History of Academic Computing At Maryville College

By Dr. John Nichols '65 and Dr. Scott Brunger

Introduction

When technology changes rapidly, as with computers, a purchaser has a choice of being an “early adopter” facing the risks that the technology will not work as planned or a “prudent late adopter” waiting until the technology has proven itself. When technology changes every three to five years, one must either choose to adopt quickly or wait until prices drop later. At colleges and universities the early adopters anticipate that successful implementation of the new technology will inspire decisions of new faculty and students to come. The prudent late adopters save money and avoid the risk of failure without the reputation for innovation.

What follows is an account of the history of academic computing at Maryville College by two retired faculty members, who were very busy bringing it to campus.  Dr. John Nichols, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics, and Dr. Scott Brunger; Professor Emeritus of Economics, recorded this history, because it is unwritten and could be lost. It will be clear that sometimes MC was an early adopter of computing technology, so mistakes were made and lessons learned. Other times, MC avoided risks and rewards that flow from early success. However, Maryville College started with very little and has come far through the combined efforts of faculty, students and donors.  Armed with the knowledge of our history may future generations carry the torch further.

Following the discussion of changes in technology, another section describes the development of the computer science majors at Maryville College. As part of this study a questionnaire was emailed to pioneer graduates in computer science/business and computer science/mathematics asking about their experience in the major, their use of computers for their senior thesis or senior study, and their use of computer knowledge subsequent to graduation. Some of their responses are incorporated into this history of computer science majors.

Read the full history and alumni comments below.

 

Memories and Stories Shared By Alumni

Dr. John Nichols '65 and Dr. Scott Brunger asked former students who took computer classes at MC to answer questions designed to solicit personal experiences: 

  1. What computer-related courses did you take at MC, and who were your teachers?
  2. What were the ways you used MC computers for your senior study?
  3. In retrospect, how did you use your computer knowledge in your life following MC? How did it affect your career and other activities after graduation?
  4. If you were one of the students in the first CS classes (using punched cards at the University of Tennessee, using the teletype machines with Call-A-Computer, or EGOR, the mini HP2114B computer), we welcome your comments on these experiences.

The comments received are below.

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Jeremy Baucom ’02

1. What computer-related courses did you take at MC, and who were your teachers?

I actually don't remember too well what the courses were. I studied from 1998 until 2003. Dr. Pietenpol was the professor for possibly all computer classes; we learned some outdated programming language for a couple classes, computer architecture, a database design course. I don't remember what else. What I will never forget was the Dr. Pietenpol would throw little boxes of raisins to us when we came in to take final exams. I'm still not sure what that was all about.

2. What were the ways you used MC computers for your senior study?

For the senior thesis, I developed a website using php script and mysql database (at the time it was a popular combination for web development). I used this knowledge for one of my early jobs as a web developer using php and mysql for website development, including the creation of website for a consulting company that had the purpose of providing anonymous employee feedback. 

3. In retrospect, how did you use your computer knowledge in your life following MC? How did it affect your career and other activities after graduation?

A dozen years or so later, I still haven't gotten away from websites. For the past 10 years or so, I've held various positions at Kaspersky Lab (anti-virus software) in the Digital Marketing department, either directly working on websites or managing a team that works on websites.

Kevin Crothers ’85

(Email to Dr. John Nichols)

I was reading of your project in the most recent Focus. I'm looking forward to seeing it when it is complete. 

I still occasionally have a "you whippersnappers with your apps; you've never had to debug FORTRAN on a twenty-page printout" rant.

One of my fondest MC/computing-related memories is hanging out in the science library and reading back issues of BYTE. I pretty much understood about one sentence in four, but it interested and engaged me enough that I've been lashed to a computer ever since. 

James “Phil” Finney ’86

(Email to Dr. John Nichols and Dr. Scott Brunger)

I saw the article on you working on recording the computer history at Maryville and was shocked to see that the picture of the student in the article was myself. It was taken in the old second floor computer lab in Sutton Science Center, Spring term 1983. I believe that is one of the "main frame" dumb terminals that was connected to the HP and the DEC PDP-1130 for course in BASIC language programming. It was the last term before the micro computer lab went online with the Vector Graphics 440/420 workstations, the Apple IIe terminals, and the Sun workstations. I was one of the Lab assistants starting Fall term of 1983 and usually worked the Saturday and Sunday afternoon shifts. 

1. What computer-related courses did you take at MC, and who were your teachers?

Computer courses:

  • CS121 Intro to Data Processing
  • CS 218 BASIC Programming
  • CS 219 Fortran Programming
  • CS 221 Computer Architecture
  • CS 215 Intermediate Programming – PASCAL
  • CS 303 Special Topics - Numerical Analysis
  • CS 311 Data Structures & File Processing
  • CS 313 Database Management Systems
  • Math/CS 351/352 IS-- 6502 Assembly Lang. Programming Applications.

Instructors: Mr. Shamblin, Ms. Jenny Wu, Dr. William Dent, Dr. Nichols.

2. What were the ways you used MC computers for your senior study?

Use the Apple IIe workstations in first Micro-computer lab for basis of study and to produce all applications listings and data hard copies. Manually entered the code for the 6502 Assembler used to compile for study's sample applications.

3a. In retrospect, how did you use your computer knowledge in your life following MC?

Was the basis for all further study and work in my career field. Have worked in Information Systems Support since completing Masters Degree at University of Tennessee. Worked part time as adjunct faculty teaching introductory Computer Science classes at Holms Community College in Grenada, MS.

3b. How did it affect your career and other activities after graduation?

Chose my graduate school concentration areas of Numerical Analysis and Applied Mathematics to build on Computer Science foundation from MC. Masters Research project was in Geometric Programming.

4. If you were one of the students in the first CS classes (using punched cards at the University of Tennessee, using the teletype machines with Call-A-Computer, or EGOR, the mini HP2114B computer), we welcome your comments on these experiences.

Was one of the first classes to use the new Vector Graphics and Sun Micro-computer labs in 1983. Was one of the last to use the DEC PDP-1130 with the "dumb terminals", while the COBAL programming class was still using the punch card reader. Recall running "Snoopy" banners from paper-tape and then writing BASIC program to reproduce. I recall more than one COBAL student dropping their stack of punch cards then taking hours to sort them all out. Recall the first set of COBAL student to use the Vector Graphics PC lab have program compiles run for hours and having to boot them from floppy disks. Being a lab Assistant and supervising the student disk storage boxes to encourage individual work on project assignments.

Theresa Marie Taylor Gray ’87

1. What computer-related courses did you take at MC, and who were your teachers?

Professors: Mr. Shambling, Dr. Nichols, Dr. Brunger, (there was a lady but I cannot remember her name)

Classes: Cobol, Pascal, Basic?, Not sure of the others but there were many, many more (getting too old since I graduated 30 years ago)

2. What were the ways you used MC computers for your senior study?

My independent study was about farmers. I worked for Farmers Home Administration from my sophomore year until I graduated.  Because I was from Florida, I had little exposure to farmers.  I believe I entered data about their crops.  I also wrote my independent study on my dad’s compac computer vs. hiring someone to type it for me.  Also, I did another project for Martha Hess on enrollment. I think that was another type of project that Dr. Nichols asked me to do but not directly related to independent study.  I entered data for her into a spreadsheet/database which was stored on a floppy drive.

3. In retrospect, how did you use your computer knowledge in your life following MC? How did it affect your career and other activities after graduation?

I went into programming when I graduated. Started at Oak Ridge Associated Universities and moved to a company in Richmond, VA. I am attaching my resume because this will show you what Maryville College did for me. I am forever blessed for the education received by Maryville College; however, the best part was that my professors, especially you, Dr. Nichols, believed in me and cared so much. Your faith in my ability enabled me to have confidence in myself and succeed.

4. If you were one of the students in the first CS classes (using punched cards at the University of Tennessee, using the teletype machines with Call-A-Computer, or EGOR, the mini HP2114B computer), we welcome your comments on these experiences.

This was so fun… I remember having to take the floppy disk and try to line up the little hole when the computer would not read it. I think I may still have some tucked away.  It was a good thing I did not need reading glasses back in college or I would not have been able to see the screen.  Those were the ‘good ole days.’ 

DeAnn Hargis ’88

1. What computer-related courses did you take at MC, and who were your teachers?

The courses were: Pascal, Cobol, Computer Architecture, Word Processing/Spreadsheets/etc (I think), Data Structures … I’m sure more. I cannot remember names of the instructors but I can picture sitting in the classes in my mind…

2. What were the ways you used MC computers for your senior study?

I researched and developed simplistic inventory systems for retail applications – thankfully on the “Pass/Fail” approach and not the letter grade!

3. In retrospect, how did you use your computer knowledge in your life following MC? How did it affect your career and other activities after graduation?

In my Senior year – staying up all night and never getting the computer to deliver the right results even though my code was logically correct – I vowed never to be a programmer! I did enjoy the business requirements, process development and testing aspects of the different group projects we had. My first position after graduating was with AT&T-Network Systems in a Methods & Business Practices organization, where I was responsible for a number of Order to Cash systems and processes. From there I have had the great opportunity to take positions across all operational aspects of a manufacturing and field installation business. I had the opportunity to travel for work in 26 different countries and lead organizations with teams spanning the globe. At a core of how I have approached every position was to get to understand the business processes, the software tools used and the core deliverables of the organization. I am not an expert in any one area, but I’m one of the few people that can look across the broad expanse and tie the processes and systems together – finding gaps and improving operations. I give credit to my MC education as the foundry of my approach to business operations – it was broad brushed; it was people and computers; and it required being able to think, communicate and solve.

Joseph Longo ’84

1. What computer-related courses did you take at MC, and who were your teachers?

I did not take formal classes – I was a Chemistry major. Dr. Nichols arranged for me to have access to the PDP-11. I taught myself Basic and wrote some games to be played in the lab. The one I remember was a multi-terminal tank game. I received a lot of help from (the man was the computer administrator, I don’t remember his name). 

2. What were the ways you used MC computers for your senior study?

I did not use them for independent study.

3. In retrospect, how did you use your computer knowledge in your life following MC? How did it affect your career and other activities after graduation?

The experiences I had helped me in early jobs. Later in the ‘90s I used Visual Basic to write several games: “Expert Casino”, “Expert Favorite games” that were published and sold in stores. Since then, I have been an independent software developer. I work mostly on various government contracts in the DC area.

Henry Marambio ’89

1. What computer-related courses did you take at MC, and who were your teachers?

Professor for computer courses between '86-'89 was Allison Darken for most of my major classes.  I am certain at least 1 or more course was taught by Dr. Nichols. 

2. What were the ways you used MC computers for your senior study?

I specifically did not use any of the computer Science dept computers for my Senior Thesis.  I was lucky to have been hired (prior to graduation) to help build the campus wide computer network and integrated computer system (transcripts, alumni office etc).  I was able to take advantage of my access to the "student" phone system and I concentrated by Senior Thesis on building a "business" around reselling long distance.

3. In retrospect, how did you use your computer knowledge in your life following MC? How did it affect your career and other activities after graduation?

  • At the time of my graduation I was not ready or interested to pursue advanced education beyond MC.  I felt that because the degree was a hybrid it afforded me greater options in finding me my first job.
  • I also felt, though, that the degree was light on the computer science side of the degree, but the small family atmosphere (within the dept) made my time at MC well worthwhile. The 4-to-1 class ratio was nice.
  • I have spent my entire career leveraging the Business/Bus Mgmt & Computer Science knowledge that I gathered from my time at MC.  There isn't a day that I don't use these skills.  Every one of my jobs has given me the opportunity to improve on these.

William N. Osborne, Jr. ’70

 I only took one computer science class while at Maryville College and it was the Interim Class on Matrix Algebra in the fall of 1967. C.F. Smith was my roommate at the time and he convinced me to take the class so that we would have time to lift weights and bulk up for football the following season. Neither of us had the extra money that we would have needed to take one of the Interim Classes that traveled. I don't remember much from the class because I have never really had much of an aptitude for computers or math. I do remember that we did some basic commands and I got the idea that computer functions were based on a type of logic that must be programmed (using computer language) for each function (Garbage In = Garbage Out).

As a psychology major, I used the manual calculator for the statistics that I used in my senior study and it was mainly to compute simple t-tests of significance. I graduated with a B.S. degree in psychology in 1970.

My first job out of college was as a probation and parole officer and I worked in the corrections field for approximately 10 years. The only technology that I used at that time was a "dictaphone" for dictating pre-sentence reports and casework supervision notes. I began teaching criminal justice at a community college in 1983 and personal computers were not common at that time. I started a doctoral program in Public Administration at Virginia Commonwealth University in 1987 and the first paper that I had to write was a 100 page auto-biographical learning plan for my first course in the program. I typed the entire paper on an electric typewriter and that is when I realized the utility of having a personal computer, because if I made a mistake on the last line of the page, it usually necessitated re-typing the entire page if I could not make neat erasures. My first experience with a personal computer was the Mac II which the community college began using in the late 1980's.

My next experience with trying to program a computer was when I took a class in computer animation for use in classroom lectures and presentations. This was before presentation software was common place. This was in the early 1990's. The course was a week-long course at the University of North Carolina and we had to create pages by copying and pasting images and then animating the images somewhat like cartoon slides in order to give it a sense of motion. This required basic computer language programming and I was terrible at it. At the end of the week, all I was able to do was a title page and that was the extent of my computer animation. I thought to myself that it would be much easier if someone else did the programming and made the program available to novices to use, which is so common now, we don't even think about it. Nevertheless, after presentation software became available for lecturing,

I did an experiment between two of my classes to see if there was a significant difference between the two approaches (technology versus chalk and blackboard). This experiment resulted in my getting an article published in the Journal of Criminal Justice Education comparing the outcomes of Low Tech VS. High Tech Instruction. Interestingly enough there were no differences in the learning outcomes for the two different approaches and this was an important finding at the time, because colleges were really pushing professors to adopt new technologies before they were ready for them. It lent credence to the fact that you could still teach just as effectively old school without all the bells and whistles that were being offered at the time. However, presently, all of my lectures are done using presentation software because it keeps me organized and focused.

One of the courses that I took at VCU was a seminar in social justice where we read a variety of books and articles that touched on social justice in several different contexts. For our final exam, we had to answer approximately 20 questions that needed to be linked to as many of the readings as we could. This is where my experience in Matrix Algebra came to my aid. I created a matrix with all of the readings listed down the left side of the page and I listed the questions that needed to be answered across the top of the page. I went down each column and put an X in each box where the questions and articles aligned. I then used the matrix as my outline for the final exam which resulted in a very comprehensive coverage of the topics and related readings. The professor thought this was a creative way to address the questions to the exam and quite frankly he had never seen the exam approached in this manner. This was truly inspired by the one course that I took in Matrix Algebra.

By the time I completed my Ph.D. in Public Policy and Administration at VCU in 1995, I was able to use SPSS to compute all of the statistics that I needed for my dissertation. At that point, all I needed to know was how to set up the variables and know what statistical analysis to compute. Although I had a master's degree in education before starting the Ph.D. program, it was the experience that I had at Maryville College with my research in my senior study that gave me the skill set and confidence to complete my dissertation.

I am currently teaching Criminal Justice at Ferrum College where I am also the program coordinator. I always wanted to teach at a small liberal arts college because of the outstanding educational experience that I had at Maryville College. (I have been at Ferrum College for ten years.) 

Richard Smock ’74

1. What computer-related courses did you take at MC, and who were your teachers?

I was a first year in the fall of 1970. Our entering class was required to take a 2 course sequence in the sciences. The first course was a philosophy of science course (Science Thought) and the second was a science experience course where students took 3 mini courses from different science faculty. My group had fresh water biology from Roger Ramger, intro chemistry from your friend and football nemesis from Bama (Dr. Richardson ?), and intro to computer programming from Norman Love. The point being that either all or a significant portion of my entering class had experience programming a computer by the end of their first year at MC. I assume this is not unique, but I’m pretty sure this is unusual.

In spring of 1973 I took the regular cs course that Dr. Love offered. We were introduced to elementary cs concepts and learned to program in assembly and BASIC languages. I know that the college’s HP computer could also be programmed in FORTRAN.

2. What were the ways you used MC computers for your senior study?

I used the HP computer extensively for my senior project during 1973-74. Gale Rhodes supervised my work, some of which involved computing eigenvalues for matrices that contained information about bonds between carbon atoms in organic molecules. The program plus the storage locations it created caused the machine to run out of memory when trying to execute for any matrix larger than 6x6. I was able to bump this up to 10x10 by learning the following trick: load a small segment of code into memory, run the code, save memory except where code is loaded, dump code, load in another small segment of code, repeat. It was a tremendous learning experience. I also remember that year I learned to use the pen plotter and used it to sketch projections of quadric surfaces.

During the 1972-73 academic year the college acquired 2 HP scientific calculators at a cost of approximately $450-$500 apiece. Now, of course, we purchase a calculator with more capabilities and easier interface for $15. These calculators were locked in special desktops in the computer room so that no one could walk off with them. There were sign-up sheets so that one could reserve time on these treasured devices.

3. In retrospect, how did you use your computer knowledge in your life following MC? How did it affect your career and other activities after graduation?

The courses I mentioned in response to question #1 were the only formal training I had regarding computers/computer science. With this foundation I taught myself FORTRAN in graduate school to complement the numerical analysis I was learning. When I came to DePauw in 1981 I began teaching introductory courses using BASIC and a senior level numerical analysis course using FORTRAN. In 1984 I began doing consulting work for IBM and learned to program in APL and PL1 for the projects I was working on. In 1989 I began doing consulting work for Square D electric and learned to program in Pascal and COBOL. The project I implemented using Pascal was turned (by me) into a Windows desktop application in 1999 using C++.

4. You asked about the mini HP computer. There is an excellent picture of the old HP computer with Doug Roth at the controls in the 1974 Chilhowean on page 75. Doug knew more about computing than anyone else I knew at MC besides Dr. Love. He retired from the tech industry down in Huntsville, Alabama within the last two years after suffering a stroke.

Sterling Strevel ’90

1. What computer-related courses did you take at MC, and who were your teachers?

  • Pascal- Donnelly
  • Assembler-Donnelly
  • Fortran- Self Study

2. What were the ways you used MC computers for your senior study?

Learn FORTRAN and create programs for statistical analysis.

3. In retrospect, how did you use your computer knowledge in your life following MC? How did it affect your career and other activities after graduation?

  • Analyze existing code and create new code in graduate school
  • Code every day or special function at work.
  • Network Administrator position at Blount County

Rusty Thompson ’78

1. What computer-related courses did you take at MC, and who were your teachers?

Basic class, and Dr. Love or Dr. Dent was my teacher.   

2. What were the ways you used MC computers for your senior study?

I did not use the system for my senior study. 

3. In retrospect, how did you use your computer knowledge in your life following MC? How did it affect your career and other activities after graduation?

It was so new at that time that it really did not affect my career.

4. If you were one of the students in the first CS classes (using punched cards at the University of Tennessee, using the teletype machines with Call-A-Computer, or EGOR, the mini HP2114B computer), we welcome your comments on these experiences.

We used the system that you had to mark the data cards; very slow and hard to do.

Kristen L. Toth ’99

1. What computer-related courses did you take at MC, and who were your teachers?

C++ computer programming; Pientpol

2. What were the ways you used MC computers for your senior study?

I wrote my thesis utilizing the computer lab; the World Wide Web was just becoming a “thing."

3. In retrospect, how did you use your computer knowledge in your life following MC? How did it affect your career and other activities after graduation?

I utilize computers daily in my work; I learned to create PowerPoint presentations and utilize Excel at MC, and these are part of my daily life working in healthcare.