This year Hamilton welcomed six new tenure-track faculty members. Communications office student writer Majestic Terhune ’21 spent more than two hours interviewing these newest members of the faculty to find out why they chose Hamilton and what they think so far. Here’s her interview with Darren Strash, assistant professor of computer science. (Some answers edited for brevity)
Why did you start teaching?
I had some great teachers, both in high school and as an undergrad, and if I didn’t have these great teachers, I wouldn’t have been able to succeed in the way I did. So, I wanted to become a teacher to be that for other students.
How do you see that translating over to your time at Hamilton?
One of the things I like about Hamilton is the small class sizes and the ability to teach in that environment and work with each student one-on-one. So, I feel like it’s the type of environment to more support the kind of teaching that I want to do. It’s more of a mentoring role, whereas if it were just a class of faceless students that are considering themselves numbers, I don’t think I’d have as big of an impact.
Why did you choose Hamilton?
Being able to give that hands-on and one-on-one attention definitely played a role. Another is just the quality of students that are here. I feel like so many students are eager to learn. Here, at least, a lot of students are trying to pursue Computer Science. It’s growing as a major and so the fact that students are so hungry makes this a nice place to come and teach and also do some research.
Could you talk about your research?
I’ve actually done a lot of research with students. I’ve done nine student theses so far in my career. I try to organize my research into manageable chunks so some chunks can be handled by students. And the kind of research that I do focuses on solving hard problems in practice. There’s a class of problems called NP-hard problems. These are problems that we don’t know whether there exists an efficient way to solve them or not.
How has your time here been so far?
I’d say it’s been pretty amazing. The students I’ve worked with have been really strong and also personable. One thing I like about Hamilton and liberal arts in general is that you’re emphasizing the whole person. While I’m a professor, I’m also a person. I really like that classroom environment for that. I feel like there’s less of a separation between me and the students. And I feel like that’s a good thing—I feel like that creates more comfort.
What classes did you teach first semester?
I taught two classes: Discrete Mathematics and Data Structures. In Discrete Math, we focus on the logic behind computer programming. It comes down to mathematics and being able to come up with logical arguments for why certain things are true. And if you can do that in absentia of a computer, then it’s easier to do on a computer. The other class, Data Structures, focuses on how you store data in order to efficiently solve some tasks.
What are you teaching next semester?
Analysis of Algorithms—it takes this analysis of problem-solving and really bumps it up into overdrive. And then another class I will repeat, actually, Discrete Math. And actually these are my area of expertise—the more theoretical parts.
Has there been anything that’s surprised you?
I really like all of the food options. And the fact that there’s little cubbies all over the place. I’m coming from Colgate; Colgate’s a very different environment. Here, I feel like there’s more of a mix of liberal and conservative ideals. And so having that more free-flowing, liberal attitude is something I really enjoy and I’m just surprised at how much it is here.
Where have you previously studied and worked?
I got my Ph.D. in 2011 at UC Irvine, and then I worked at Intel for three years until 2014. Then I went to Germany for two years; I worked at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. Then Colgate for two years and now here.
What’s one of your favorite places on campus?
Café Opus (on the dark side). The cozy atmosphere and friendly proprietors make it a very inviting and comfortable place to work and socialize. I've also been known to hold office hours there.