Fisher’s Gift Funds Department’s First Teaching Excellence Award, Angrave Named Inaugural Recipient

3/15/2018 David Mercer, Illinois Computer Science

The Scott H. Fisher Computer Science Teaching Award recognizes instructors who embody an innovative spirit, dedication, and a focus on students.

Written by David Mercer, Illinois Computer Science

Scott Fisher (BS Psych '72, MS CS '76) has established an award to recognize outstanding teaching.
Scott Fisher (BS Psych '72, MS CS '76) has established an award to recognize outstanding teaching.

Illinois Computer Science alumnus Scott Fisher has a long history of giving back to the department, through both his time and resources. He also has a profound appreciation for the role and importance of teaching.

Fisher (BS Psychology ’72, MS CS ’76) is building on both this year with his decision to establish the new Scott H. Fisher Computer Science Teaching Award, the department’s first-ever honor dedicated to excellence in teaching.

The inaugural winner of the Fisher Award is Teaching Professor Lawrence Angrave, who embodies the innovative spirit, dedication and focus on students that Fisher says are crucial to leading-edge instruction.

“Anyone can dispense information. This is not difficult. The key is to present it in a logical manner while exciting and challenging the students,” Fisher said during a recent visit. “I have sat in his classes and just watched the students’ level of engagement. They are challenged and engaged.”

Fisher and Angrave spent time together over that visit, and Angrave said he is thankful that both he and the teaching mission are being honored.

Teaching Professor Lawrence Angrave is the inaugural recipient of the Scott H. Fisher Computer Science Teaching Award.
Teaching Professor Lawrence Angrave is the inaugural recipient of the Scott H. Fisher Computer Science Teaching Award.

“It means a lot to be recognized, and it means a great deal to me that education at Computer Science is being recognized as well,” said Angrave, who has been part of the department since 2006. “I believe this is one of the first awards where alumni have expressed strong opinions about the importance of computer science education here at Urbana-Champaign. And so I think that not only the award itself but the principles behind the award are important.”

The Fisher Award includes $10,000 to support the winner’s further work in education innovation.

Angrave has a track record as a pioneer on campus, including being an early advocate for MOOCs at Illinois and leading the first MOOC on Android app development, a class for which more than 143,000 people enrolled. And he and fellow Teaching Professor Eric Shaffer created the online CS199 Game Design course.

This semester he teaches CS241 Systems Programming, CS498 Virtual Reality, and an honors course.

“Working with the students, seeing them learn, trying to work out what makes them tick, and what gets them excited about the content, I think, is the challenge but also the rewarding part of the teaching experience,” he said. “I’d say that if a student can leave my class more passionate and more excited about computer science, then I’ve won.”

The Fisher Award is only the latest in a series of campus honors recognizing Angrave: the Computer Science Distinguished Educator Award in 2014; both the Illinois Student Senate Teaching Excellence Award and Campus Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in 2012; the Everitt Award for Teaching Excellence and the Collins Award for Innovative Teaching in 2011; and in 2009 the Rose Award for Teaching Excellence.

Fisher made the new award possible just a year after establishing the Scott H. and Bonita J. Fisher Endowment, which honors his late wife, Bonnie.

The Fisher Endowment funds a professorship in computer science and mathematics, and provides funding for both the university’s main library and the Grainger Engineering Library.

Fisher started his career with major computer manufacturer Digital Equipment Corporation, contributing to the VAX/VMS operating system, the PDP-11 minicomputer, and the DECsystem line of servers. He recently retired after several years as a program manager with the water, hygiene, and energy technologies firm Ecolab.

As a student at Illinois, he found the pioneering computer culture it has become known for.

“When I was here, it was Don Gillies, Paul Saylor, Dave Kuck, and many others,” Fisher said, referring to three longtime professors who, primarily in the 1960s and ‘70s, helped build the computer science program into a powerhouse. “These were giants—giants—of the industry.”

Those giants and the education Fisher received have helped shape his deep appreciation for the campus, and his devotion to it.

“We must maintain the best teaching department along with our research,” Fisher said. “I am delighted to recognize our premier teachers.”

For his part, Angrave says the time he’s spent with Fisher has allowed the two to get to know each other. Angrave sees him as an ideal alumnus.

“He cares deeply about the technical knowledge the students gain here,” Angrave said. “He has fond memories of being a student here himself. And he cares that the department continues to be a top-tier department.”

Angrave will be recognized at the department’s Spring Celebration of Excellence awards ceremony, starting at 5:30 p.m., on Wednesday, April 18, 2018.

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This story was published March 15, 2018.