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Tucker helped usher in Monmouth's computer era

Barry McNamara
05/18/2018
Pictured behind Marta Tucker are, from left, Otis Burge, Sean Maher, Melody White Peterson and Tim Adams.
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MONMOUTH, Ill. – When computer science professor Marta Tucker announced she was retiring this spring following a 35-year teaching career at Monmouth College, a replacement needed to be found. But when Tucker joined the faculty in 1983, she replaced no one – she was the first of her kind.

Computers arrived at the College a decade before Tucker, but she and former colleague Rich Cogswell were the first faculty hired to teach in the College’s recently approved computer science major. She came to Monmouth fresh off completing a master’s degree at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill.

All academic disciplines experience change, but one would be hard-pressed to find a discipline that has changed as much as computer science has during Tucker’s tenure.

“When I was at the University of Illinois in 1969, I worked on a mainframe computer with vacuum tubing and punch cards,” said Tucker, who later transferred and completed her undergraduate degree in mathematics at Illinois State University. “I’d turn in my punch cards at night, and in the morning I’d get my printout. If you were lucky, you could get two sets of printouts in one day.”

Displaying a smart phone in her hand, she said, “Today, we’re using these little things ... tiny handheld devices. When I first started, there were huge monstrous computers. Now you can wear one in your watch.”

Although Tucker knows the science behind computers, she marvels just as much about the changes as everyone else.

“Computers have changed amazingly,” she said. “They’ve changed the way we live. They’ve changed the way we communicate, the way we solve problems, the way we research, the way medicine works. Every area of science has been affected.”

Campus computing takes hold

Tucker’s career path didn’t take her immediately into higher education, as she spent nine years as a high school teacher.

Meanwhile, at Monmouth College, computers were starting to take hold. Former faculty members John Arrison and Pete Kloeppel, who taught math and physics, respectively, began to get involved, running a computer center that was originally located on the main floor of Wallace Hall.

After Monmouth’s approval of a computer science major in 1982, Tucker said the next big development came in the late 1980s when the College Senate voted to provide personal computers in faculty offices. By that time, the computer center had relocated to Hewes Library, and Tucker frequently made the short trek there from her office in the Haldeman-Thiessen Science Center when she wanted to log on.

“Switching to PCs ... that was a pretty major change in how computing was done,” said Tucker.

Chatting in real time

Another big change came midway through the 1990s when Tucker she was on sabbatical at the University of Iowa.

“I had a real-time chat with (current Chief Information Officer) Daryl Carr, who was on Monmouth’s campus,” she said. “I was so impressed at how quickly the messages were going back and forth. That was a watershed moment for me.”

Not far behind was the widespread use of the Internet, which Tucker said has “taken over. It’s changed the way we think about computing.”

With that change came several adjustments to the College’s computer science curriculum.

“We’ve added quite a few new courses because of the way the Internet impacted our courses,” said Tucker. “The whole field of databases has changed. Instead of computing on a PC, we do things by connecting to the Internet and working through some computer someplace else.”

With the speed of change in the discipline comes the opportunity to “experiment on our own and try new things,” said Tucker.
“Our students lead us into some of these new areas,” she said. “They’re always interested in new applications for their cell phones and laptops, so they work in class on developing applications. We’ve also been using the web as a way to teach database classes, rather than through a standalone computer system.”

Changes and constants

As she looked back on her career, Tucker noted an important development outside of computer science, as well as something that has stayed the same.

“One of the things I’ve thought about is that for a while, I was the only female working in H-T, not just the only female in my department,” she said. “So I really appreciate the number of female colleagues that have been added in my department, in my building and across campus.”

What has stayed the same is the special bond that takes place at Monmouth between faculty and students, which Tucker experienced firsthand at the College’s official retirement ceremony.

One of her former students, Sean Maher ’95, learned about the ceremony. An employee of Caterpillar Inc., he spoke with other Monmouth graduates at Caterpillar and invited them to join him in attending. In all, four of Tucker’s students returned to campus to support Tucker – Maher, Melody White Peterson ’95, Otis Burge ’99 and Tim Adams ’89.

“Tim was one of my earliest students,” said Tucker. “They’ve all been at Caterpillar their entire careers.”

At the ceremony, Dean David Timmerman noted Tucker’s five-year tenure as Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, as well as her Hatch Academic Excellence Award for Distinguished Teaching.

“It’s been 35 wonderful years,” Tucker said at the ceremony. “I’m really proud to say I’ve been a Monmouth College faculty member. I might not have made as much money as I would’ve going to work at a place like Intel but, boy, did I have fun doing it.”

As Tucker contemplates her next chapter, some of it will be based on another “first of its kind” person.

“I’m looking forward to no schedule for a while,” she said. “I’m going to be a first-time grandmother (in June), so I’m looking forward to spending time with family.”