Massive road trip, days 7-11

Day 7 started with a vist to Lewis and Clark College, which was interesting if not overwhelming for Tom. It’s a gorgeous campus and the study abroad stuff there is very cool, but it didn’t particular ring Tom’s bells.

We then spent most of the day hanging around Portland together, including a visit to the mighty and wonderful Powell’s City of Books (one of the last, great independent book stores) and checking in at GECCO to get my registration stuff. Tom totally loved Powell’s (“I could get lost in here!”), and has in fact spent large amounts of my money and his time there this week while I was at the conference. We also went out and saw Toy Story 3 that night, which turned out to be every bit as good as everyone’s said it is – lots of fun and very well written.

Day 8 was our last college visit in this part of the world, as we headed up to Olympia, Washington (2 hours north of Portland) to visit Evergreen State College. This was a real eye opener for both of us. I knew Evergreen was cool (and another of the small number of public liberal arts colleges in the U.S.), but didn’t know a lot of the details, and I think we both found the unusual curriculum and environment really interesting and thought provoking.

I had arranged beforehand to meet some of the computing faculty at Evergreen so we could learn a little more about their program as part of a program review we’re doing at Morris, so after the information session and tour we met up with Sherri Shulman and then headed over to meet her husband and fellow CS faculty, Neal Nelson. When Neal walked in, there was this very weird moment where we both those we knew each other but weren’t sure why. Duh, duh, and double duh – Neal was my undergraduate thesis advisor at Reed! I’d lost track of him when he left Reed in 1988, and I somehow thought he’d gone into industry so I wasn’t even looking to find him anywhere in our travels. Given all that and the the fact that his name doesn’t particularly stand out (and that I’m really crap with names), I totally didn’t consider the possibility that I knew this Neal guy we were going to see. After recovering from that somewhat awkward start, Sherri, Neal, and I had a really excellent conversation that ran a couple of hours easy. Lots of catching up on old times, as well as discussing undergraduate computing curriculum with limited resources in a public school – many thanks to both of them for all their time!

After returning to Portland, we went to Papa Haydn’s, possibly the best source of wonderfully scrumptious and rich desserts that I know of in the U.S. I had a wonderful Autumn Meringue and it was just like being a college student again (without the metabolism of a 20 year old). We used to walk out to Papa Haydn’s from Reed (maybe a 30 minute walk) several times a year and indulge, and was so cool to go back and find that it really hadn’t changed much in all those years.

That night was the opening reception at GECCO, so Tom and I hung around for a few hours eating little snacky things and chatting with various folks. Tom had never met most of my EC friends and colleagues, and he was very cool at meeting a bunch of strangers that are, even worse, all science nerds to a very high degree. Luckily it’s a really cool group of people, and I think he actually enjoyed himself.

By Day 9 I’d actually skipped out on the bulk of the first two days at GECCO, so at this point I essentially abandoned my son to the wilds of downtown Portland and started pretending to be a scientist for a bit. He spent most of his time hanging at Powell’s and reading books, while I listened to people talk about their cool evolutionary computation research.

That night I did actually skip out on the last session, though, and went back to Reed to join a bunch of faculty that have a regular Friday beer and food gathering at Woodstock Wine and Deli up the hill from campus. Jim had invited me to join them, and it was a great chance to meet some people I knew that I’d missed before (like Ray Mayer) and a bunch of other faculty that are new to the college since I was a student there in the dim past.

I wasn’t the only one meeting up with old friends, as Tom met up with Perry Webster from Morris (currently attending the University of Portland) and hung with her and a family friend pretty much the whole evening, which was a neat chance for him to spend a little time with people more his age :-).

Day 10 was much the same, although I stayed at the conference pretty late because the poster session and associated reception was that evening.

Day 11 (today) was the end of the conference, including eating lunch in the hotel sports bar with a bunch of very enthusiastic Europeans watching the World Cup final! Eli Mayfield (UMM ’09, now a grad student at Carnegie Mellon studying natural language processing) gave a talk today, and did a really excellent job. Tom and I went out to Jake’s Famous Crawfish with Eli and Bill Tozier. Jake’s was a great seafood house back in the day, and they didn’t disappoint, providing us with excellent food to go with the fine conversation. That was a great way to end our time in Portland!

Now we’re off to bed, and tomorrow we drive south to Tule Lake and Lava Beds National Monument. With a little luck we may hook up with Wayne Manselle in Eugen on the way!

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We invest in research, but what about teaching?

From a nice piece by Vikram Savkar at entitled “We invest in research, but what about teaching?”:

Since President Obama’s announcement of the Educate to Innovate program in November 2009, an encouraging number of technology and media companies, non-profit organizations and government agencies have been working in concert to strengthen the nation’s approach to science education. But the reality is that the lion’s share of transformation must come from within: from school systems, in the case of K-12 education, and from the academy, in the case of higher education.

A position paper recently issued by the Nature Publishing Group illustrates this point in the context of higher education. A significant majority, 77 percent, of the 450 faculty surveyed for the paper consider their educational responsibilities to be equally as important as research responsibilities. Only 6 percent consider research more important than education. Yet when asked to appoint a hypothetical candidate to an open tenure position in their department, the majority chose a star researcher with poor teaching skills over both a star teacher with little research background and a candidate equally skilled, though not notable, in both teaching and research.

The ripple effects of this mindset in the academy are damaging to the goals of universities.

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