Explaining the language of computers

Joseph Hummel

“It means that a lot of students went out of their way to say nice things, which is really remarkable,” says Joseph Hummel. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services


Since 1966, the Silver Circle Award has been presented to some of UIC’s best teachers. Winners, who are honored at their college commencements, receive $500 and their names join a long list of distinguished colleagues. But what makes the award especially meaningful is its selection committee: the graduating seniors.


Joseph Hummel’s undergraduate course isn’t the most popular class on campus. It’s Computer Science 109, required for engineering students who aren’t planning to become computer scientists. So Hummel was surprised when students recognized him with a Silver Circle award.

“It means that a lot of students went out of their way to say nice things, which is really remarkable,” says Hummel, research associate professor of computer science.

Each semester, he teaches 230 students about C++ and programming with MATLAB. He makes the large lecture hall feel smaller by using clickers to get students involved.

“I try to make the class interactive,” he says. “I use a model called peer instruction, where you ask questions during class. Students answer them and then discuss amongst themselves. It’s effective — more people come to class, the grades are better and I think the learning is better.”

Hummel also teaches CS 341, an upper-level programming languages course for computer science majors.

He was a researcher at UIC from 1998 to 2000, then left to teach at Lake Forest College. He returned in 2012.
“I like the energy of the students,” he says. “I like their diverse backgrounds and that they are motivated. I enjoy what they bring to class.”

Hummel’s interest in computer science started in high school. His current research focuses on parallel programming — how to make programs run faster on today’s computer hardware.

“You get to build stuff and it’s fun,” he says.

He lives in Evanston with his wife, Marybeth Lore, a physician, and their daughter Dai-Lin, 13, adopted from China. He tells his students about his family and his passion for sailing on Lake Michigan.  “I like the students to know it’s not all about work,” he says.

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