Family affair

Children of Watson faculty learn they don’t have to go far for a great education

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Jonathan Cohen

When Hadassah Head ’07, MS ’12, was still in high school beginning to contemplate higher- education options, Binghamton University was never off her radar screen. “I always knew I’d be attending a SUNY school,” she says.

The only question was which one. She visited several, stayed overnight at one and soon decided to attend Binghamton, where she majored in mathematics before pursuing a master’s degree in systems science and industrial engineering.

On face value, her decision might seem simple. Binghamton University is, after all, a tradition with Hadassah’s family. Her mother, Eileen Head, MS ’98, is the computer science undergraduate program director at the Watson School. Her father is Tom Head, professor emeritus in the Mathematical Sciences Department. And her brother, Michael, completed his bachelor’s degree in computer science at the University in 1999 and returned, five years ago, to earn his doctorate in computer science.

“Things had changed in just a few years. There were more courses, new faculty and greater research opportunities.” —Rufus Lander

Rufus Lander ’03, MS ’08, had a similar experience. His dad is Leslie Lander, associate professor of computer science. His mother, Maruja, earned a master’s in advanced technology in 1989. Brother Gabriel ’02 studied biochemistry and sister Gwendoline ’05 studied psychology. When it came time for Rufus to decide where he would major in mechanical engineering, it didn’t take long for him to decide on the Watson School.

A revolution every five years

When Leslie Lander came to Binghamton, in 1984, the Watson School was only a year old and he was one of just seven faculty members. “There weren’t many undergraduate computer science programs at the time,” he recalls. “The electrical and mechanical engineering programs were initially junior/senior only, and most of our students would come to Binghamton after a couple of years of community college or a four-year school to complete their last two years here.

“The undergraduate computer science/information science program and the math/computer science program were not in Watson. The first was in the School of General Studies and Professional Education, which no longer exists. The second was part of the math program. The computer science program in the Watson School only took students who already had a bachelor’s degree and came to us to do a two-year master’s in advanced technology degree with a specialization in computer science. All the departments also had a small number of PhD students.” Gradually, during the late 1980s, those programs were consolidated and the engineering programs became four-year programs.

By the time Eileen Head joined the faculty in 1988, the computer science program was starting to grow dramatically. “In this field there’s a revo- lution every five years,” she says. “Binghamton has done a terrific job keeping up with that. It has really focused on our computer science program as a leading program, adding many bright faculty members and significantly expanding the scope of course offerings. The result is diverse program- ming and an equally diverse student population, and many more research opportunities now than when my husband and I came here. Between the rich curriculum and the wealth of experiential learning opportunities, it really is a great school.

“When our children were exploring colleges and universities we felt there were no significant disadvantages to them attending Binghamton,” she adds. “We were confident they would get a great education here.”


Leslie C. Lander, below, pictured with his family, all of whom are Binghamton alumni. Wife, Maruja, center, and son, Rufus, behind her, graduated from Watson, while son Gabriel and daughter Gwendoline graduated from Harpur. Professor Lander is also in the photo in the center, while Rufus appears in the photo on the right.

Constantly evolving

Like many young people, Hadassah and Rufus looked forward to the college experience — to establishing themselves, moving out of their parents’ homes and living on their own. While they remained in Binghamton, they found autonomy in campus housing, with all the oppor- tunities for social interaction it offered.

As an undergraduate, Hadassah’s brother, Michael, found kindred spirits on a unique residential community floor reserved for a group of students who shared an interest in computers, robotics and engineering (CoRE). “When it was introduced in the late 1990s, it was the first dorm floor on campus to be equipped with Ethernet,” recalls Michael, now an engineer with Google. “The CoRE floor was not only a close community, but a great enhance- ment to my education. I’m still in touch with many of the friends I made while I was living there.”

When Michael returned for his doctoral work, he says, “The thing that made me interested in getting a PhD at Binghamton was the new, eager faculty members they’ve hired. These professors are hungry to do research, and consequently there’s been a meaningful investment in labs and infrastructure.”

One doesn’t need to be a doctoral candidate to benefit from those investments in faculty and facili- ties, however. When Rufus returned to Binghamton for his master’s degree in systems science and industrial engineering, he says, “Things had changed in just a few years. There were more courses, new faculty and greater research opportunities.”

His degree program, says Rufus, “essentially combined a technical degree with an MBA.”

The focus was on process management, and the credential helped him land a job in 2008 as a manu- facturing supervisor with Lockheed Martin Aero- nautics, where he oversees the production of C-130 Hercules turboprop military transport aircraft.

Hadassah is quick to laud the education she received at Binghamton, as well. And she exempli- fies the idea of making the most of what is avail- able. Nothing about her approach to her education has been passive.

“While my parents supported my brother and me and paid for our educations, they were big on the idea that we should work for our spending money,” she says. “I had many campus jobs.” And many paid off in dividends far more valuable than “walking around” money.

In 2003, Hadassah landed an office assistant position with EngiNet, Watson’s graduate distance-learning program. Within a couple of semesters she became a videographer and video editor for the program. At the same time, she worked at a senior living community in Binghamton. Later, she spent time as an AmeriCorps volunteer, worked with the Obama campaign and interned in Israel with a human rights organization.

“In this field there’s a revolution every five years. Binghamton has done a terrific job keeping up with that.” —Eileen Head

In each of those positions she honed her leader- ship and communications skills, enhanced her worldview and refined her definition of herself as a professional. By the time she enrolled in her master’s program, she was involved in a variety of community-service activities that seem to fit seamlessly with her systems science education. Her work on evolutionary studies, with Hiroki Sayama, associate professor of bioengineering and of systems science and industrial engineering, led to her current job as Binghamton’s evolutionary studies coordinator and a separate position as special projects coordinator for EVOLUTION: This View of Life, the first online magazine that communicates modern evolutionary science to the general public. In addition, since September 2012, she has been coordinator of the Binghamton Religion and Spirituality Project, a collaboration between SUNY Distinguished Professor David Sloan Wilson and Harvey Whitehouse, a distinguished scholar of religion at the University of Oxford in England. In that role she builds partnerships between the project’s research team and local religious organizations.

The Heads and the Landers are only two examples of families in which a Watson School education is a family affair. There are many other Watson faculty and staff whose children have benefited from a Binghamton education. Their stories reveal a first-class educational institution, constantly evolving to meet the needs of its students.