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Sunday, June 16, 2013

Getting Kids Interested in Engineering and Computer Science (interview)

Dr. David Hannay is Professor of Computer Science Emeritus and former Dean of Engineering at Union College in Schenectady, New York, and Vice President of Hannay Reels, a fourth-generation family-run manufacturing business in upstate New York. 

When did you begin your career in teaching and computer science?

Very early! Believe it or not, I started teaching in high school when they couldn't find a substitute teacher for my math class.

As an undergraduate, after taking the one and only computer course offered, I was hired as my college’s administrative programmer for its IBM 1620. By the age of 22, with my first master’s degree in hand, I was teaching CS full time at the college level.

I can't think of what I would do if computers didn't exist. A few years ago, I went to a museum exhibit on the history of computers and it was practically a history of my own career. My PhD dissertation advisor had worked on one of the world’s first computers at Harvard during World War II. I started out using punched cards and paper tape; now I’d be lost without my iPhone.

Do you have any advice for high school math teachers?

Getting the correct answer is often not as important as understanding why and how the formula and/or algorithm worked.

Also, there's a tendency for mathematically gifted college students to go into the stock market. There's a great need for more well-trained engineers and computer scientists in this country, so I'd encourage teachers to open students' eyes to the many career possibilities in those areas.

Where can students get more information about engineering and computer science?

ACM, the Association for Computing Machinery, has a Career Center, Computing News, and a comprehensive Digital Library.

eGFI (Engineering, Go For It!) , by the American Society for Engineering Education, features interviews with young engineers who give advice on applying to college and describe how they got started in their careers.

Scratch is a free program provided by the MIT Media Lab. Kids can use it to get hands-on experience with programming their own animations, games, and stories.

What kind of background do students need in order to become successful engineers?

They need solid skills in mathematics, physics, and visualization & design, as well as English. Some students are surprised by that, but no matter how brilliant an engineer you are, it won’t do you any good if you can’t communicate your ideas.

What does “mindful teaching” mean to you? Do you have a mindfulness practice, and if so, how does it help you in your work?

I think it's important for as many people as possible to understand what goes on "behind the screens" of their electronic devices. (When training users of my programs I often tell them more than they really want to know about why and how things work).

Several years ago, I started a volunteer organization called CompuTutor to help local non-profits learn how to use computers more effectively. Currently, I’m using my background in mathematics and business as chair of my church’s finance committee; we're working with other church committees to make sure that we can sustain our budget long term while contributing as much as possible to important social causes.

To me, mindfulness means being aware of what the needs are in the community and how I can use my skills to help.


related posts:

Celebrating the Ordinary Women of STEM 

Engaging Girls in STEM

(Full disclosure:  Yes, we're related.  He's my dad.  You can also read an interview with my mom about Women Writers at the Time of Shakespeare.)

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