Timothy A. Wahls, associate professor of computer science, has been posthumously named the 2017 recipient of Dickinson’s Constance & Rose Ganoe Memorial Award for Inspirational Teaching. Wahls passed away in February after a hard-fought battle with pancreatic cancer. His wife, Linda Null, accepted the award on his behalf at Commencement on Sunday, May 21.
Voted on annually by graduating seniors and announced by the graduating class president during Commencement, the Ganoe award is the only student-bestowed faculty accolade at Dickinson. Established in 1969 with a bequest from the late William A. Ganoe, class of 1902.
Wahls came to Dickinson in 2003 as associate professor of computer science. Widely regarded as an exceptional teacher and scholar, Wahls became department chair in 2010. His important record of service to the college also included membership in the science executive committee and judicial pool. His dedication to students was epitomized in his famous syllabus statement on office hours, which in addition to regularly scheduled office hours included the words, “and whenever my office door is open.”
Wahls was an early advocate and champion for sustainability on the Dickinson’s campus and beyond. Using his expertise in programming—and channeling his early years growing up on an Iowa dairy farm—Wahls collaborated with the Dickinson College Farm to develop FARMDATA. What began as a class project for a course on database systems grew into a smartphone-compatible comprehensive records-management system, focused on the needs of sustainable-produce farmers. Dickinson’s Center for Sustainability Education supported the development of FARMDATA with a summer grant, and it received a grant from the USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program. Presentations and articles in farming circles related to FARMDATA continue to bring acclaim to transdisciplinary sustainability efforts at the college. The project was released as open-source software in 2014 and has been downloaded more than 2,300 times worldwide. Some of the largest organic farms in Pennsylvania use FARMDATA to track and manage their crop production records.
During Wahls’ medical leave of absence, he continued his work on FARMDATA. He scrupulously cleaned the code and developed new features requested by farmer users from around the world. He also embarked on a new enterprise called AnimalData, a database system for small livestock farms. Both projects won popular interest from growers and agency professionals at the 2017 conference of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture.
A native of Postville, Iowa, Wahls earned a bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. in computer science from Iowa State University. He was a member of the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa honor society.
Published May 26, 2017