Faculty Profile — Jason Grant

Photograph of Middlebury College computer science professor Jason Grant and his dog, Winter

Middlebury College computer science professor Jason Grant and his dog, Winter

In each issue of Keywords, we profile a faculty member who makes innovative use of the library and/or academic technology.  This issue features Jason Grant, Instructor in Computer Science.

Jason, welcome to Middlebury. You’re a newbie. Is that right?

I am a newbie!  I moved to Middlebury in August of 2017 for a tenure-track position in computer science.

What courses do you teach and what are you teaching in the fall?

Currently, I am teaching at the far ends of our computer science curriculum. Along with Professor Amy Briggs, I co-teach Introduction to Computing (CSCI 101), the largest class in our department, and Senior Seminar (CSCI 701), a small capstone class in which students implement a large-scale research or software design project.  In total, I teach approximately 130 students this semester.

This fall, I will again teach Introduction to Computing and a new first-year seminar (FYSE) course, Music and the Black Church.  I’m fairly excited about this class as it brings many of my interests outside of academia into an academic space.

Tell me something I don’t know about computer science.

Photograph of Middlebury computer science professor Jason Grant and his dog, Winter

Prof. Grant and his dog, Winter

This could be tricky considering I don’t know what you know and what you don’t know; however, I’ll take a stab at it.  From my perspective, big data analysis and machine learning are the two hottest areas of computer science.  Today, we are generating and storing so much data through the use of wearables (e.g., FitBit, Apple Watch, etc.), capturing of photographs and videos, and tweets.  A lot of research in big data seeks to find what this information says about us, as individuals and/or as collective groups.  If this type of research fascinates you, I would recommend you read Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz.

Photograph of Middlebury computer science professor Jason Grant and his dog, Winter, after deepart.io image processing

Prof. Grant and his dog, Winter, after deepart.io image processing

Machine learning is at the forefront of problems that can be solved with large amounts of data, which we just learned is in abundance.  As a musician, I always look for ways that computer science can be used outside of the traditional roles of science.  I think one cool application of machine learning, specifically deep learning through the use of a neural network, is the ability to take any photograph and recreate it in a particular artistic style.  I’ve shared an example of me and my pup, Winter. You can create your own at DeepArt.io.

What is most challenging about your work and your role here?

The biggest challenge of my role is time management.  At any given moment, scholarship, service, or teaching could consume all of your time.  As faculty at a liberal arts school, all of us want to be the best teachers we can be.  This means thinking about and implementing effective ways to engage our students.  This in itself can be a full-time job, if one allows it.  However, as a scholar and researcher, I have to actively contribute to new research in my field.  Thus, I have carve out time to actively work on my research projects, which can seem secondary when class prep is looming.

How do you use the libraries?  Is there anything more we can do to better serve you?

Surprisingly, I have used the library here more than I have in the past 7 years.  In the fall, I taught a class on biometric recognition.  During this class, we were able to procure a film from the library, 1984, based on George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.  This allowed us to talk about “Big Brother” and the balance between security and privacy.  In preparation for my new FYSE course, I have checked out many readings related to Black music, the history of the African-American church, and the like.

What have you been able to accomplish thus far and what goals would you like to forward in the near future?

This year has been a busy one for me. I arrived to Middlebury as a PhD candidate, which means I have spent most of the year working on my dissertation in my “spare time.”  I recently submitted a draft of my dissertation for revision and hope to have it completed in the coming weeks!  I also submitted a manuscript to a journal based upon my dissertation research in abnormal crowd behavior detection.  As I mentioned earlier, I submitted a proposal for a new first-year seminar that I will be teaching in the fall.

My goal in the near future is to take a vacation! 🙂  Over the past several years, I have dramatically shifted the balance between my work life and social life.  I don’t want to wait until I’m retired to take vacation or feel that I spent too much time working and not enjoying life outside of my profession.

I know you’re a keyboardist. How do you get to use your talents in music locally?

As a musician and a computer scientist, my fingers seem to always be on a keyboard.  Prior to coming to Middlebury, I played the piano for two churches in the South Bend, Indiana, area.  Lately, I mostly play as a means of relaxation.  My neighbors are potential benefactors of this relaxation technique, but otherwise I haven’t done much.  However, next semester, I will incorporate my experience as a musician in a Black church to augment the material presented in my first-year seminar.

Tell me about winter. And Winter, too.

Winter is the name of my adorable eight-month old puppy.  I rescued her from the SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) in upstate New York, and I have no idea how this cute little girl ended up there.  When I first laid eyes on her, she was ten weeks old weighing just under 10 pounds.  To the best of our knowledge she is a husky and collie mix.  When I first moved to Vermont, many folks told me that I needed to find something to love about winter in order to enjoy my time here.  Otherwise, I would forever be waiting for warmer weather to come.  A lot of Vermonters ski, snowboard, or play hockey in the winter.  Not having much experience in any of these sports and having wanted a dog for quite some time, I decided to adopt a puppy and name her Winter.  Thus, I will forever love Winter!

How can we reach you?

I would encourage those in the Middlebury community to stop by my office in McCardell Bicentennial Hall, rm 636.  Otherwise, I can be reached by email at jgrant@middlebury.edu.