

He said that he’s always loved learning and that many family and friends have graduate degrees.

“So, in some ways, I’m just catching up at the age of 72,” Beyer said.

Northern Virginia Congressman Don Beyer doing his classwork with the help of a classmate at George Mason University. (Courtesy George Mason University)

His area of study is no cakewalk, and before tackling some computer science classes in the fall, he’s deep into building some required credits.

“It turned out I needed about seven prerequisites, things I hadn’t taken in college or literally had not taken since high school. So I’ve been knocking those off — calculus, multi variable calculus, I’m in the middle of discrete mathematics right now,” said Beyer.

The congressman is a member of the United States Congressional Joint Economic Committee and the House Artificial Intelligence Caucus, which had about six members last year and swelled to 40 this year. Beyer believes the caucus may draw as many as 100 members by this summer.

“One of the big problems for Congress, and congresses around the world, is trying to figure out how do we put guardrails in place? What are the kinds of regulations that are needed? And right now, I’m pretty humble about it,” he said.

“We know so little about the potential. We don’t really know what to guard against yet.”

Beyer’s studies could provide helpful, expert insights on Capitol Hill as Congress tackles the fast-developing technological issue of artificial intelligence, its applications and the potential loss of human jobs that could result from the burgeoning field of artificial intelligence.

For now, like many students who are also holding down full-time jobs, the Northern Virginia congressman finds himself burning the candle at both ends.

“I’m getting up earlier and I’m staying up later. And sadly, my wife is usually sound asleep by the time I come in after my math homework,” Beyer said.

The congressman hopes to complete his studies toward a graduate degree in computer science within three years.

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Dick Uliano

Whether anchoring the news inside the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center or reporting from the scene in Maryland, Virginia or the District, Dick Uliano is always looking for the stories that really impact people's lives.

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