Hemaspaandra: Driven by her passion for research

The art of effective teaching usually involves a great deal more than just one’s performance inside the classroom. For Edith Hemaspaandra, a passion for research drives her to success in all aspects of her vocation.

Winning an Eisenhart Award helps to validate that approach.

“I do think it’s vindication that effective people can do research and teach, and they can do them both well,” says Hemaspaandra, an associate professor of computer science in the B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences. “I think a lot of people are kind of afraid that the push by RIT to be more research focused will mean that people will become worse teachers, but I don’t think that has to be the case.”

Using her computing expertise, Hemaspaandra focuses her research on foundational systems and problems to better understand why they behave in certain ways. More recently she has examined the computational aspects of voting systems. Since there are no perfect systems, there are instances where the outcome of an election is manipulated in some way. Preventing that is impossible, but the goal, she says, is to make it prohibitively costly.

“We look to see which of the things are difficult to do and which are easy to do,” she explains. “So maybe it’s always possible to manipulate an election, and you can not avoid that, but you can try to make it infeasible for people to do that.”

A native of Holland, Hemaspaandra came to the United States in 1992. After teaching assignments at the State University of New York at Buffalo and Le Moyne College, she joined the faculty at RIT in 1998. Since then, she’s witnessed a large increase in student enrollments and the size of the computing faculty, as well as the creation of the Golisano College in 2001. Most of the courses she is currently teaching can be described as “theoretical,” which can be challenging for new students.

“A large part of my time is spent convincing students that, if they do put in the time, they can actually do this and even like it.”

To promote student success, the computer science department set up a tutoring center where students who need assistance can work with high-achieving students in a supportive environment. Hemaspaandra says it’s rewarding to watch the student tutors at work, particularly in regards to the rapport that develops between students during these sessions together. The tutoring sessions, she believes, are valuable in helping students master important concepts prior to the start of their careers.

“I think it’s particularly important for applied people and those who work in industry to have a solid theoretical background, and I think if I can teach them that, then that’s what really matters.”

In the years ahead, Hemaspaandra looks forward to serving as a student advisor to the Golisano College’s new Ph.D. program in computing, which kicks off this fall. She also hopes to build additional international research collaborations. That is, after all, the passion that’s driving her success.

“I like to classify things, and I like to classify many things, ideally an infinite number of things—whether it involves political science or something else. It’s all fun!”

RIT News & Events, May 18, 2006