North Central College - Naperville, IL

Computer Prof User-Friendly

Northwestern University. Loyola. DePaul University.

 "They are great schools," says Caroline St. Clair, assistant professor of computer science, who formerly held positions at all those Chicago universities. "But my number one goal in teaching is to build a rapport with students. At North Central, students and faculty frequently have one-on-one dialogues." Included among these opportunities are independent studies, directed studies and undergraduate research.

 "First, students look for a good mentor to assist with their research," says St. Clair. "Undergraduates must originate the idea and develop a set of objectives that’s doable in 10 weeks. Often, as a faculty advisor, I help students narrow the scope of their project. Then it’s a matter of problem solving." But it’s more than numbers and computer code. "The emphasis here is on a liberal arts education. Communication skills matter! Writing skills matter! A well-rounded scientist understands what makes sense on the computer screen, and then communicates his or her findings with others."

St. Clair is also interested in collaborating with faculty colleagues. St. Clair and Jonathan Visick, assistant professor of biology, now teach Intro to Bioinformatics, focusing on the Human Genome Project.

"There are some great jobs out there for scientists who can understand both sides of the equation," say Visick. "This new class teaches  molecular biologists to develop their own programming tools. Likewise, the computer scientists will design practical applications to compare two genome sequences or compare two organisms."

"I believe in incorporating as much real-world experience as I can into each course. Most computer science textbooks are limited in this area," says St. Clair, who developed a detailed lab manual for the course that could become a textbook.

Her corporate background, including work as a senior programmer analyst with Wilson Sporting Goods, and educational qualifications, comprised of a B.S. from Loyola and both M.S. and Ph.D. degrees at DePaul, are strengths that resonate in the classroom and with St. Clair's students.

"Professor St. Clair directed me toward Alternadev, where I landed a yearlong internship," says Jesse Fugitt ’04. "She told me that SSS Research was looking for a software engineer." His academic experience — including two independent studies directed by St. Clair, one of which was accepted for publication by the National Conferences on Undergraduate Research, and a North Central Honors Thesis — was ideal for the job. "Now I work on contracts for security agencies, including the U.S. government. I’m doing exactly what I wanted."

Caroline St. Clair Assistant Professor of Computer Science

Computer science students respond to her teaching style, which is rigorous and thorough. "I needed to accelerate my master of science degree," says graduate student Kamala Kumar M/’05. "Professor St. Clair made special accommodations during fall term so I could complete an independent study. Now I’ll finish my degree before I return to India."