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Wielard isn't done with computers

By Sally Jongsma

In a tribute given to Professor Marv Wielard at the annual board/faculty dinner in April, it was noted that Wielard probably knows more languages than the entire foreign language department—BASIC, PASCAL, Fortran, COBOL, C, C++, JAVA, PERL, to name a few. The only language Wielard has studied that the foreign language department might actually claim, though, is Latin.

Wielard began teaching high school, where he taught mathematics and Latin. Maybe it was partly his interest in languages that pushed him to enroll in computer science courses in the 1980s, beginning his mastery of the many computer languages that he’s learned in the years since.

Following a year as a computer programmer, Wielard came to Dordt in 1984, at a time when computer programmers were in great demand and could command much higher salaries than teachers could. He continued graduate study in computer science after arriving at Dordt while he helped set up the current program.

Wielard has been a quiet but effective presence on the faculty. His students have appreciated his knowledge of the field, benefited from his friendly demeanor and encouraging attitude, and recall fondly his wacky humor and quaint sayings like “Smokey Hokey,” “Slicker than a Steamed Onion,” “Alrighty Friday,” and “You bet your booties!” In addition to liking and respecting him, students respected him as a good teacher, and they knew they could always come to him for help outside of class if they needed it.

One of the things Wielard has enjoyed most about teaching has been the opportunity to keep learning. He’s certainly had to do that in computer science. The commonly-used languages change frequently, and software and hardware change faster than most people can hope to keep up with. And as rapidly as programming tools have changed, so have theories and practices on how to best teach computer science.

“We used to teach structured programming, but now we use an object-oriented approach,” he says, using jargon that only computer science people are likely to understand in detail. He explains, “We’re teaching the same basic concepts, but we’ve learned more effective ways to help students learn what they need to know.”

Although Wielard was pulled back to teaching, he’s not given up his love for programming. Some of his best years at Dordt, he says, were those where he combined teaching part time and working for computer services part time. He’s created programs to help the human resources office keep track of sick leave and vacation hours for Dordt College employees. These projects, in addition to feeding his love of programming, have benefited his students by giving them concrete, creative assignments to work on. Wielard and his students had to communicate with employees about what their needs were and what they had to keep in mind in order to come up with creative and efficient ways to meet their needs.

“It’s rewarding to help people be able to do their work better,” he says.

Wielard says some things about teaching have changed since he’s started teaching. “I find that more time needs to be spent motivating students today,” he says. He’s ready to hand that motivating over to a younger instructor. Meanwhile he hopes he still has some years of programming ahead. Upon retirement, he expects he may be able to find some non-profit organization that would give him the opportunity to do something he loves doing and in the process serve a worthwhile cause.