Dr. Gary Locklair has been at Concordia since 1986, teaching students in the computer science and information technology department. He’s both a professor and chair of the department and stays involved with students beyond the classroom by serving as a faculty advisor for the Alpha Chi honor society and the faculty coordinator for Concordia’s Student of the Month program.
How long have you been at Concordia? Why did you choose Concordia?
After completing my undergraduate degree with a BS in Computer Science and a BA in Chemistry, I worked in the computer industry for 10 years. While I enjoyed my industrial career, I felt compelled to do something different and more meaningful. I contacted all of the schools in the Concordia University school system to see if any school needed a computer science professor. The Mequon campus responded, and I began my vocation here in 1986.
What do you love most about Concordia?
Effective teaching is about passion. You must love what you do. The way to keep the fire alive is to understand teaching as a vocation. While I enjoyed my career in the computing industry, the work I did there didn’t have a real impact on people. Teaching at a Lutheran university allows me to combine computer science with a Christian worldview.
That combination is powerful and energizing. It allows us to see God’s gift of creativity as a means to love and serve our neighbor. Not only can we prepare people for meaningful vocations, but we can also share the most important message of all – eternal life is freely available in the person of Jesus Christ.
What’s your education and career background? Where did you study? What did you do before Concordia?
I was originally a chemistry major in college. I had no direction or advice in college and chose chemistry because I liked my high school chemistry teacher. As a senior, I discovered there were no jobs available for chemistry majors. I had been minoring in computer science just because I enjoyed it. At that point, I decided to complete a computer science major. (I tell students to minor in something that interests them, since it might be helpful someday.)
After graduation, I worked for the California Department of Transportation as a programmer/analyst. I created programs that simulated the effect of earthquakes on roadbeds. After that, I joined Hewlett-Packard Company in Cupertino, California aka “Silicon Valley.”
During my time with HP, I completed my Master of Science in computer science (Oregon State and University of Idaho). My Ph.D. in computer science is from Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. At Concordia, I completed the Lutheran Education Colloquy program.
What are you most passionate about in your work here at Concordia?
I am most passionate and thankful for the ability to integrate and relate a Christian worldview to my discipline. I ask students at the end of class, “What will you remember about this class five years from now?” Since it’s before the final, students will offer all kinds of answers. But, the reality is they won’t remember anything about the specifics of the class in five years. Eternal life is a “little” longer and much more important than discipline-specific material.
In addition to computer science, I am blessed to teach a course in Cosmogony (the science of origins) here at Concordia. The opportunity to share information about evolution and creation in a scientific context is exciting. Concordia is a place where the truth of origins can be freely explored as we value God’s world and God’s Word.
What’s the one key lesson from your courses/work here at Concordia that you hope students take away from interacting with you and learning from you?
Computer science is a vocation. The purpose of computer science is to love and serve our neighbors by creating useful and effective tools which solve important problems. Computer science is a liberal art; it requires integrating many branches of knowledge to produce a good system. There’s no room for geeks who can only work with technology in computer science.
Being a computer scientist is about understanding people and their problems and then creating problem-solving tools which people enjoy using. Computer science is exciting since it is a creative endeavor. Reflecting God’s image, we sub-create everything from physical systems to virtual worlds.
What’s the most interesting thing about your field of study that the general public might not know?
Computer science is not the study of computers. Computer science is the study of problem-solving. A computer is only a tool. The people who create the tool and use the tool are much more interesting and important. To understand computer science and 21st-century technology, a student must understand the grand ideas of the discipline, and not merely the specifics of current technology. The specifics change constantly; however, the conceptual grand ideas have served as the foundation of the discipline for hundreds of years.
I trace the roots of computer science back to the 17th-century Lutheran pastor and professor, Wilhelm Schickard. Schickard was a genius who applied his depth of liberal art knowledge to creating the world’s first mechanical calculator. While not a computer, his device spurred the investigation into algorithmic problem-solving which culminated in the true computer of the 20th century. Schickard created the calculator in love and service for his friend, Johan Kepler, the Lutheran astronomer who solidified the heliocentric model of the solar system.
Lastly, why should students study your field/discipline?
Every educated person must understand how to solve problems well. It is a foundational skill. Computer science provides a framework for solving difficult problems well. Every job, career, and vocation requires the use of computer technology today. While you can use a computer without significant training, you can be much more effective (and useful to employers) if you understand the concepts which underlie the technology.
The computer science and information technology fields consistently rank among the most “in demand” degrees for job applicants. Every business needs computer systems and technology. A computer science or information technology degree opens the door to a world of employment options.
Why should students consider Concordia?
We investigate current and exciting topics in computer science, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, speech synthesis, face recognition, animation, 3D printing, app development, software engineering, data security, game programming, robotics, and many more all in the context of helping students develop in mind, body, and spirit for service to Christ in the church and the world.
Computer scientists create the world. Information technologists run it. That’s common knowledge. Uncommon? Learning computer science and information technology in order to love and serve our neighbor. That’s Concordia.
At Concordia, we offer programs in both computer science and information technology. If you’re interested in our programs but not quite ready to apply, you can connect with a counselor and request more information.