Richard Hughey '85
I graduated from Swarthmore in 1985 with a B.S. in Engineering and B.A. in Mathematics. This was just at the time computer science and computer engineering were getting started at Swarthmore. I sampled compiler courses with Charles Kelemen, algorithms and summer research with Charles Grinstead, digital logic and architecture with David Bowler, and PDP-11 assembly and my senior design project in computer architecture with Steve Platt. I went to the Computer Science Department at Brown University, and although a lonely hardware engineer within a software/algorithms-focused department, had a great time designing and building a VLSI parallel processor with 470 processing elements to speed biological sequence analysis.
UCSC Computer Engineering was a great fit to my interests in hardware, software, and algorithms, and 1991 was a great time to join. David Haussler was just beginning his meteoric rise in bioinformatics, and working with him led me to understand the real needs of biologists, and to tackle a number of interesting software and hardware problems. This enabled building a next generation parallel processor (Kestrel) far more appropriately suited to its application domain, and also enabled my work on improving efficiency and functionality in our hidden Markov modeling package for biological sequence analysis.
My experience with top-quality undergraduate education and research at Swarthmore, combined with UCSC's emphasis on undergraduates beyond most research universities, made it natural to work with undergraduates on my projects. I've worked with about 40 undergraduates on both computer engineering and bioinformatics research, many of whom have continued on into our graduate programs. Be sure to take advantage of these opportunities while you're at Swarthmore (or at an NSF REU Site), and return the favor if you become a faculty member.
Since joining UCSC, I have had a strong interest in academic program development, in part due to my Swarthmore experience and to being an "involved" graduate student at Brown. I've done extensive work to improve our MS and PhD in Computer Engineering and BS in Computer Engineering programs, and creating the undergraduate BS in Bioinformatics as well as the MS and PhD in Bioinformatics programs. In 2001, I became Chair of the Computer Engineering department. This has been great fun, because it involves working with an excellent group of faculty, students, and staff, and also provides a broader view of education than one gains just as a faculty member. Reflecting back, there are three experiences that really helped me with this (beyond the general assistance that an engineering degree provides to any career). First, having had an excellent undergraduate experience myself, I'm always trying to improve our own programs. Second, my Quaker upbringing and Swarthmore experience has helped me to bring the department to consensus on issues. Third, my frequent games of Dungeons and Dragons, often as group leader, provided both leadership skills and some of the game playing skills necessary to survive in academia.