Fundamentals of Computer Science II (CSC-152 99F)

Responses to Questions and Comments from Introductory Survey


What's the most exciting thing you have done in your life?

I hate to admit it, but I haven't had a very exciting life (I fall far outside the realm of ``adreneline junkies'', so I can't think of particularly exciting things that I've done. Getting married and having our kids were pretty exciting. William and I hiked in Red Rocks in New Mexico when he was one, and that was fun, but not particularly adreneline-inducing.

What's your personal background?

I was born in Newton, Massachusetts, in June 1964. Newton is perhaps most famous for being the town that the Fig Newton was named after. I believe it was also the northernmost stop on the underground railway. Newton is a town of about 100,000 people (small for the east coast, large for the midwest).

My father, William Rebelsky, was an executive at Polaroid. While I was growing up, he helped found the Polaroid plant in the Netherlands (we lived in Holland when I was ages 1 to 3) and was director of equal opportunity. I've been told that he was instrumental in making Polaroid ahead of its time in promoting minorities and in treating all genders equally. (For example, he convinced the upper management that women deserved the same insurance that Polaroid offered to men.) Dad was raised with socialist principles, and tried to live by them as best he could. He died in 1979 (too much smoking) and when he died we learned that he'd been turning down raises for years, since he felt that he made as much money as he needed.

My mom, Freda Rebelsky, was a Professor of Psychology at Boston University. Mom was (and is) something of a radical, particularly in her relations to the administration at B.U. Her students also seemed to like her a lot. I believe she taught over 5000 students in her years at B.U., and it seems that we hear from a large portion of them.

Except for the two years in the Netherlands, I grew up in Newton.

I did college and graduate school at the University of Chicago. I received my S.B. (Mathematics) in 1985, my S.M. (Computer Science) in 1987, and my Ph.D. (Computer Science) in 1993.

Michelle (my wife) and I were married in 1987. She's a family physician (I think she graduated medical school in 1994). Since we've been married, our careers have often forced us to live apart (Hanover/Chicago, Hanover/Maine, Grinnell/Maine), but we're now together in the same place. We have two great kids, William and Jonathan. William just turned 4 and is enthusiastic about lots of different things. He's just started Taekwando. Jonathan just turned one and is also a pretty happy kid. He's been walking for a few months now, and is quite enthusiastic about it.

That was probably more than you wanted to know, but you asked.

What is the one thing in the world that you are most passionate about?

My kids. I'd give up almost anything for them.


What computer science areas are you most interested in?

My current work is in hypermedia, particularly tools for building more interactive Web-based hypermedia documents. I've also worked on other issues in multimedia interfaces and in programming languages.

I also spend a lot of time thinking about and working on the application of computers to education.

Why did you go into teaching computer science?

I've almost always assumed that I would teach at the college level. My mother taught Psychology at B.U. for about thirty years, and I wanted to have the same impact on others that I saw her have. I also enjoy teaching a lot (as I hope you'll see).

Since I found that CS was a field that I do well at, it became natural that I went into teaching computer science.

What are your favorite subjects to teach?

I like teaching computer science at the introductory level (nonmajors courses, CSC152) because it gives me the opportunity to share some of my enthusiasm for computer science with others. It also gives me the opportunity to work with students early in their careers.

I also enjoy teaching upper-level ``systems'' courses (or at least I regularly get asked to do so): programming languages, operating systems, networks, and compilers. My doctoral research was in programming languages, so I particularly enjoy teaching that course. The compilers course ties together many different aspects of computer science, so I also find that course particularly fun.

Why do you like CS?

I've always like solving problems (often those strange abstract problems in logic and mathematics). For a long time, I thought that I'd be a mathematician. When I took my first CS course, I realized that CS combined some abstract problem-solving skills with concrete implementation of those solutions. These remain the reasons that I like CS: I like to be able to consider a variety of problems, and I like to build things.

Why did you decide to teach at Grinnell?

As you may know, academic positions typically combine research, teaching, and service. At larger institutions, teaching typically receives much less emphasis and respect than does research. I love teaching, like to be able to devote time and effort to my teaching, and want to see that work valued. At the same time, I very much enjoy my research projects. Grinnell seemed like a place that fit with my goals for an academic career. I'm also quite happy to have good students and wonderful colleagues.

Why teach CS at a liberal arts college, rather than a large university or technical institution?

I like teaching at small colleges for the reasons mentioned above. Having been trained at a liberal arts institution (the University of Chicago), I'm also quite fond of the liberal arts tradition, and believe that it is the best curriculum for students. As you may have seen from class, I also believe that CS students do best when they understand other disciplines, and I see more diverse understanding at small liberal arts colleges.

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