Virginia Pettit, sophomore Computer Science major, describes what it is like being a part of ACU’s chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM).
What kind of projects are you working on?
The main thing we are focusing on is creating a new website and making it look good. We have put other projects on hold because we feel the website is our number one priority. We also have a lot of freshmen this year, so we are working on teaching them. We are going to have several sessions where we teach students how to use html and how to do basic web design stuff. That’s the main project we’re working on right now, and it will probably take the rest of the semester to get it how we want it.
How can students get involved with ACM?
Like I said, this semester we are really working on teaching students web design skills. For example, we had a student teach a session on web design. When we get our enrollment up more, we are going to have people come in and talk. In past semesters, we’ve had system administrators from ACU and people who work in programming come speak. There’s a lot of opportunities to hear from people in the real world.
What kind of benefits do incoming freshmen and current students receive by joining ACM?
Being a part of ACM really helps you get to know the other people interested in your field. It’s not just open to computer science majors; anyone from any major can join. You get to work on projects that are bigger than the scope of what you work on in class. You get to know these people really well and make great connections. For example, if you are working on a project in class and you get stuck on it, you can go to ACM club and can ask for help and someone who has taken that class can help you out. You really become part of the SITC community. I’ve enjoyed it immensely. We meet every week, so it is fun to have a designated time where we all can meet and I can see my friends.
What is your educational background?
Undergraduate: Harding University; Kansas State for Masters and PhD.
What is your work background?
I worked for Pennzoil-Quaker State in Houston for a couple of years and shorter-term projects at a couple other places.
What do you teach at ACU?
Introductory (freshman level) programming classes and the upper level computer science classes.
What drew you to teaching? Why did you want to work with students?
I like the purity that comes in an academic subject; when it doesn’t get mixed in with business needs and realistic limitations. I like computer science because it is beautiful. It is consistent, it makes sense, we can have an ideal, and we can know when it’s correct. When I was working at a company I found that those things were not always valued as much as dealing with other constraints. I realize that those things have to happen, but I like dealing with the subject in its pure form. I like watching people learn and I like helping people learn.
What’s the best part of working with students?
I think the best part of working with students is seeing them able to look back at a problem that seemed to them very hard at the time that they now think of as very easy. One of the things I like most is when I see students get that perspective of “I used to think that was hard, now I don’t. The thing in front of me now seems hard but there will be a time when it is not.” There is a path to work through. There are always things in front of you that you can learn. Once you’ve learned it, it makes a difference.
Outside of teaching, what passions and hobbies do you have?
I play disc golf. I go home and play with my kids. I really like to read, so I read a lot.
Dr. Homer and his kids
Tell me about a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career.
What stands out in my mind is the first time I had somebody I had never met before contact me to say that they had read a paper or journal article that I had written and were trying to apply it but they had some questions and asked if I could help them with it. The first time it happened really stands out in my mind as a time where I felt like I’d finally become a real researcher. It wasn’t just people I knew who were reading my work, but people I had never heard of who had read my work and found it interesting enough and thought it had enough value to contact me to find out more about it.
Who is your role model, and why?
My father. I’m a lot like him in personality. I would say that a lot of the decisions I make are heavily based on things I’ve seen him do or deal with.
Who was your most inspirational professor and why?
Tim Baird, the department chair at Harding. He was very inspirational. He gave me a lot of opportunities to work on interesting things in and outside of class. He really encouraged me to push myself. He was very encouraging when I expressed an interest in going back to graduate school.
If you could have a superpower, what would it be and why?
I would want teleportation. I would want to be able to instantaneously travel from place to place. I don’t like to feel like I’m losing time traversing from one place to another. I don’t like to have to plan ahead. If I were on a trip, I wouldn’t have to pack a suitcase. I would just have to teleport back into my house whenever I needed something.