College remembers late computer science professor Andrea Danyluk

Bellamy Richardson

Professor Andrea Danyluk, who was the first woman hired into the computer science faculty at the College, died on March 3. (Photo courtesy of the Williams Office of Communications.)

Professor of Computer Science Emerita Andrea Danyluk died on March 3 at the age of 59 after a long battle against pancreatic cancer. Danyluk was a pioneer and advocate for women in the computer science field, and she made history at the College as the first woman hired into the faculty of computer science.

Danyluk was a beloved professor, colleague, and friend to faculty and students. The College held a memorial service for the faculty to honor Danyluk on Saturday.

Danyluk graduated from Vassar College in 1984 with a degree in mathematics and computer science and received her doctorate from Columbia University in 1992. She was hired as a professor of computer science at the College in 1994. In 2009-10, Danyluk served as the Acting Dean of the Faculty.

At the College, Danyluk taught courses in programming, data structures, the theory of computation, robotics, cognitive science, AI, and machine learning. Alongside Professor of Philosophy Joe Cruz ’91 and Professor of Psychology Kris Kirby, she created the Cognitive Science program at the College, which includes courses in a wide range of disciplines such as biology, computer science, neuroscience, philosophy, and psychology. She also co-advised the Women in Computer Science student group.

In a memorial written by Professors of Computer Science Jeannie Albrecht, Duane Bailey, and Stephen Freund and Professors Emeriti Bill Lenhart and Tom Murtagh, Danyluk’s friends and colleagues reflect on her contributions to the College and her passion for teaching. “Those who worked with Andrea had the pleasure of witnessing first-hand the truly remarkable effect she had on her students,” her colleagues wrote. “Andrea brought to the classroom not just a great appreciation and passion for the material, but also a sense of playfulness in discovery. Tasks that might otherwise have been mundane or tedious became opportunities for shameless geeking-out and delight.”

Bailey described Danyluk as an exemplary professor and role model to young scientists. “We always sought to build … the best program for undergraduate computer science education and research,” Bailey wrote in an email to the Record. “Andrea’s efforts helped to make that achievable, year after year. I will miss her dearly, but any sadness is tempered by knowledge that she lives on through a network of former students and research scientists who carry her passion forward.”

Wei Luo ’18, one of Danyluk’s students, reflected on the impact Danyluk had on his life. “Andrea was a teacher, a friend, and a guiding star,” Luo wrote in an email to the Record. “Andrea opened the doors of machine learning to me via a college course, a research project, and my senior thesis. She recommended me to Columbia, where I met my wife and obtained my Master’s degree.”

“I would not be who I am today without her,” Luo wrote. “She will be remembered and I will be forever grateful.”