Computer science dept. marks 25 years at the College

Last weekend, the computer science department celebrated its 25th anniversary at the College with a symposium, bringing together current students and faculty with alumni from the College who work in computer science-related fields. The talks and panels covered a wide range of topics concerning computer science.

The event brought in about 100 alumni of the computer science department to share their experiences in the field after their time at the College. “We have, over the 25-year history of our department, seen nearly 400 students major in computer science,” Duane Bailey, professor of computer science, said. “We’re fortunate to have kept in touch with our alumni. We thought this anniversary would be a good time to bring our small community together to hear about their collective success.”

Last Friday, panels and lectures replaced regularly scheduled classes in computer science. “More than 50 of our former students were kind enough to give lectures, to discuss their passions in research talks, to participate in four different career panels and to give us feedback on how our curriculum might be improved,” Bailey said. “We had special, general audience lectures underwritten by Sigma Xi (the scientific research honor society) and the Class of 1960 program.” The general audience lectures included a talk by Richard Ketcham ’87 about using computer modeling in the geosciences, and a talk by A.J. Bernheim Brush ’96 from Microsoft about automating the home. Additionally, Kim Bruce, who was heavily involved in the formation of the department at the College and who now works in the computer science department at Pomona College, gave a keynote address on the role of computer science at liberal arts institutions at last Friday’s banquet.

Two computer science honors students, April Shen ’13 and James Wilcox ’13, presented their research at the banquet. “Broadly speaking, my research is in programming languages, so I study how humans tell machines what to do,” Wilcox explained. This year, I’ve been working on automatically detecting errors in software that runs on multicore computers. My research involves designing algorithms to detect these errors, proving mathematically that the algorithms are correct and writing code to implement the algorithms. I have also done some empirical studies that show that my algorithms are faster than previous work.”

Bailey also highlighted the student talks at the Dining Philosophers’ Dinner. “We had two wonderful presentations,” he said. “Evan Sandhaus ’02, lead architect for semantic platforms at The New York Times, gave us a sneak preview of some of the powerful tools the Times is using to organize its invaluable collection of millions of articles. Josh Frankel ’02, an exciting young animator from New York, used the event to announce the launching of Whysaurus, a Wikipedia-like resource that uses crowd sourcing and Reddit-like ratings to evaluate the links between statements like ‘The earth’s climate is changing,’ and ‘plausible explanations.’”

Stephen Freund, professor and chair of computer science, explained that the event was designed to be as inclusive as possible. “Our alumni have pursued many, many different careers,” he said. “Some are academics, teachers or researchers; some are entrepreneurs; some are artists; some are software engineers; some practice law, business or medicine; and some have embarked on completely different (and sometimes surprising) paths altogether. We take great satisfaction in seeing our alumni thrive in such varied careers. We hope this symposium not only celebrated the many achievements of the department and our alumni, but also fostered new connections among them and our current students and highlighted the myriad of doors open to those studying computer science at a liberal arts college like Williams.”

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