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Prof Timothy Hickey ‘77 brings innovation to computer science dep’t

By Albert Reiss

Section: Features

March 18, 2016

Among all the esteemed professors at Brandeis, Professor Timothy Hickey ’77 (COSI) has one of the most interesting backgrounds. As a former Brandeisian he took interest in subjects such as Mathematics and Humanistic Psychology, as well as social justice. It is from these small beginnings that Professor Hickey has become one of the most respected members of the Computer Science department.


When he first got to Brandeis, Professor Hickey took a strong interest in the social justice component that our institution is so famous for. Hickey noted, “Even though I am not Jewish, I felt that the traditional Jewish values of valuing education and repairing the world were precisely the values that I wanted in my college or university. I loved being in a community of scholars who were there to learn and advance the state of knowledge.” The ability to combine elements of academia and altruism, for Hickey, made Brandeis an “exciting” place to be.


Professor Hickey’s interest in computer science started during his undergraduate career at Brandeis, when took classes from Professor Jacques Cohen. Cohen had at the time finished “building compilers for the latest avante-garde language, Algol 68” and was becoming well known in the field, says Hickey, who took great interest in Cohen’s eagerness to use him for research. Among the projects that Hickey completed with Cohen was a “paper on computing the volumes of high dimensional polyhedra for use in analyzing the performance of nested-if statements.”


Professor Hickey is currently interested in exploring education technology and improving the classroom teaching environment through technology. The goal, according to Hickey, is to “be able to teach a class where the goal is for everyone to fully attain the learning objectives of the course and to use the software as a kind of biofeedback tool for education.” Professor Hickey explained that the benefit of using more technology is that “students don’t have to be physically present in the classroom, they can livestream the lecture and use Skype to work in groups during the class.” He is also using Brain Computer Interfaces to help students learn more effectively. These tools have been shown to be effective for those with ADHD and Professor Hickey is interested in using these for students with learning disabilities.


Some of the classes that Professor Hickey teaches include CS 11a and 12b, as well as his 3-D Animation and Computer Graphics course. Although when asked what his favorite class to teach is, Professor Hickey said that he enjoys the Justice Brandeis Semester on Voice, Web and Mobile Applications. Unlike traditional courses, this JBS semester combines three classes with 10-20 students that meet on a daily basis for nine weeks. He enjoys the fact that it is “a very experiential class where they learn to work together in small teams using the latest technology and methodology to create real products that can potentially make a difference in the world.” The intimate nature of the class allows Professor Hickey to get to know his students, as well as for the students to learn in a very effective and efficient manner.


In addition to teaching his students, Professor Hickey also greatly enjoys serving on various committees such as the UCC and EL committee. Hickey further commented that “working with students and colleagues to push the boundaries of knowledge” is among the most rewarding aspects of his job.
For students interested in a potential major in computer science, Professor Hickey advises to begin taking core classes, but also to “find creative ways to apply your knowledge to solve important problems in the community and the world.” The latter can be easily achieved through independent studies and can be a fantastic way to supplement what students have learned in their core computer science classes. And if you ask nicely, maybe Professor Hickey can advise your independent study.

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