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Faculty Q & A

Cindy Fry

Cindy Fry

Professor Cindy Fry is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Computer Science. She served as the Faculty-In-Residence at North Village from 2006-2011 and currently serves as the faculty advisor for the student group, Women in Computer Science (WICS). Professor Fry has been a faculty member at Baylor since 1997. In this edition's Faculty Q & A, Professor Fry discusses her passion for teaching.

Q: Many students will know you from you time as the faculty in residence at North Village. What is your favorite memory from your time as faculty in residence?

A: I have so many. One that stands out was a young man that was a computer science major. He had started as a freshman in Brooks Hall. The next year he moved over to the ECS living and learning community at North Village. At the beginning of his junior year, he went back to the new Brooks Residential College. Three weeks into his junior year, he came back and asked me if he could move back to North Village. He had never realized how being part of the ECS living and learning community made him fit in and feel “normal" among peers that shared his talents and interests. Of course, this is the same young man that came chasing after me at Heritage House one day wearing long black gloves. They were his Darth Vader gauntlets, and they completed his whole Darth Vader costume!

Q: What did your time in North Village teach you about the Living and Learning programs at Baylor?

A: I learned so much from the benign everyday things like sharing laundry facilities to seeing the logistics behind how a living and learning program actually works. Before living there, I never really knew what a hall director or a community leader did. There is so much that goes on in a residential facility that faculty don’t know about. To actually see what goes on, as a faculty member, was a huge learning experience for or me.

It also made me realize why these living and learning communities make great environments for our students. When our students are living and learning with other ECS students, they are able to have more confidence in speaking out and engaging with other students. It also gives them the opportunity to experience a realistic environment that will be similar to their work environments out of college.

Having the experience of living with students and getting to know them at a deeper level is one of the best things to learn. You get a chance to go beyond a faculty-student relationship to lifelong friends. For me, that is the ultimate benefit of living with students in a living and learning community.

Q: What is your favorite course to teach and why?

A: I don’t know that I have a favorite. I love each of them for different reasons. Intro to Computer Science (CSI 1430) is the first chance to expose students to computer science. In class, you might have some students with years of experience and some with none. You have a wide range of capability, but it’s the idea of teaching students the structures involved with computer science and the critical thinking skills that they need to move forward. You get to meet students at their entry point and introduce them to the discipline, which is fun.

I also teach Intro to Computer Systems (CSI 2334), and I love that class because you get down to the machine level. I have an engineering background so anything that gets me closer to the hardware is fun. When you get close to the hardware, a lot of the “why" questions that come up when you’re writing code get answered. You get to see what the machine is going to do with the code, and you learn to understand the machine while maximizing its efficiencies and minimizing its limitations.

Lastly, I teach Discreet Structures (CSI 2350) which is a combination of sub-disciplines in mathematics that are used in computer science. I love showing students how math applies to computer science and teaching them to understand how math can maximize efficiencies in the code they write. Those are three of the classes that I love to teach.

Q: What has your role as the advisor for the student organization Women in Computer Science (WICS) taught you?

A: Something that I have learned from students, especially our female students, is that early in their academic careers they feel like their questions are irrelevant. They often feel like others in the class, especially the men, will think the question is ignorant so they don’t ask. Having a female faculty member provides a “safe" place to ask questions. Girls are more willing to voice opinions and concerns about what happens or how things are done with other women. Since we see our highest attrition in the first two years, we need to do a better job of helping students to persevere, and WICS can be that “safe" group for women to ask questions.

It’s important for women to have role models who are teaching and have administrative duties, but also have kids and families. It’s good to have female faculty and staff members so that students can see how we, as women, balance those things. It’s equally of important for students to get to know the faculty and see that they are people who have families and juggle responsibilities. There is so much more that you can learn from your professors outside of the classroom.

In a lot of ways, the way I teach is the way I was taught. I am a product of predominantly male teachers. In many ways, I was a part of the problem because I didn’t look at projects holistically. It’s not just teaching women, but understanding what motivates them and learning what they are passionate about. Learning what keeps women interested, despite being the only woman in class, allows me teach with a more holistic mindset instead of just thinking about how men would approach the problem.

Q: What trends have you seen among ECS graduates?

A: The trend that I’m seeing is that our graduates are even more sought after than they were before. Alumni are coming back and asking for more Baylor students. Pipelines are opening up at Google, IBM, and other large companies. With computer science there are so many companies that need technically excellent and innovative employees, and Baylor does a great job at producing that kind of student.

Q: What is the one thing you wish you could change about your career to date?

A: Nothing. I’ve loved everything. I’ve had a chance to do so many different things. I worked at NASA in preliminary planning and mission operations. I got to be a part of shuttle missions, training crews, and preparing scientists. I also got to travel all over the world.

From NASA, I started my own software development business and had to learn to be completely independent. It taught me so much about business and innovation. I learned everything from keeping clients happy to looking ahead and trying to offer something that my competition didn’t offer. And then, I started teaching.

When I was an undergrad at Texas A&M, Baylor didn’t have a School of Engineering and Computer Science. I had been teaching Sunday school for a long time when our youth minister told me to think about teaching. I had never thought about being a teacher. I looked into teaching high school math, but had not thought of Baylor. I was hired to teach one section of Intro to Computer Science, and I was offered a full-time position the next year. For the first couple of years, I taught at Baylor, worked in IT at Baylor, and continued to run my own business. I’ve been teaching at Baylor ever since, and I love teaching.

Q: How has working at Baylor impacted your life?

A: God has blessed my family so much through Baylor. From doing summer abroad programs and traveling to Europe in the summer to living as the faculty in residence at North Village, we’ve loved all of it. We’ve had so many experiences that we wouldn’t have had without Baylor, and we got to do all of it with our family and with students. That’s such a blessing.

Q: How do you see ECS changing over the next five years?

A: The School of Engineering and Computer Science is getting bigger and bigger. The things that help us connect to our students, like the chance to go to Haiti with Professor Thomas or fly gliders with Dr. Van Treuren, makes us unique. It’s not only teaching and research excellence, it’s looking past the test scores and discovering what students are passionate about that makes us different from other engineering and computer science programs. Even though we’ll experience rapid growth, it will be important for us to hold onto that value.

Q: Do you have any personal updates you want to share?

A: When I started teaching at Baylor, Tom was seven and Kate was six. When they were out of school, they would sit in the back of class and watch me teach. Tom is now 25 and married Tiffany Gallegos Fry in 2014. Kate graduated from Baylor in 2014 and is now working at Apple in Austin.

In 2011, we adopted Alice. We met Alice through Kate while they were living in the fine arts living and learning center. They became best friends, and we found out that Alice came from Children’s Methodist Home. We had been saving some money for Alice to buy a car, and I realized that there was nothing preventing us from taking the next step and adopting Alice. The family agreed, and we adopted Alice in 2011. Alice is now in her last year at Baylor as a Studio Art major.

One of the biggest changes for Joe and I was moving from campus, where we lived with 300 students, to a home on 40 acres outside of Clifton with two donkeys, two dogs, four cats, and 26 chickens. It’s beautiful, and we love it.