Math and Computer Science

Ryan Schenk '06,Bioinformatics Engineer

Why did you chose Clark?

Clark's most attractive aspect was the small size of the Math/CSdepartment, which offered a personal environment where I was able to get to know my professors well, and receive individual attention when I needed it. Rather than simply being a face in a huge lecture hall, I was one of six other students taking a seminar on compiler design; this level of intimacy may not be right for everyone, but it was an ideal learning environment for me.

Another thing I enjoyed about Clark is that it was not a technical school. In addition to computer science, I was also interested in visual art and art history, and was able to pursue both of those interests at Clark.

Why did you chose CSci or Math as a major?

I like computer science because you get to build something, but you don't have to clean up afterward! A computer science degree is also appealing because you learn skills as well as theory. Not only do you learn the math and theory of computing, but along the way you learn the skill of programming. Thus, you leave undergrad with both knowledge and a very marketable skill.

What do you like about the educational experience here?

The small size of the department allowed me to make a personal connection with the faculty which would have been difficult in a larger department. I still keep in touch with several faculty from Clark on a regular basis -- last year at work, I couldn't remember some minutiae of the Java programming language, so I called up Prof. Green during his office hours, and he set me straight!

Would you describe some unique experience that you had while studying CS at Clark?

As I mentioned previously, in addition to computer science, I am also interested in sculpture and an emerging field in contemporary art called "tangible media." In my last year at Clark, I was able to build a large interactive sculpture installation as my senior honors project. I was co-advised by a faculty member from the CS department and a faculty member from the studio art department, and the experience was wonderful. View the sculpture now on YouTube.

The sculpture is 9' square, and consists of 36 spheres, each suspended from an electric motor with monofilament. A computer uses a camera in the middle of the sculpture and custom video analysis software I wrote to detect presence under the sculpture; when an object is detected under the sculpture, the software raises the spheres above that object.

The aesthetic of the sculpture brings to mind the simplicity and seriality of the Minimal Art movement of the late 1960's and early 1970's. During this time, art critic Michael Fried denounced Minimal Art in his essay Art and Objecthood, because it was too barren. He argued that these works only became art when a viewer was looking at them (presumably in a gallery); thus it was not the piece, but the interaction with the viewer, that was the art. While Michael Fried didn't like this notion, I thought it was pretty cool. And indeed, my sculpture does not fully reveal itself until a viewer interacts with it by walking under the piece.

What did you do after you graduated from Clark?

During my college career, I interned at Onset Computer Corporation in Bourne, MA during school vacations. As a senior, I was offered a full time position there as a software engineer and accepted. Currently I work at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA doing bioinformatics, an emerging field that uses computing techniques to help biologists deal with large amounts of data and use that data solve problems computationally.