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Mike Flinn, CS Professor Frostburg State University

 Chair, DEPARTMENT OF COMPUTER SCIENCE & INFORMATION TECHNOLOGIES

 

How did you get interested in the pathway that led you to CS? 

photo of FlinnI've been interested in computers since childhood. I always liked taking things apart and solving problems. When I was young, computer science was in its infancy and my parents encouraged me. Even though we didn’t have much money, we got a Timex Sinclair TS 1000. I tried out every feature and outgrew it quickly!

The things that are most satisfying about teaching computer science are the opportunity to encourage others and to share the impact on humanity. Look at how much the power of computing has affected us during the Pandemic: without Computer Science (and other fields) we could never have developed a vaccine this quickly. It took them over a decade to develop the vaccine for Polio. Now we are ready to release a vaccine any day. We live longer lives, and CS is part of that. It helps doctors understand both mental and physical health which makes a big difference and we are more connected than ever to share data and learn from each other.

 

Can you describe when you first discovered an interest or felt confident that you had the ability to pursue a career in computing?

I first felt confident when I took a computer science where the teacher did the "look to the left, look to the right, one of you isn’t going to be here at the end of the course" routine and it only made me more determined to pass the class. I got A’s in all my CS classes, perhaps not so much in others. I strongly believe that anyone with an interest and passion can be successful. If the reason you are in CS is about the money, it’s probably about the wrong thing.

 

What are some of the interesting things about your work? 

There are so many great applications of computing. About 15 years ago, I was working in the service industry and was hired to make a website for a Deep Creek Lake business. The 2 cameras that are there now are the same ones I installed and programmed to zoom from one place to another. The system is still up and working.

I do lots of small projects on a regular basis. I have many different projects in home automation using a raspberry pi. I've hacked out frequencies which are unencrypted to turn lights in my home on and off. I wrote a program to test internet speed every hour on the hour and create a database that uses Javascript to analyze for highs, lows, avg, etc. I used it to prove to my internet provider that i wasn't getting the speeds that I was paying for, and it worked! There are so many options for creative projects in computing: app dev, web dev, device control, everyone should take some time to do something fun for yourself!

 

What interesting things have your students done?

The students who graduate from our CS program have gone on to work at places like Google, Apple, and Microsoft as well as many other local businesses: small and large. One of my students, a number of years ago, created an online text editor that allowed 28 people to simultaneously edit a document as part of his undergrad/graduate studies. He went on to work on a global balancing system for years that ensures that when you click on something it is delivered in a timely manner. Other fun projects our students have worked on include the integration of HBO max and Apple TV, hospital reporting, and tracking systems for many purposes including to care for patients, rockets, and space systems.

Some cool projects that students have done as part of our CS program are designing software to understand the bits in RGB visualization, the creation of a "byte light" with 8 switches connected to a raspberry pi and eventually controlled by a web site to interact with the lights. Some students have done projects on topics as diverse as astrophysics, investigating how red light makes longer light waves. Students are able to be creative.

 

What do you wish that students/teachers/counselors knew about your CS program at Frostburg?

Our CS program at Frostburg is not exclusive. Any student can take the classes, but there are some challenging classes that will take hard work and concentration to pass. Students who complete our program will know all the concepts, and much of the theory of CS, but the focus is on applying the skills much more than the theoretical study of CS. Employers appreciate this skill set. Our students are able to work in real-world project groups.  The local hospital and IBM are major employers. The security sector and small businesses reach out asking for our graduates. Any student with a degree in CS and a good academic record is in high demand.

We offer 5 different programs and students can choose CS as a major or minor. https://www.frostburg.edu/academics/colleges-and-departments/computer-science/. Here are some points about our programs:

  • Our Computer Science degree requires a little less math than some other programs and has more of a focus on actually doing CS.
  • We offer a variety of concentrations in CS like networking. (including things like socket programming, multimedia communications, and audio/video sync), Specializations like the CIS degree require much less math and very little science. The core is identical to CS with all the programming but less theory and students take systems classes (analysis/ design/ business/ accounting)
  • We also have a secure computing and information assurance program. This includes programming to automate processes, cyber policy, data analysis, as well as a strong understanding of how things work in the digital world.
  • With our IT degree, you can be an agent of change in an organization. You might start at a help desk but you can end up as an analyst, network admin, system admin, database admin, or security analyst. Students learn how hardware and software work together and how to organize projects in the IT world. There are more communication skills required in a major like this.
  • We also have a graduate master's program in CS.

Reach out with any questions  at mflinn@frostburg.edu 

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Dianne O'Grady-Cunniff, dogrady at usmd dot edu
Director, Maryland Center for Computing Education

Dr. Megean Garvin, mgarvin at usmd dot edu
Director of Research, Maryland Center for Computing Education

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Maryland Center for Computing Education
3300 Metzerott Rd. Adelphi, MD 20783 http://cs4md.com
MCCE received initial support from the National Science Foundation, (MSP)2 Grant No. 0831970.