Kellogg Family Supports Computer Science at STA

Doing Something Right:
Kellogg Family Supports Computer Science at STA

“Michael Hansen believes if you are going to do something, do it right. And when he decides he’s going to do something, he does it all the way,” says Martin Kellogg ’12, a former student and now friend of math teacher and Computer Science Department Chair Michael Hansen.

Mr. Hansen’s curiosity, drive, and persistence helped inspire Martin to pursue computer science as an undergraduate and Ph.D. student. And it inspired Martin’s father, David Kellogg, to make a gift to create the Kellogg Instructorship in Computer Science in honor of Mr. Hansen.

By the time he came to know Mr. Hansen in Form V calculus, Martin had already been exploring computer science in classes. Mr. Hansen encouraged Martin to pursue the topic more seriously during a full-year, independent-study project focused on the programming language C++. One of the applications Martin wrote automated the production of daily emails for attendance processing, part of a nearly paperless system known among the faculty as Green Attendance.

Martin, now pursuing a Ph.D. in computer science and engineering at the University of Washington, credits Mr. Hansen for teaching him how to understand how systems function: “Michael was very good at teaching how a computer works, partly because he operates like one—in a good way. He has a set of rules about the world, and he follows them. He thinks if a rule isn’t good, get rid of it.”

An example of a good rule, for Mr. Hansen, is the dress code. “Among students he’s most remembered for being very serious about enforcing the dress code,” says Martin. “He thought that was a good rule, and he made us follow it.” Mr. Hansen still thinks so, and can frequently be heard warning disheveled students with the acronymic admonition: “TBAT,” signifying “top button and tie.”

 David Kellogg—an electrical engineer by training and CEO of Solers, an Arlington-based software development and systems integration company—became impressed by Mr. Hansen’s intellectual curiosity across a wide range of topics, from technology to music. Says David, “He takes science and thinking seriously. He was an inspiration to Martin.”

Both Kelloggs are eager to see computer science opportunities increase at St. Albans. Says Martin: “Learning how to interact with computers is important to everyone in every field. Students need to learn to use technology responsibly.” Martin also advocates familiarity with an increasingly popular concept known as “computational thinking,” described by Columbia University professor Jeannette Wing, who coined the phrase, as “solving problems, designing systems, and understanding human behavior by drawing on the concepts fundamental to computer science.“ Says Martin: “Many systems—traffic, biology, human psychology, the functioning of the brain—can be modeled as computations. You need to think computationally to reason about these kinds of models, which are important in many fields.”

Martin’s current research as a second-year doctoral student involves working on more efficient and effective software that automatically removes errors from programs. Martin explains: “We’re building new systems that allow programmers not to worry about specific kinds of errors.” According to Martin’s bio on his university’s website: “I like to work on problems where we automate some boring, time-consuming or otherwise not-the-best-thing-ever part of a developer’s life. That way we can all spend our time working on the tough problems that machines can’t solve—yet?!

Martin is also publishing papers about his research. Both Kelloggs thank St. Albans for strengthening Martin’s skills as a writer. Says David: “Going to a school run by English teachers—Martin’s least favorite subject—paid off when he entered the tech field. He had a massive leg up on his classmates as an undergraduate studying computer science at the University of Virginia. Other students in his classes had a similar level of technical skills, but they hadn’t had the exposure to how to write.” Adds Martin: “Being able to write is really important even if—or especially if—you go into a highly technical field.”

Martin’s goal: to become a tenured professor of computer science at a research university. “I want to make a fundamental contribution to advancing the state of the art,” says Martin. “And that’s what I can do as a researcher.” No surprise: Martin learned from Mr. Hansen that if you’re doing something right, you should do it all the way.