Two weeks ago today, I arrived in Walla Walla with my intrepid husband, Brooks, and our two anxious cats. My mission: To build a brand new computer science program at Whitman College.
Although this is the first post in my new blog, “Counting from Zero,” it is by no means the beginning of the story. In this post, I’ll narrate my arrival at Whitman and my first two weeks here. My story briefly introduces many of the players and many topics for future posts.
We arrived on Wednesday, July 1, a few days before the Independence Day holiday, and in the midst of a blistering heat wave. After setting up the cats’ litter box (very important!) and getting some lunch, I had hoped to pick up my office keys. That was not to be: The air conditioning was out due to ongoing construction. When I got to the building office, I found the staff had set temporary office hours of 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. to avoid the heat. Moreover, the office was closed for the rest of the week in honor of the upcoming holiday. All this I could have learned from my email, which I had been ignoring in the frenzy of getting ready to load the moving truck and turn our house in Grinnell over to its new owners.
All new faculty had been invited to visit the Provost’s office upon their arrival, and I had planned to do this right away. By happenstance, I had just received an email from Kazi Joshua, Whitman’s Associate Dean for Intercultural Affairs and Chief Diversity Officer, regarding our fall tenure-track search. He advised me that I would not find anyone in the Provost’s office until after the holiday.
On the bright side, this allowed me to spend a guilt-free Thursday and Friday with Brooks, getting settled in our rental house and doing some post-move shopping while we awaited the moving truck. We had lunch with my parents, who had also decided to move to Walla Walla. We went for a hike (our first in years) and shared a pleasant July 4th evening with colleague extraordinaire Albert Schueller, who chaired the CS steering committee and has been my guide in pretty much everything about my transition to Whitman.
I’d like to say I turned up bright and early on Monday morning to claim my office keys. But that’s not what happened. Instead, I spent the morning on the front porch of my rental house, drafting an overdue book chapter proposal. I recognized math colleague Russ Gordon walking by, and we chatted about my cat’s altercation with a neighborhood cat. Once I had emailed the draft proposal off to my co-authors, I went to the Olin Building office, met Katina the office assistant (who had only been working at the college only three weeks), and claimed my office key along with a bag of supplies. I already knew how to find my office as I had visited half a dozen times before. I organized my office keys (this took a while) and took stock of the furniture left over from the last inhabitant.
After lunch, I took a tour of Memorial Hall. I greeted the Provost, Pat Spencer, who had hired me. I also met the new President, Kathy Murray. We had briefly talked on the phone during my negotiations with Whitman, but this was the first time I had met her in person. Although I had seen the former President’s farewell email, it was nonetheless a bit of a surprise to find her and not George Bridges in the President’s office. Afterwards, I went in search of standing desks to look at before buying my own, which led me to the Registrar’s office, Student Affairs, Off-Campus Study, and Development. I met several new folks, and some I had met in earlier visits — in particular Susan Holme, Director of Off-Campus Study, and John Bogley, Vice President for Development and College Relations.
I also greeted Albert, math colleague David Guichard, and our new technical specialist, Dustin Palmer, who was also getting settled after starting work on July 1.
That evening, after showing Brooks my new office, I found the new introductory CS lab under construction. I was so excited I took a picture to share on Facebook. Albert reminded me to also share it with the “CS @ Whitman” Facebook group for students, alumni, and friends of the initiative.
Tuesday was down to business: working with Albert to develop a timeline for our tenure-track search, fill out the questionnaire on diversifying the applicant pool, and revise the position ad. After emailing these documents to the CS steering committee for comment, I turned back to my physical landscape: setting up my new printer, visiting the Physical Plant warehouse in search of better furniture, shopping online for a standing desk and round table, dreaming of how I would arrange my new furniture, and figuring out how to make the best of the furniture I have. This extended into Wednesday and the following Monday, as I strived to get multiple devices to share one ethernet port and to make ergonomic use of old furniture designed for tall men to write, not for short women to type.
On Wednesday, I also had my first real meeting with Dustin, to enumerate IT projects to support CS for the fall semester and beyond.
The moving truck arrived on Thursday morning, and lo, the next four days were spent unpacking and organizing. Brooks and I are still awaiting some belongings that were offloaded to a warehouse because the truck was overweight, including the contents of all of our top kitchen drawers, our favorite cookbooks, the contents of our dresser drawers, and the last boxes we packed in our bedroom and bathroom. C’est la vie.
Now I feel settled enough that I am continuing what I’ve started. I’ve submitted my chapter proposal to the editor and the search materials to the Provost. I’ve had lunch with a couple of science colleagues (who I met in Grinnell, of all places!) and a second meeting with Dustin. I’ve found the “unpack me first” box and moved it into my office—although I admit I haven’t unpacked it yet. I’ve already fielded an information request from an alumnus. All the folks I met on my prior visits are starting to figure out I’m here and invite me to meet with them.
I look forward to seeing what tomorrow brings. Friday will, I hope, bring the rest of Brooks’ and my belongings.
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for joining me in this journey. Subsequent posts will address topics such as the history of CS at Whitman, how I got here, staffing, labs, curriculum, and so on. Hope to see you then!