A Road Less Traveled
One day during spring quarter 1973, near the end of their respective first years at Kalamazoo College, a professor and a student had a conversation.
Turns out that talk, for the student, “has made all the difference” in the Robert Frost sense. To commemorate that professor and that conversation, as well as to acknowledge a mathematics department brimful of outstanding teachers, Chris Moeller ’76 has established through a bequest The Donald F. Stanat Scholarship in Mathematics and Computer Science.
Stanat? Kalamazoo College? If that combination doesn’t resonate in your K hall of memories, you wouldn’t be alone. Professor Stanat’s year at the College was a one-and-done. Chris’s was nearly a one-and-done. That “nearly” has made all the difference in his career and life, and Chris says he owes it to his talk with Professor Stanat.
A visiting professor of computer science on a one-year sabbatical from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Stanat brought to K its first trio of computer science courses. Chris was a first-generation college student from Huntington Woods, Michigan, a self-described math-science fan, and a typical first-year searching for some early clues about what he might want to do to make a living.
That epiphany occurred winter quarter in Stanat’s “Programming Languages and Data Structures” class. “That class opened my eyes; I knew what kind of job I wanted to pursue,” says Chris. So much so, he took on an academic overload to sit in on a portion of Stanat’s spring quarter computer science class. That experience confirmed his feelings about computer science—and also presented a problem. K had no more courses in the discipline, and its one inspiring computer science professor was returning to Chapel Hill.
“So, I met with Professor Stanat to discuss whether I should transfer,” says Chris. “I’d been accepted by the University of Michigan as well as K, and Professor Stanat had earned his Ph.D. in computer science from U of M.
“He said I should stay at K,” adds Chris. “He said it was a great school. He thought earning a math major here would be an excellent preparation for a focus on computer science in grad school.”
Good advice? Absolutely, says Chris. He got the chance to experience the K-Plan (including study abroad in Erlangen, Germany) and learn from professors he reveres to this day: George Nielsen, Jean Calloway, T.J. Smith, John Fink, and Stan Rajnak.
“The scholarship names Professor Stanat,” explains Chris, “because that freshman-year conversation was so pivotal to my life, but it’s meant to honor all of the math professors I had at K.”
After graduating with a major in math, Chris did earn his master’s degree in computer science (from the University of Michigan), and pursued a rewarding career in the California high-tech industry (at Hewlett-Packard, Apple, and Palm, among others) as a software engineer and manager. His work contributed to the dawn of the graphical personal computer industry and later to the practical refinement of the smartphone.
The fact that he came to the technology industry via the liberal arts was certainly a road less traveled, he admits. “Many of the engineers I managed began to specialize early in their undergrad experiences at large universities,” he explains. “I found that K’s emphasis on breadth, both in academics and experiences like foreign study, conferred a distinct advantage in maturation and communication skills. I will be forever grateful.”
More so than any one individual or group of individuals, the scholarship Chris has endowed honors the power of dedicated and enthusiastic teaching—and good advice regarding breadth—on meaningful work and a good life.
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