Boots Cassel Interview: Selected Quotes

This page includes a number of quotes from the Lillian (Boots) Cassel interview. The interview overview page provides access to some background information, the audio from the interview, a transcript of the interview, and a video snippet.


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Change to the computer science major

But I stayed an engineering major for a year and a half. And in the middle of my sophomore year, they announced the computer science program had started. And my friend, who had been my lab guy, was still there. He was a Ph.D student, he was teaching, he had, I don't know, I guess an assistantship that involved some teaching while he was working on his dissertation. And he told me about it and suggested that I look into it. And I can still remember, he said, "There's only one problem with it. They've called it computer science and that's terrible. They shouldn't have called it that. People will think it's about computers." And he was so right. You know, we've had so many discussions about that since. And I've always remembered that Tony Agnelli said that, that very thing. He said, "That's the only problem with it. It's a great program. It's going to be really big, really important. I think it would really suit you." And I changed my major and never looked back.

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In loco parentis

The guiding principle in the 1960s on college campuses, or at least all the ones that I knew of, was in loco parentis: "We are here in place of parents." How do you make nice and safe? You lock up the girls. So I had hours. I had hours. I had to be back in my dorm. So even when I was an engineering major, I was the only girl in the class. My other engineering major was in another major, so she wasn't in the same classes as me usually. But, you know, the guys would get together and have study sessions, I had to back to the room. Because I was locked up, you know. The guys had no hours. Only the girls had hours. If you can lock up the girls, there's nothing to worry about right? That was the prevailing idea. The library closed on women's hours. But, you know, so the guys could have their study sessions, but I couldn't go.

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Reading or working problems

My roommate was a sociology major. And I can remember one time she had this big shelf full of books and I had a much smaller shelf full of books. I had my chemistry, my biology -- no, I never took biology -- chemistry, physics, calculus, you know, all those sorts of things. And she would have books that she'd sit and read. And I can remember saying, "Oh, I wish I could just sit and read once in a while." Because everything was doing problems. You'd figured out how to do something. You'd do some more problems. You know, everything was doing problems. And that was nice, but I would have liked to just have a book to read. And she said "But all I do is read. I wish I could have a problem to work sometimes!" [laughs]

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Not a stay-at-home mom

I worked for a little over a year. Then I got married between my junior and senior years. And I had my first son after I'd been working for about a year. And ... hey, I grew up with the ideal is you stay home and take care of your children. This is what my mother wanted to do. She wasn't able to, but it was what she wanted to do. The sister that I saw the most and who was my model, that's what she did. This is what you do. This is good. So I tried it. I went crazy. [chuckles] Didn't work at all. I had an absolute angel of a child who ate and slept and played. Was never any fuss; no problems. He was just so easy there was nothing to do. I was bored out of my mind! So, fortunately, I had a very understanding husband who said, "You need to do something!" And so we decided I would get a master's degree. So I worked for a year, stayed home with the baby for a year, then enrolled in the master's program. And got a teaching assistantship. And the first thing they did is put me in a classroom. I've never left. Never left.

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Trivial in FORTRAN

[O]ne of the statisticians, his name is Art Hurl, said, "I heard you have done some machine or assembly language programming." I said, "Yeah, I've done that." And he said, "Could you write a program for me?" And I said, "I guess. I mean this is a different computer. I haven't done assembly language programming on this one, but I assume I can learn it." And he said, "Fine." So he described what he wanted done and it had to be in this machine language. And I said "Okay, fine." So meanwhile, I'm doing my other things, my teaching assignment, my studies, and I'm, in between, trying to help him. And it was going a bit slowly. And I came across him one day. And he said "How's it going?" And I said, "Well, it's coming slowly, but, you know, finding how to get into this machine ... because it's locked up. You don't have it on your desk. And getting ... If I could do it in FORTRAN, it would be trivial." He said, "What?" I said, "If I could do it in FORTRAN, it would be trivial. I could do it in an hour, but since you want it.." He said "I was told it couldn't be done in FORTRAN." [laughs] He was doing a random number generator that he had invented and he wanted to take bits out of the middle of a number. Which is trivial to do in FORTRAN if you know FORTRAN well enough and I did. But he had been told you had to be using machine language to be able to get to the individual bits. [laughs] After that, it was finished quickly.

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When papers WERE papers

Joyce Currie Little [...] and I were the program co-chairs of SIGCSE in Philadelphia in 1984. I literally had no clue of what it took to run a program. And the conference was a lot smaller then, but still, it was a lot to do. And, of course, in those days you didn't have all the stuff you have now. I mean, when people said "paper," it was paper. And you sent it out to reviewers. And it was paper you sent out to reviewers. And you got paper back. And you communicated with the authors whose papers had been accepted. And they had to get the final version of their paper on this special form, special paper that could then be printed to make the proceedings. And you had to put the program together. And I remember going down to Joyce's house in Towson and sitting there for a day -- the day everything was due -- because, of course, just as now, nothing comes early. Everything came the day it was due. So I sat there at her house, answering the door over and over again as the Federal Express, or whatever the current one at the time (I think it was Federal Express), kept delivering these packets. And then we'd take them out and we had to lay them out and we had to produce page numbers. So we made a little program that printed out numbers, and cut them out, and pasted them on these pages to make the program, to make the master for the proceedings. And we made the program and, you know, when you say "cut and paste," we're talking literally cut and paste. It was funny. But we did it and it worked out fine.

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Accreditation -- It's a good thing

I truly believe that every program that I was part of the visit to was better off for having gone through the experience. Not because I or my group or anything was involved, but because the process really worked, the most important part of it being the self study. And this, you know, deep introspection that helped people there identify their strengths and weaknesses. By the time they had done that the visit was almost an afterthought. You had to have it coming or they wouldn't have done the program investigation in the first place. But they already knew the answers by the time we got there. And in the earliest days, it was still pretty new. And there'd be some surprises, but not too much. And over the years, I occasionally had somebody that would argue and, you know, try to convince me that something they were doing was right when it was clearly not. But those were the exceptions. Most of the time they knew by the time when we got there what we were going to say. And they were very happy to have the feedback, you know, "the outside expert" that comes in and tells you what you already know. Because now they had a document that they could take to their university or their college and say, "Look, this is what it takes to do this right. If we're going to do it right, we have to do this." You know, and teaching loads got reduced and people got travel support to go to meetings so they could keep up-to-date. And just lots and lots of good things happened. They got equipment, you know, because you saw these documented expectations. And the schools that had decided they wanted accreditation would do it. And everyone I ever saw did. So I have to say it was a good thing.

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Assuming students want to learn

So, you know, teaching philosophy, I ... I always loved school and I love to learn. I want to learn anything and everything. And I make the assumption that my students want to learn. I'm a pragmatist, I understand this isn't true, but I pretend that it is. And because somewhere, sometimes, you're going to find one for whom it is. And that's the one I want to reach, that's the one I want to serve. And if I can inspire some of the others along the way, I hope so, that's great. So I try to push reasonably hard without pushing too hard. But like I said, I assume that people want to know this, that they really want to learn this, and that it's my job to help them learn.

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Dean's List and the wedding

It's interesting, actually, the first time I ever made Dean's List was the semester I planned my wedding. I was so intensely conscious of the fact that I needed to be careful, that I could so easily be distracted, that I put more time and effort, so I made Dean's List for the first time. And made it, Dean's List, both semesters of my senior year.

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The best you can do

[W]hether it's computer science or anything else, do what you love to do. You know, don't try to fit yourself in where you don't fit. And ... [my son] David and I both love what we do. And his brothers and my husband all shake their heads and say, "You ... you two are ridiculous! You actually like going to work!" And David has said many times, "Don't tell them at work -- I'd do it for free!" I mean, we both love what we do! And if that's the way computing strikes you, then it's right! And, you know, stick with it. Because it's great fun. [... Y]ou know, I saw my mother go to work. And she worked because she had to. And she didn't complain. And she made the best of it. And she worked in a ... in the admitting office of the hospital for the longest time that I knew of. She had other jobs before. And when I was in high school I worked in that admitting office, too, as a part-time job. Made me determined that was not what I was going to do. And, you know, it was a job. You did it because you needed the money and then you had your real life. But I've been fortunate enough that my job is my real life. You know, it's just ... it's just one aspect. There's my job and my family and lots of other things. But they're all part of my life. They're not distinct things. You don't go to work so that you can afford to do what you want to do. What you're doing at work is what you want to do. And I think that's ... that's the best you can do.