Alum blog post: From Latin, Greek, and Manuscripts to Engineering Software

Alex Simrell ’16 lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and works as a software engineer for Grokker. While a student at Holy Cross, Alex spent a semester abroad in Athens, and served in his senior year as the president of the Manuscripts, Inscriptions, and Documents Club.

Classics majors are often asked, “Why are you studying a dead language?”, “What will you do with that?”, or something along those lines.  For me the answer was simple: I wanted to be a Classics teacher. 

I delayed entering the teaching profession and accepted a Fulbright research grant to work on the CroALa project, a digital collection of Croatian Neo-Latin texts.  In Croatia I became fascinated with the technical side of my research, and afterwards completed an intensive three-month “programming bootcamp.”  

Now three years into my career as a Software Engineer, I have a new appreciation for my Classics background. Computer languages are more similar to Greek and Latin than you might think.  When learning to code, the focus is primarily on reading and writing.  First you need to learn the vocabulary and rules of the language.  Then you use that knowledge to construct sentences or lines of code to state an idea.  Finally you put those ideas together to express something more complicated.  You need to balance understanding the big picture with paying attention to the smallest details (computers are not very forgiving)!

The skills I developed as a member of the Manuscripts, Inscriptions, and Documents club have been especially applicable.  Although I did learn technical skills that are very useful, the non-technical skills have been even more helpful so far.  Many people imagine programmers writing code alone in a dark room, but in reality code is written by teams.  Strong communication is crucial.  Presenting my MID research to Classics people without a technical background and technical people without a Classics background prepared me well for communicating with other software engineers as well as non-technical business people.

I believe that the point of a Classics education is not to learn specific content knowledge, but to build a foundation for future learning.  My Classics background provided me with a strong foundation for Software Engineering, and I’m so grateful for the opportunities it has given me.

In case you missed it: links about HC Classics from earlier this year

*CBS news aired a feature story on departmental alum Anthony Fauci ’62 and his work on the AIDS epidemic

*Departmental alum Tabitha Lord ’93 published her second novel, titled Infinity.

*The Holy Cross website included profiles of retiring faculty, including Prof. Blaise Nagy of the Department of Classics.

*Jason Steranko ’17 blogged over the summer about his collection of Ancient Greek black-out poetry, titled Melasmos.

*The article “Citation and Alignment: Scholarship Outside & Inside the Codex” in the journal Manuscript Studies, written by Christine Roughan ’14, Prof. Neel Smith, and Christopher Blackwell, was made available through open access.

*Prof. Mary Ebbott’s essay “Seeking Odysseus’ Sister” appeared in Michigan Quarterly.

*Plans for the College’s new Center for Arts and Creativity will include a studio theater named after the late Kenneth Happe ’58, an associate professor emeritus of Classics.

Maureen Lamb ’07 named Connecticut Language Teacher of the Year

We extend congratulations to Maureen (Gassert) Lamb ’07, who was named the 2016–17 Connecticut Language Teacher of the Year. Maureen has been teaching Latin at the Westminster School in Simsbury, CT, for eight years and is currently serving as the Language Department Head. While at Holy Cross Maureen was a double major in Classics and Music.

Maureen on a recent trip to the Colosseum.

Maureen was also recently awarded the 2017 Dr. Elizabeth Watkins Award from the American Classical League, as well as a Mead Fellowship from the New England Council of Foreign Language Teachers to create a website with resources for beginning Latin and Ancient Greek teachers in New England.

For more on Maureen’s honor as Connecticut Language Teacher of the Year, click here for the story in the Hartford Courant.

Alex Simrell ’16 blogs from the University of Zagreb in Croatia

Alex Simrell ’16 is spending 2016-17 at the University of Zagreb in Croatia on a Fulbright Fellowship. Click here for Alex’s blog, which includes an entry that makes the case for the long-term importance of studying Greek and Latin.

ICYMI: Holy Cross Classics links from Summer 2016

Click on the hyperlinks in bold to proceed to the pieces:

*In May Gabe Weaver ’04 was named the first-ever Herman M. Dieckamp Post-Doctoral Fellow by the Information Trust Institute (ITI) at the University of Illinois.

*In June the new crime novel Brighton by Michael Harvey ’84 was published by HarperCollins.

*In June Kevin Spinale ’00 was ordained into the Society of Jesus.

*Luis Perez ’17 reflected on his experience in the Maymester program “Rome in History and Imagination.”

*Daniel Cavoli ’80, Latin teacher at St. Edward’s High School in Rocky River, OH, was honored with the Kraft Award for Excellence in Secondary School Teaching for 2015-16, given out by the Classical Association of the Middle West and South (CAMWS).

*In July Brian Clark ’15, Claude Hanley ’18, Stephanie Lindeborg ’13, Melody Wauke ’17, and Prof. Neel Smith presented research at the Digital Humanities 2016 conference in Krakow, Poland.

*In July Prof. Tom Martin’s new book Pericles: A Biography in Context was published by Cambridge University Press.

*In August Christine Bannan ’14, a third-year student at the University of Notre Dame Law School, wrote about the threat of the “Internet of Things” for the journal Tech Crunch. Christine is the winner of the 2016 Edelson PC Consumer Privacy Scholarship.

*In August Prof. Martin spoke with Quartz.com about the “Games of Hera,” a series of footraces among female athletes described by Pausanias.

In case you missed it: more HC Classics stories from 2015

Click on the hyperlinks for the following stories about Holy Cross Classics students, alums, and faculty:

*In March Jason Steranko ’17 presented his paper on war and peace in the Roman historian Sallust at an undergraduate colloquium at the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, D.C.

*In May Nik Churik ’15 was awarded a Fulbright to study Byzantine Greek texts at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

*In May Stephanie Lindeborg ’13 and Prof. Neel Smith spoke on the panel “Let’s Get Digital” at a meeting of the Classical Association of Canada in Toronto.

*In June Steve Stack ’94 began his term as the president of the American Medical Association, becoming the youngest AMA president since 1854.

*In June Ed Brzytwa ’99 was named the director of global policy for localization, trade, and multilateral affairs for the Information Technology Industry Council.

*In July Robert Dudley ’08, a Ph.D. candidate at Duke University, was awarded his second Fulbright, to study Cicero’s reception of Plato at Freie Universität in Berlin.

*Over the summer Brian Clark ’15, Claude Hanley ’18, Stephanie Neville ’17, Charlie Schufreider ’17, Alex Simrell ’16, and Melody Wauke ’17 unraveled the mystery of a Homeric scholion.

*In July the website Academic Minute interviewed Prof. Neel Smith on his work with digital texts.

*In September Nik Churik ’15 and Prof. Neel Smith spoke at a conference on the digital humanities in Grenoble, France.

*In November David Bonagura ’03, Classics instructor at Regis High School in New York, inquired about the poet Virgil and Catholicism. In December David discussed his work with Cardinal Dolan of New York.

*In December Tabitha Lord ’93 published her first science-fiction novel, Horizon.

Alumnae return to talk of ongoing pursuits in Classics

On Friday, September 11, Melissa Browne ’12 and Christine Roughan ’14, returned to Fenwick 4 to talk with current majors about the connections between their time at Holy Cross and their current work in Classics.

In the fall of 2014 Melissa became the first female instructor of Greek and Latin in the 164-year history of the Hill School in Pottstown, PA. While teaching there and working towards a Masters in Classics at Villanova University, Melissa continues to work on the previously unpublished manuscript of the Iliad that she wrote about for her senior thesis.

“I took full advantage of the pretty incredible offerings of the Classics major at Holy Cross,” Melissa said. “In class there was always the opportunity to dig more deeply into a text, to bring in outside scholarship, or to quite literally contribute to scholarship – in my case, through the Homer Multitext Project and my thesis.

“When I went on to teach, I maintained that attitude. I’m never just conveying information about the first declension mindlessly, but ever aware of the community of scholars into which I’m continuously catapulting students.

Browne&Roughan
Melissa (left) and Christine (right) share a laugh with current students in Fenwick 420.

“At the same time, I continue to actively maintain my own intellectual pursuits — and share them with my students!” Melissa continued. “This includes everything from attending seminars on the digital humanities, to presenting my thesis work at conferences, and now in my graduate work at Villanova. I always felt prepared to exist in both worlds, and actually enjoy having a foot on the threshold both of the land of budding Classicists — fingers crossed! — and also of the scholarly community into which I was invited while at Holy Cross.”

Christine returned this past summer from a year as a Fulbright Scholar at Leipzig University in Germany. There she investigated the possibilities for digitally representing every manuscript and print edition of the ancient Greek mathematician Euclid’s highly influential treatise Elements. Christine is now beginning a Ph.D. program at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at NYU.

“The Classics Department at Holy Cross always encouraged exploration,” Christine said. “In my studies I pursued not just Classics but also Physics – a strange combination, but one that led me to discover my interest in ancient science, an area in which I continue to work today.

“My participation in the Homer Multitext Project and the Manuscripts, Inscriptions, and Documents Club shaped many of my research interests and methods. I was quite excited to find myself — an undergraduate — able to contribute something new to a field with such a lengthy history already. This led me to pursue research beyond Holy Cross and also opened my eyes to the contributions other motivated individuals could make – even as undergraduate students.”