Lifelong Luther

The ideas and viewpoints expressed in the posts on the Ideas and Creations blog are solely the view of the author(s). Luther College's mission statement calls us to "embrace diversity and challenge one another to learn in community," and to be "enlivened and transformed by encounters with one another, by the exchange of ideas, and by the life of faith and learning." Alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends of the college are encouraged to express their views, model "good disagreement" and engage in respectful dialogue.

As this will be my final Ideas and Creations contribution I would like to take this opportunity to indulge in a little look back at the teachers and professors and institutions that have made me who I am today.

Charlie Weinman

The first person I will mention is the man in the picture, Charlie Weinman, with the hairstyle and the vest you might guess this picture comes from the early 80's, scanned from my high school annual. Mr. Weinman taught typing and shorthand at Luverne High School. The picture shows him in a typical pose, and I can hear his exasperated sigh at my inability to keep my eyes off the keyboard as I practiced my "perfect paragraphs." Mr Weinman was the advisor to the annual staff as well, and his favorite saying, which I heard often, was "if you want something done right, ask a busy person!" Somewhere along the way Mr. Weinman noticed that one of the reasons I was always so busy was because my friend and I spent an inordinate amount of time messing around on the Apple II computers our high school had just purchased. We were teaching ourselves to program and trading games on cassette tapes. He made it his mission to help and encourage us at least with the programming part. On weekends he would drive us to programming contests all around Southwest Minnesota, and made sure we had books to learn from. He eventually created the first programming class at the high school. The deal was that my friends and I could take the class so we could get credit and have it on our transcript, but we were to sit in the back do our own thing and keep quiet -- unless he asked for our help. 

As I look back on it Mr Weinman was modeling a key aspect of a Luther education — lifelong learning. He also demonstrated to us with great humor and humility that teachers don't always have all the answers. This was a good lesson, as even today in my final semester I'm faced every day with the fact that I don't have all the answers when teaching machine learning or internet programming. The world of computer science moves far too quickly for any of us to know it all, and we must be prepared to be lifelong learners if we are going to succeed in this field.

Walt Will

When I arrived at Luther in the fall of 1982 I became a Norseman. It was only year two for the Norsemen, but the foundations that were laid for this group in 1981 are still strong today. Norsemen may be the only connection I have to some classmates, but I would still consider them my brothers. It was probably my classmate, Tim Peter, who came walking down the hall of first floor Ylvi encouraging those of us who were clueless to come to tryouts for this relatively unknown group!

Walt Will

As a computer science major I was fortunate to take the majority of my classes from Dr. Walt Will. Walt was my professor, my advisor and a great role model. He had a wonderful dry humor and an endless supply of patience to answer my endless stream of questions in class or to just sit in his office and talk about computer science and life in general. In the spirit of lifelong learning we always knew that Walt was just ahead of us (if only by a few days) in our journey through this new field of computer science together. 

Walt was such a huge influence that when people would ask me about my career goals I would say "I want to come back to Luther and take Walt Will's job." That sounds a little harsh to my older self, but I meant it as the highest possible compliment to Walt. I really felt that success in life would be to have the kind of impact on other students that Walt had on us. After 18 years in the computer science industry, it was ultimately Walt who paved the way for my return to Luther as a faculty member. I remember a phone call with Walt when he told me he would be only too happy to move back to the Math department to create a position in computer science in 2003. As I started my new career as a professor I was very lucky to have Walt down the hall to talk with and get advice. As I've grown as a professor I've learned that I have to be myself, I'll never be Walt, and I definitely don't have his patience.

John Carlis

John Carlis

If you would have asked the 1990 version of Brad Miller what it was like to be a grad student at the University of Minnesota, it would not have been a positive conversation. Going from small-town Minnesota and Luther College to the U was a huge culture shock! Big classes, registration lines that stretched down the stairs and around the block, professors that closed the doors to their office, it was all very foreign. However, I would have told you about one professor that would be right at home at Luther and that was Dr. John Carlis. I was fortunate enough to take a class from John which changed everything and led to him becoming my masters advisor and friend. After a time or two of stopping by his office to ask questions about assignments he started making me coffee and we started talking about teaching and research and writing a one-draft thesis and singing and parenting.  

Pair of dimes

John had a great sense of humor and was famous for his bad puns. He would take two dimes out of his pocket and put them in the palm of his hand and slowly move his hand back and forth. "Do you know what this is?" He would ask, "a pair-a-dime shift!" Although I switched advisors for my PhD project I never stopped having coffee and conversation with John. When I told him about coming to Luther to teach he encouraged me to write a textbook, embrace the liberal arts, and get to know people outside of CS. At his funeral a few weeks ago I heard my story over and over from lots of former students. John had this same kind of relationship with countless students over the years, always having the right story or the right word of encouragement at the right time. His office must have had some kind of magical time vortex because I'll never know how he could spend this much time with so many different people. As I look back, I do not know whether I would have become a U of M graduate if had not been fortunate enough to know John Carlis.

John's advice also shaped my experience as a faculty member at Luther. Some of my favorite experiences as a faculty member come out of embracing the liberal arts: teaching Paideia 450s with my friend Jim Martin-Schramm, leading the Malta program, leading J-Term courses in Silicon Valley, and helping to create the Data Science major are all experiences I will remember for the rest of my life. The process of writing two paper textbooks led to the vision that has become Runestone Interactive. My J-Term students will be happy to know that Runestone now has a mantra: "Democratizing textbooks for the 21st century." As I leave Luther I do so with excitement for this next chapter in life. I am happy that I will be able to devote my full focus and energy to Runestone. Runestone serves 20,000 students a day at both high schools and colleges, my goal is to make that 2 million students a day in the next few years.

In the face of declining enrollments, ratio imbalances, committee meetings and program reductions it's easy to forget why we do what we do. I came to Luther 15 years ago because I felt called to share my experience and make a difference in the lives of students; just as Charlie Weinman, Walt Will, and John Carlis have made a difference in mine. I hope I have. My relationship with Luther is long and varied, I'm an alumni, a donor, a faculty member and a parent of an alum. If Luther calls sometime in the future to ask me to serve in some other capacity, I hope that I can. Soli Deo Gloria.

Brad Miller

Brad Miller

Brad Miller is a professor of computer science and data science at Luther College where he also serves as chair of the department. Miller’s primary teaching interests include Machine Learning, Data Visualization, and Web Programming. Miller’s research focuses on interactive textbooks and has developed into the organization known as Runestone Interactive. Runestone interactive serves free, high quality textbooks in the browser to over 20,000 students a day around the world. Miller loves to cook and travel, you can read about his adventures on his blog A Reputable Journal.

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Comments

  • April 21 2018 at 8:29 am
    Jim Martin-Schramm
    First-rate, Brad. What a perfect way to end your time at Luther. You have had a huge impact on the lives of so many students!
  • April 21 2018 at 4:18 pm
    Rick Torgerson
    Brad, your impact at Luther has been significant. The legacy you are leaving is one which I trust will endure. I wish you the best as you continue your journey.
  • April 24 2018 at 12:52 pm
    Jerry Freund
    Brad, I have no doubt that your impact upon your students and the college has been and will continue to be incredibly positive, long-lasting and far-reaching. Similarly, the contributions you and Jane have made to the larger Decorah community deserve to be honored and celebrated. I wish you all the very best in your future pursuits.

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