As classmates, spouses, parents, and volunteers, Michael and Barbara Fleming have been teaming up since their chance encounter at a Virginia Tech football game almost forty years ago. “Michael was sitting behind me and my roommate,” Barbara recalls. “It started raining and I put up my umbrella. Michael tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Hey, you’re filling up my shoes with water.’”
Their first date was a post-game party. One thing led to another, and when Michael’s first job took him to Northern Virginia, Barbara followed him, completing her undergraduate degree at GW. Because they only had one car, he worked during the day, and she went to school at night.
“As newlyweds this was challenging as we missed spending time together,” says Michael. He, too, recognized the need to continue his education, so he enrolled at GW for graduate school where they eventually took some of the same classes. “Our computer architecture professor assumed we were siblings since we had the same last name,” he laughs.
Both pursued a career in government—Barbara (CCAS BS ’81, SEAS MS ’85) with the Department of Defense as a software engineer, and Michael (SEAS MS ’82) at the US Patent and Trademark Office where he was ultimately appointed Chief Administrative Patent Judge. Currently, Michael is Of Counsel at Irell & Manella LLP, where he represents companies and universities in complex patent litigation.
Barbara is now retired and spends a significant amount of time volunteering on multiple projects. “I started volunteering at GW shortly after I retired with a desire to give back to an institution I valued,” she says. As a mother of two daughters who both have degrees in engineering, she is particularly passionate about supporting women in STEM, and is currently a mentor for a female Clark Scholar. “When Michael and I joined the National Advisory Council (NAC) in 2016 to serve as advisors for Dean Dolling, I was excited to see a goal established for increasing the number of women students and faculty in SEAS, and I look forward to being a part of making it happen,” she says.
Of his volunteer activities at GW, Michael says, “I am particularly interested in supporting innovation and creativity. I have enjoyed speaking with students about intellectual property and participating in the selection of Clark Scholars. It is an honor to serve on the NAC, and I look forward to helping the GW Innovation Center evolve and grow.”
With a tireless passion for helping people, Barbara and Michael also lead mission trips sponsored by their church. “It all started in 2009 when our new pastor asked me, ‘What is the one thing that the church needs to do?’” Barbara says. “I replied, ‘Go on a mission trip.’ The pastor surprised me by saying ‘Okay, get out your calendar and pick a date.’” According to Barbara, their small congregation raised over $5,000 and sent a team of adults and youth caravanning across the country from Virginia to Iowa, where they helped restore the home of a man who had survived several bouts of cancer. “Michael was our crew chief,” she says, “organizing us into teams to hang and finish drywall, paint, run wire, install pipes and plumbing fixtures.”
Teamwork appears to be a theme that runs throughout the Fleming family. One of the Flemings’ daughters has expressed an interest in starting her own biotech company, so Barbara is back in school, auditing a venture capital course this semester.
And where is she taking this class? The GW School of Business, of course.