Presented by Mark Bailey, the Robert and Pamela (Craig) Delaney Professor in Computer Science
Dec. 6, 2022
Alistair Evan Campbell was born on May 24, 1969, in Oroville, Calif. He grew up in Chapel Hill, N.C., and graduated from Jordan High School in 1987. Alistair discovered his love of computing while working in the high school computer lab. He also developed a keen interest in the outdoors and scouting rising to the rank of Eagle Scout. Alistair received his B.A. in computer science and mathematics from Colgate University, and his M.S. and Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Buffalo.
Alistair joined the faculty during the dot com boom in 1999. He rose to the rank of associate professor of computer science and twice served as acting chair of the department. Alistair was deeply committed to service, serving numerous times on the Honor Court, as faculty secretary, and on faculty committees including Budget and Finance, Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning, and numerous ad-hoc committees. Alistair’s greatest service contributions, however, were to our department where he supported every initiative, served on every one of our annual search committees, and was my co-conspirator in everything from training programming teams for competitions to developing and teaching our programming-intensive courses and curricula. No matter what the project, or the ask, Alistair was always the one you could count on to say “yes,” or “count me in,” and he always followed through with those promises.
Alistair’s research focused primarily in artificial intelligence. His area of specialty was algorithms for ontological mediation. His work spanned genetic algorithms, semantic networks, and knowledge representation. Research, though, couldn't hold Alistair’s interest and his attention naturally drifted to students demanding his time and courses he needed to develop.
Much of Alistair’s time was spent developing expertise and courses in areas beyond AI and teaching and advising the throngs of CS students. Alistair’s course repertoire included: Explorations in Computer Science, Introduction to Computer Science, Data Structures, Discrete Mathematics, Applied Theory, Principles of Programming Languages, Computer Organization, Programming Challenges, System Software, Compilers, Artificial Intelligence, Research Methods, and Readings in Computer Science (13 courses in all). In addition to all of that, Alistair was more than likely the one to add additional students to a closed course, take a course overload, or be the one to take the most challenging teaching load.
From my colleague Tom Helmuth: “For those of you who don’t know, I was a student at Hamilton before returning as faculty. When I was a student, I only had the opportunity to take one class with Alistair, but it was formative in not only my computer science education, but my career path. I entered this second-semester of computer science just interested in learning more computer science, and left it knowing I would major in it.”
And, also from Tom: “Alistair put his heart into his teaching. After hearing of his passing, I have had many of Alistair’s former students tell me how lucky they were to have had him in courses across the computer science curriculum. His sense of humor and commitment to thorough coverage of difficult topics have inspired many computer science students to work hard and be better versions of themselves. I hope to be as inspiring to my students as Alistair was to me.”
Computer science has shifted a lot during Alistair’s 23 years at Hamilton. By “shifted” I mean not just figuratively, but physically. In that time, Alistair called six different offices “home.” Four of these, over 20 years, shared a common wall with each of my offices. For me, Alistair was my steadfast partner, confidant, and consigliere. In those years, we, of course, discussed computer science, but I also learned about Alistair’s many passions: music, the proper way to build a campfire, the merits, or lack thereof, of dedicated bicycle lanes, the proper way to drink scotch...
In 2008, Alistair signed up to be a reader for the College Board’s Advanced Placement Exam in Computer Science. Alistair quickly rose through the ranks of reader, table leader, question leader, and exam leader. His rise was due to his ability to read and “grock” code quickly, apply a grading rubric consistently, and lead readers with enthusiasm and good humor. Within this community, Alistair became famous as the quick-as-a-whip, soft-spoken guy from North Carolina in the Hawaiian shirt. In 2020, the College Board selected Alistair to be the chief reader for the AP Exam in Computer Science. In June, he successfully ran his first reading that included nearly 400 readers.
Alistair Campbell passed away on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022, after a courageous four-month battle with an aggressive form of brain cancer. He was just 53. Alistair is survived by his wife, Colleen, his two children, Evelyn and Aubrey (Hamilton Class of 2026), his parents, William and Lynette Campbell, sister Ann Lund, and many brothers- and sisters-in-law, nieces, nephews, and cousins. Alistair’s passing leaves an enormous void in our department, curricularly, in leadership, and spiritually. Professor of Computer Science Emeritus Stuart Hirshfield said it best: “He made everyone he worked with — and Hamilton — better.”