A large crowd gathered to celebrate Informatics Professor David G. Kay and his 37 years of teaching on Monday, May 21, 2018. At the retirement reception held in his honor, André van der Hoek, chair of the Department of Informatics, talked about Kay’s widespread involvement — at the university level, serving as chair of the University Committee on Academic Computing and Communications; at the campus level, acting as faculty director of the UCI UTeach program, in which undergraduates design and teach their own small seminars; at the school level, training generations of teaching assistants; and at the department level, serving for years as the vice chair. But his dedication at the individual level is what truly made Kay stand out. As Professor van der Hoek noted, “David’s passion for students and their learning and well-being is why we’re here.”
A Room Full of Gratitude
Michael Shindler was among the many in attendance to take the podium to thank Kay. Shindler, who received his bachelor’s degree in ICS from UCI in 2005, said that when Kay was his lecturer, “he made me feel college would be a great experience.” Now himself a lecturer at USC, Shindler turned to Kay, exclaiming, “I could not have succeeded without you.”
Alex Thornton, who received his bachelor’s degree in ICS in 1996 and has been a lecturer in the School of ICS for 18 years, compared Kay to a coach. He explained that when you’re a great coach, people talk about your coaching tree. “A whole bunch of people are in David’s teaching tree, which is a great testament to him.”
Retired ICS senior lecturer Norman Jacobson, who was on the hiring committee that brought Kay to UCI, welcomed him “to the retirement club” and highlighted how much Kay “cares about his work, his students and his colleagues.”
Other speakers included Professor Martha Mecartney of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, who attributed the existence of UCI’s Nursing School to Kay’s identification of the eventually successful candidate for founding director of the program. David Smallberg, a computer science lecturer at UCLA, noted that he and Kay started teaching non-credit evening programming courses at UCLA in 1971, which Kay continued for 10 years, while English Professor Daniel Gross lauded Kay’s support of good writing instruction on the STEM side of campus.
A Passion for Teaching and Learning
Students can learn valuable insights from Kay (and his colleagues) before even stepping foot in his classroom. His homepage links to an explanation of how college differs from high school, advising students to stick with what interests them, not with what’s easy. “You may feel that if something is tough… you should study something else. That’s wrong. Most experts in any field work very hard at what they do.”
Kay also devotes a page to helping students get the most out of UCI, telling them to learn all they can, and not just within their major. “Use your undergraduate years as an opportunity to learn about the world, about the achievements and diversity of humanity.… One of UCI’s greatest strengths is its diversity; take advantage of it, and good luck!” In addition, as Gross mentioned, Kay encourages students to become good writers and avid readers, explaining that reading “will help you become a better writer” and asserting that “someone who doesn’t read is hardly better off than someone who can’t read.”
According to Jacobson, Kay practices what he preaches. Jacobson touted the high quality of both Kay’s logical thinking and writing, reminiscing about the “fine, upstanding, respectful arguments” between the two over the years. This shouldn’t be surprising, given that after receiving his undergraduate degree in linguistics from UCLA, Kay went on to receive his law degree from Loyola Law School (Los Angeles) before returning to graduate school in computer science at UCLA. He then taught for nine years at UCLA before coming to UCI in 1990.
When Kay addressed the crowd, he thanked his wife, “who kept things together at home” in Los Angeles, allowing him to work in this “ideal environment” at UCI. “In the School of ICS, we do things in a different way.” Yet although his love for the School, unique in its separation from the School of Engineering, is what drew him in, Kay again reminded us that what really matters resides at the individual level, as he told the room full of students, colleagues, and friends, “what kept me coming down to UCI was all of you!”
— Shani Murray