Faculty Interview: Professor Simpkins

Professor Christopher Simpkin’s path has taken him from the Air Force to Georgia Tech, and this summer, to Georgia Tech-Lorraine.

MK-SimpkinsWhen I shuffled into my computer science 2316 class on the first day of the summer semester, I was not looking forward to the impending 10 weeks. There are some kids who just get computer science; it just clicks for them, and that’s great. But I am definitely not one of those kids. I am the kid that sits in front of my laptop, staring at the screen for an hour trying to debug code only to find that I named a variable incorrectly (something as simple as “doctors” instead of “doctor”). As you might presume, this does not bode well for my relationship with CS; we are not what you would call “sympatico.” Not to mention, my first ever CS professor’s voice had the same effect on me as Nyquil. It’s safe to say, I was not expecting much for my second CS class.

However, CS 2316 has been a nice surprise for me, not simply because of the topic, data manipulation,  but because of the professor. I mean, having a coding assignment that utilizes the themes and characters from Grey’s Anatomy is pretty awesome. Not to mention, having a student do a public dance in front of the class as punishment because his phone went off is hysterically entertaining.

Just recently, I decided it was time to sit down and talk to the professor who was responsible for my slowly improving relationship with computer science: Christopher Simpkins. I was able to learn how he got started in in the field, and believe me, it is pretty interesting… and a little unexpected.  

Professor Simpkins did not begin his career in computer science; actually, he began his career in the air force, attending the Air Force Academy. Clearly, this was quite a switch, a pilot to a computer science professor. He always knew that he wanted to go into a technical field though. Originally he thought he would end up somewhere like MIT or some other tech school, but when he and his father, a member of the air force himself, were watching an Air Force football game one day, he was asked the question if he had ever thought of attending the Air Force Academy.

That question started a long and tedious two year process of applying to the academy, which Simpkins was later accepted into. Realizing that it was the highest honor, he decided to attend the school and major in engineering.

After completing his academics, Simpkins began flying tankers, and even became the designated computer guru for his squadron. While he had originally planned to do a crossflow program to transition into being a fighter pilot, he soon realized that the air force life was not well suited for families. Having two small children, he wanted to be an involved father, so he switched his career path towards software engineering in Atlanta.

Still, having taught in the Air Force, Simpkins knew that his passion was in teaching, so he decided to go into academia. That’s when Simpkins found Georgia Tech. A great location, advanced engineers, and a high-class university, Georgia Tech became his new end goal. His experience with Georgia Tech graduates in the Air Force had provided him with a good idea of the type of people at Georgia Tech, and fortunately his expectations did not disappoint him when he became a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Now, Simpkins is a computer science professor for one of the top universities in the country in his field. Just like that, he made the switch from the Air Force into academia. Clearly a dedicated and motivated individual, I asked Professor Simpkins for any advice he could give to students at Georgia Tech Lorraine:

“Pace yourself with the travel. You’re taking real classes; you have a real Georgia Tech workload. Travel is like another class.”

For Simpkins, he suggests spending those few two day weekends exploring Metz, catching up on sleep, and getting some studying done. He also suggests taking advantage of the small class sizes, i.e., “take advantage of the access to professors.” Office hours is one of his own biggest tools in teaching his students. There have been many a day when I have attended Professor SImpkins office hours, and soon enough it is like another small lecture class with multiple students asking questions and example problems ensuing. I can definitely say that taking his advice is worthwhile.

While Professor Simpkins loves teaching, he still takes time to travel on the weekends with his family who are spending the summer in Metz with him. A highlight of his trip was seeing the Paris Opera Ballet perform, Giselle. His wife, a former professional ballerina, loves Giselle and has clearly passed on her passion for the arts to her husband. I am sure that it was a nice break from the tedious grading of my CS class’ homework assignments (although I am pretty sure he has written code that basically performs the grading for him).

All in all, it’s pretty neat to know that Georgia Tech is enabling its students to learn from such interesting faculty members as Professor Simpkins. Now, if only I could learn how to fit all of my homework, studying, sleep time, cooking time, and traveling into one twenty four hour day.