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Questions from Young Alumni Weekend (#1193)

Topics/tags: Autobiographical, Grinnell

As I’ve recently written, this past weekend was Young Alumni Weekend at Grinnell College. Unsurprisingly, when I see alums, they have lots of questions. Since not everyone got to ask questions, particularly since not everyone was there, I thought I’d reproduce and extend some of the questions and my answers here.

Is the CS department still growing?

This one is a bit hard to answer since it’s based, in part, on when someone graduated. A few attendees at this year’s YAW were here when we still had 12–15 CS graduates per year. A few were in the first two years of the giant growth [1]. But, although the hockey stick has leveled out, we’re still growing. At least I think we are. So what did I say?

Things have leveled out a bit, but we’re still growing. It looks like we currently have 65 or so majors in the class of 2024, which just declared. I expect we’ll get a few more double majors.

Unfortunately, faculty growth has not kept up. This year was particularly bad. We have somewhere about three faculty on leave for 2022–23 [2]. We had trouble hiring visitors. Since we didn’t want to cancel classes if we couldn’t’t hire, we ended up closing a lot of students out of courses they wanted to take. There are even some rising third-years who currently have no CS courses in the fall. We expect to get that fixed now that we have a signed contract in hand [4]. I know that we’re adding a section of CSC-213 in the fall, which should be a good start. I’m told that we’ll allow CSC-324 to over-enroll [5], but that hasn’t happened yet.

Why isn’t the College growing the CS faculty?

I’m not sure that I can give a polite answer to this question.

I’m not sure. I’m trying to step back from those issues. We should be back up to eight regular faculty after next year. But eight isn’t enough to serve 60+ majors each year.

Are there new faculty since I’ve been here?

Yes. We have some great new faculty. Faculty Member One just finished their third year. They do cool stuff at the border of math and CS, mostly on networks. They’ve also been very creative on making the classroom more inclusive. Faculty Member Two just finished their second year. They do things between AI and Ethics, mostly considering agent-based systems for exploring the development of ethical principles, at least as I understand it. And they’re as crazy as I am; they took eight research students this summer. We also have two awesome visitors and we’re expecting a third one to join us in the fall. We’ve also hired a new theoretician in the fall, one who does research that asks some important societal questions.

Plus, PM and Charlie just got tenure! [6]

How are you doing?

This one is a bit hard to answer, too. Do they know that I’ve had a heart attack? It’s not really something I want to bring up in casual conversation. So I give an answer that covers the main point.

I’m alive. I’m great.

_And that’s basically true. I am thrilled to be alive. And I’m happy about many things.

I’ve stepped back from administrative responsibilities, and that’s making a big difference.

Do you have students this summer?

I’m taking this summer off from summer research students.

So what are you doing with your summer?

My wife’s job is two hours west of here. I’m living with her.

I overheard that you’re on leave this coming year. What are you doing this year?

The full answer requires a musing. Stay tuned. For now, here’s the short version.

My health is my priority. I plan to walk a lot and read some good books.

And I’m going to live with my wife.

How are Mr. Stone and Mr. Walker?

Mr. Stone would not want information about him posted on the Interweb.

Mr. Walker is having trouble slowing down. He’s visiting faculty at Sonoma State University. He’s also getting involved in curriculum design there.

I miss them both. It’s strange thinking of myself as the most senior CS faculty member.

When are you retiring?

Isn’t that a fascinating question? Is that I worry about you; I hope you’re planning a more sensible life or You’re probably dead wood by now; when are you getting out of the classroom? Or maybe it’s a reaction toIt’s strange thinking of myself as the most senior CS faculty member".

I just turned 58 [7]. I’m eligible to start Senior Faculty Status at age 61. So I have a few years before I start thinking too much about it. And, given what’s happening with the economy, I may continue to teach a bit longer than I had planned [8]. We’ll see how I feel after this year.

What are your current research projects?

I’ve been working on MIST, the Mathematical Image Synthesis Toolkit [9]. MIST provides a graphical yet functional approach to image making.

I feel like it’s time to revisit the image-based CSC-151, although without GIMP. I’ll probably spend some time working on that curriculum.

How are your kids?

Middle is here for YAW. You should ask him. He lives about five hours away. Eldest is on the east coast in graduate school. He’s sorry that he couldn’t make it back here. Youngest is in college on the west coast. It sucks having them so far away, but it’s good to see them grow, and I’m proud of what they are doing.

Are you going to return to daily musing?

Strangely enough, no one asked this question. I’m answering it anyway.

I’ve found it hard to muse of late. During the semester, I was too busy, and sleep took precedence [10]. Many of my musings have been rant-like [11]—or at least rant adjacent—and I’m trying to take a more positive outlook on life. And writing has been harder.

But I enjoy writing [12]. And I’m on leave. So I hope to return to some semblance of regular musing. Perhaps even daily musings. We shall see.

[1] 35 then 45, I think.

[2] Two full-year leaves, two half-year leaves [3], one MAP course reduction. Also the normal Chair’s course reduction.

[3] Maybe only one.

[4] I’m ninety percent sure we have a signed contract in hand.

[5] Among my long-standing concerns/reasons I want to retire early: Grinnell effectively forces us to accommodate our understaffing by over-enrolling our courses.

[6] That’s public information, so I don’t mind sharing it here.

[7] On Friday of YAW, believe it or not.

[8] A bit longer than I had planned is complicated. Before the heart attack, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever retire. However, given both the heart attack and changes to the College that frustrate me, retiring sooner became my new plan.

[9] One of the alums back for YAW said I can’t believe I named it that. And they are correct, I let them name it. But it needed a name.

[10] Work did too.

[11] No, not rat-like.

[12] I hope that it’s not just that I enjoy ranting.

Version 1.0 of 2022-06-21.