Computer Science a Hidden Gem

“The difference with the professors at Stonehill is the direct attention. They made classes interesting”

–Amy Johnson ’ 99


MICHAEL FREY is the kind of guy you read a lot about in the late 1990s. Smart. Tech-savvy. Ambitious. Able to start a software company with two buddies and venture capital money, and in five years ,sells it for a whopping $60 million. And Frey ’93 credits the Stonehill computer science program with giving him the tools he needed to realize his dreams. “The training by the Computer Science Department gave me the foundation I needed to fulfill my entrepreneurial needs,” Frey reflects. “If I had gone to another school, I don’t think I would have had as well-rounded an education. Nobody knows this gem of a Computer Science Department exists.”

    Quietly, consistently, the computer science program has for years been graduating young men and women of high achievement who go on to have outstanding careers in high technology. The education those graduates received at Stonehill often distinguishes them from co-workers who come from more well-known schools.

    Frey, who is now principal software engineer at Pepper Computer, Inc. in Lexington, says he works with graduates of “top-tier schools” who are not as well-trained and prepared as he was for the challenges of the workplace.

    “The stuff I learned at Stonehill is far beyond what my peers have learned,” Frey states. “There hasn’t been a situation (in the workplace) I went into where I wasn’t fully prepared because of the training I had.”

    Amy Johnson ’99, a software engineer at General Dynamics in Taunton, has in her department graduates from schools like Brown University and Northeastern University as well as four other Stonehill graduates. She says the Stonehill graduates “are equal, if not better. We can compete with anyone else.”

    Johnson credits the strong curricu-lum taught by her computer science professors as the reason she and her fellow Stonehill graduates are able to compete at such a high level once they embark upon their careers.

    “They challenge you at Stonehill,” Johnson says. “When you enter the workforce, you can handle anything they hand you. My assignments at work are easier than my assignments were at Stonehill.”

    The College has been offering computer science courses since 1981. For most of that time, computer science had been part of the Mathematics Department and the first mathematics-computer science degrees were awarded in 1983. But in 2001, Computer Science became the College’s newest department. The computer science program has seen 154 degrees awarded in computer science or mathematics-computer science in the last 20 years. In that time, the number of graduates from the program have been as low as two and as high as 14 in any given year. This year, 15 students graduated with computer science degrees.

    The department has three full-time professors: Ralph Bravaco and Shai Simonson, and, newly-hired Robert Dugan. If the Stonehill Computer Science Department is not as well-known to the general public as those at larger schools, then others have taken notice and have awarded the department thousands of dollars in grant money for excellence and innovation.

    In the last seven years, the department’s faculty has been recognized by the National Science Foundation, which has awarded them close to $500,000 in grants to partially fund the computer lab in Stanger Hall as well as for sabbaticals and workshops, such as highly successful seminars in Java developed by Bravaco and Simonson for secondary school teachers.

    In 2002, Stonehill was one of only 18 colleges and universities to be awarded a Claire Booth Luce Scholarship. The award went to the Computer Science Department, which in turn awarded the grant to Jennifer Burge ’04, a computer science major. This year, Burge was also awarded a prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship grant worth $30,000 a year for a maximum of three years. Other schools across the country awarded NSF grants this year included: Brown, Duke, Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton, Stanford and Yale.

    “Jen is the first Stonehill student to ever get one,” Bravaco says of the NSF grant. There were more than 9,000 applicants. There were 1,021 awarded overall and, in computer science, 77 were awarded. Burge will attend Duke University where she will pursue a Ph.D. in computer science.

    Computer science graduates give a lion’s share of the credit for the success of the program to the dedication of the faculty as well as Stonehill’s small school environment.

    They said all the computer science professors truly care about every student and are always willing to put in extra hours for instruction to make sure students understand the lessons being taught in the classroom and labs.

    Sean O’Donnell ’95, a network planner at Shields Healthcare in Brockton, said Bravaco even has a flair for the dramatic in order to get his students to understand a complex problem.

    “One day Ralph stuck his leg out the window and threatened to jump when we didn’t understand something,” O’Donnell chuckles.

    Shields Healthcare has a long history of hiring Stonehill computer science graduates and interns. Besides O’Donnell, Maura Switzer ’89, David Mackey ’02, and John Ellis ’01 as well as four Stonehill interns work there. In all, approximately 25 Stonehill computer science students have interned at Shields since 1994.

    “After 10 years of working with Stonehill students, Ralph keeps sending students who impress us,” Switzer reports.

    Johnson recalls that the infectious enthusiasm of the professors makes the students eager to learn.

    “The difference with the professors at Stonehill is the direct attention,” she says. “They made classes interesting. They were excited about it. Ralph and Shai put so much effort into it. Ralph won’t let you fail. That’s a unique professor.”

    With grants and awards galore and highly-skilled graduates taking the workforce by storm, the Department may be on the verge of wider recognition. Indeed, the college ranking book, Rugg’s Recommendations On The Colleges, ranks Stonehill’s computer science program as one of the best in the country.

    “The program is rigorous academically as we prepare students for either industry or graduate school,” Simonson says. “The standards and expectations are high, but the faculty is willing to help each student so that anyone who is willing and able can succeed.

    “Satisfaction comes from hard work and accomplishment. There is no short-cut. Our students earn their stripes.”

—Michael Reardon
Stonehill Alumni Magazine,
Summer 2004