We have a team!

The first meeting of the Whitman CS faculty was today!

I wrote about our first hire, John Stratton, in an earlier post. We have now filled our second position.

Andy Exley defended his dissertation at the University of Minnesota just this week! His research is in natural language processing; his job talk was titled, “Parsing Sentences With, uh, With Speech Repairs.” He’s looking forward to engaging undergrads in research on sentiment analysis in social media. For the last three years, he has been a visiting instructor at Carleton College, also his alma mater. Before that, he was a visiting instructor at St. Catherine’s University, a women’s college. Andy gets what the liberal arts are about. He has had success in creating an inclusive classroom, and he gave a really lovely guest lecture in my Intro class with very positive student feedback. I will have things to learn from him about teaching. Andy’s recommenders emphasized what a wonderful colleague he has been (as did John’s). And to top it all off, we developed a viable plan for a robust liberal arts CS major curriculum during about 45 minutes of his interview.

John and I got the news last week while he and his wife Jenny were visiting Walla Walla to look for housing. He and I were at lunch with our spouses when I got Andy’s email saying he had signed a contract with Whitman. I was over the moon then and I’ve been walking on air all week. I expected to be relieved when the search process was over; I did not expect to be so happy.


I did my best to give Andy space while he prepared to defend his dissertation, but time, tide, and pre-registration wait for no man. Our main goal for today’s meeting was to finalize courses and teaching assignments for next year. Andy and I had discussed possible courses during his interview, but we failed to account for the fact that some prerequisite courses haven’t yet been taught. We also took the tentative weekly teaching schedule John and I worked out and reworked it to accommodate the actual courses we’ll offer as well as Andy’s preferences. (The Registrar wanted that information a few months ago.) It took about 45 minutes to work out. We were efficient; we were collegial. Dare I say it was fun?

I find myself understanding my senior colleagues at Grinnell a lot better now that I have my own junior colleagues to take care of. They taught me well. I think we were able to make course assignments that will both serve the needs of the fledgling program and allow Andy what he needs for his own professional development. The same goes for John, too, though his courses were settled a while ago.

[Note to any Whitman students who are reading: Two of Andy’s fall courses will not probably not appear in the catalog on April 8, because they may not be reviewed by Curriculum Committee until their April 13 meeting. I will send email about these courses by April 8 at the latest.]

We ended up talking for about 90 minutes. How did we spend the remaining time? We talked about what we prefer students to call us, and how to make sure future colleagues have options. We talked about how we want to collaborate on Intro and Data Structures, and how we want to rotate through the other core courses. We talked about plans for moving to Walla Walla. We talked about our spouses and pets. We have a lot of getting to know each other to look forward to.

The last two weeks have been spring break at Whitman; classes start again Monday. Brooks used up his vacation in January, so this was a working break for me. Just as well since there was plenty of work to do.

I mentioned that John and his wife visited last week. Brooks and I had them over for dinner the day after they arrived, as well as meeting for lunch on the day of their departure. In between, I gave John and Jenny a campus tour, and John and I met to discuss curriculum and catch up on one of his teaching projects. I enjoyed their company a lot. With Jenny the only of the three spouses not in technology (she is a plant specimen archivist), we will have to be careful to not only talk about technology when we gather socially.


I straightened out a few situations: One where I had overcommitted myself professionally; another where a course had an unpublished prerequisite and a student needed alternatives. (Who knew that Algorithms needs Calc I as a prerequisite? I’ve always been at schools where everyone or nearly everyone took Calc I.)

I met twice with an independent study student who stayed on campus over the break.

I corrected proofs for a journal article, and learned my panel proposal on faculty careers was accepted at the Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing.

I took a one-day trip to the Seattle area with Kim Rolfe, Director of Business Engagement. During the day, Kim and I visited technical recruiters at Zillow, Tableau, and Concur. What I learned confirmed some of my goals for curriculum design. Kim and I also learned we will need to prepare students to hit the ground running first thing in the fall if they want to intern at one of these highly competitive companies. We started brainstorming about how to engage alumni, e.g., in running mock technical interviews. Beyond this, we are starting to establish the relationships that will help build a pipeline for Whitman students in the future. We also had a great lunch with Chip Anderson (P18) of StockCharts.com, who has pledged to recruit interns from Whitman for the next several years.

This first engagement was a valuable learning experience for both of us. We look forward to planning a return trip to connect with larger companies in Seattle, as well as a trip to the Bay Area. Based on our experience with Chip and suggestions from alumni, we’d like to meet with alumni in technical/engineering positions alongside recruiters. John Bogley has developed a list of possible alumni connections.

In the evening, I spoke to alumni on the state of CS at Whitman. It was a lot of fun for me—great questions, great conversations, and laughs at all the right times. I announced Andy’s hiring; It was really fun to conclude, “…and he is defending his dissertation tomorrow, so think good thoughts.” There were about 70 alumni, parents, and prospective students in attendance (and even a ringer—one of my former students, Grinnell ’11, whose parents are Whitman alumni). John Bogley observed that it was one of the most ethnically diverse groups of alumni he’s seen, with many new faces. I’ll be working with Nancy Mitchell to set up a similar session when I’m in San Jose for a conference the week of May 9.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Dustin and I decided on furniture for the reading nook in the empty corner of the intro lab.

I had lunch with a colleagues a couple of times, and had lunch with my husband a lot more. I had a few other meetings I’d been putting off until break: One about a possible software development project; one with a colleague at another institution that is thinking about starting a new CS program; one with President Murray about hosting the annual LACS meeting next summer (and many other things); one with John Bogley about the CS Working Group. I wrote a long update to that group before writing this blog post.

I’ve arranged for some course visits, since my tenure review is this fall.

I worked some on assignment preparation for Intro, and I have more work yet to do.

I made some headway on the grading that piled up during on-campus interviews and SIGCSE, and I have more work yet to do.

I took last weekend completely off (what a joy!) I will not be able to take this weekend completely off. One day would be a good goal. I’m hoping I can keep this glow for the next few weeks as the spring semester grinds to a close.


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