People of SU / Science / Technology and Health

Excellence by Design

Written by Mike Thee

October 13, 2015

campus walkway in front of the Bannan Science and Engineering building

Computer Science and Software Engineering Professor Adair Dingle has won an Alpha Sigma Nu Book Award.

Adair Dingle, professor of computer science and software engineering, is the recipient of a prestigious book award given by the honor society of Jesuit colleges and universities. Dingle's book, Software Essentials: Design and Construction (CRC Press, 2014), has been recognized with a 2015 Alpha Sigma Nu Book Award. 

Dingle's publication is one of just four winners representing the 31 Jesuit colleges and universities in the United States, Canada and South Korea. This year's awards recognize excellence in publishing in the sciences. 

Alpha Sigma Nu established the Book Awards in 1979 to recognize outstanding publishing achievement in the humanities and sciences by faculty and administrators. Since then five SU faculty, including Dingle, have won the award-most recently, Dan Dombrowski, professor of philosophy, in 2008. Dingle is the first SU professor from the College of Science and Engineering to win the award. 

At first glance, you might wonder what a book on software design and construction would have to do with Ignatian pedagogy. But it makes perfect sense to hear Dingle explain it. Classes and textbooks on software development traditionally "focus on the importance of teaching students how to learn programming languages," she says. "But it's important for students to do more than just write a piece of code. They need to think more holistically about how it fits into an overall design. I think this approach to software design fits with the Jesuit line of teaching."  As detailed in her book, intentional software design evaluates multiple design solutions for a given problem, assessing both short and long-term effects.  

Dingle's path to academia came through the private sector. After graduating with a degree in mathematics from Duke University, she went to work at Westinghouse where she wrote a file system for robot controls. This sparked her interest in software design and development. She eventually went back to school, earning M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in computer science from Northwestern University and the University of Texas at Dallas, respectively. It was during her time at UT Dallas that she realized she wanted to teach. After serving on the faculty of another university back east, she came to SU in 1995, drawn by the institution's emphasis on teaching. 

The textbook Dingle used when she first got to SU took a narrow approach to software development. Eventually, she abandoned the text and started constructing curricula of her own to put more emphasis on design and challenge students to think more critically about what they were trying to achieve through software development. 

"I had been (creating my own curriculum) for about a decade when Mike Smith (senior administrative assistant in the department) said, 'You should write this up in a book.'" Her chair, Rich LeBlanc agreed. And so she did. 

Dingle, who previously coauthored C++: Memory First (Franklin, Beedle & Associates, 2006), began Software Essentials during a sabbatical five years ago and completed it over the course of the next two years while teaching four sections of courses. Much of the text is adapted from the coursework Dingle developed, and it reflects feedback from the students who took her classes.

Books considered for Alpha Sigma Nu awards are judged on the basis of serious and exact scholarship, significance of the topic and its continuing importance to scholars in several disciplines, mastery of extensive literature, research findings handled with skill and assurance, authority in interpretation, objectivity, readability and imagination.

The judges had this to say about Dingle's book: "Software Essentials covers the material of software design and construction, an area where the field has made very rapid progress in the last few decades. The material is both accessible for disparate audiences and up to date." 

Dingle says she was pleasantly surprised to receive word of her Alpha Sigma Nu Book Award. "The books (that previously won the award) are excellent contributions, so it's nice to be in that category."