The Passing of Andrea Danyluk

Williams faculty and staff,

I write, with sadness, to honor the memory of Andrea Pohoreckyj Danyluk, Mary A. and William Wirt Warren Professor of Computer Science, Emerita, who passed away yesterday at the age of 59, after a long struggle with pancreatic cancer.

Andrea, who only retired from active teaching last summer, was a Williams faculty member for 27 years as well as a college leader, mentor and influential figure in her field.

The first woman to be hired onto our Computer Science faculty, in 1993, Andrea grew up on Long Island, where Ukrainian folk dancing, violin and church were important parts of her life. She was the first member of her family to attend college, double-majoring in math and computer science at Vassar. She then earned her Ph.D. in computer science from Columbia, studying the integration of deductive and inductive machine learning algorithms.

An academic career wasn’t foreordained. Her first job out of graduate school was at Nynex (now Verizon), where she managed a project on the application of machine learning techniques for diagnosing telephone system errors. She later recalled interviewing at Williams “on a whim.” Fortunately, during her visit she met and quickly bonded with Duane Bailey, now A. Barton Hepburn Professor of Computer Science; and Tom Murtagh, John B. McCoy and John T. McCoy Professor of Computer Science, Emeritus. (Bill Lenhart, now the A. Barton Hepburn Professor of Computer Science, Emeritus, was on sabbatical at the time but soon became another close colleague and friend.)

As Tom recalls, “Coming to Williams was a difficult decision for Andrea. She was uncertain about moving from industry to academics, and the change in location would impact her husband’s career. She first accepted, then called to say she changed her mind and rejected it, then changed her mind again and accepted, then withdrew again and so on. As a result, getting her to accept an offer was a unique experience for the department.” Happily, she was won over by an offer from department chair Kim Bruce to let her defer her arrival for a year. Tom continues, “In hindsight, we looked so hard for a way to convince her to accept the position because we had already seen how exceptional Andrea was, and how much she might contribute to the college. In her years with us she accomplished amazing things for the department, the college and the field of computer science well beyond Williams. She was an amazing colleague and a wonderful friend.”

Academia turned out to be ideal for Andrea, too. “I am a happy person,” she said in a 2008 oral history. “I’m a happy person not just because I found a place like the one I was looking for, but because in some sense it’s better than the place I was looking for in that I have been really fortunate to find that I like everybody I’ve encountered and that’s unusual, and it’s unusual in a school or a place of work to genuinely like everybody you meet, and to find a community that’s so full of likable people.”

Once at Williams, Andrea made a tremendous impact. She was especially known for her work to mentor women as colleagues and students. Thanks in no small part to her efforts, fully half of our computer science faculty are women. And many students fondly recall the trips she led to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC), the world’s largest gathering of women technologists.

In honor of Andrea’s retirement, a group of her former students—Sarah Abramson, Emma Harrington, Christine Cunningham, Jackie Porfilio and Jenna Maddock, all Class of 2015––offered this recollection of the experience:

“We fondly remember her amazing lab playlists in 134, her lectures on the probability of coffee acidity in 374, her pizza order to the lab before a due date, and her patient help while we debugged our first CS elective…. She spearheaded eye-opening trips to the Grace Hopper conference (complete with mudslides). And she saw the women’s group outgrow meetings around Tunnel City tables to fill up the CS office common room. The supportive community made it easier to be a woman in a male-dominated field and gave us amazing role models as we grew closer as a group!”

Professor of Computer Science Jeannie Albrecht, Andrea’s frequent co-lead on those trips, agrees, “One of the things that I admired most about Andrea was her dedication and commitment to everything that she did,” Jeannie wrote. “I always wondered how she found time to sleep given the amount of activities and her commitment to excellence in all of them. And she made it seem easy. I can only hope to have a fraction of the impact on the lives of my junior colleagues that she had on me.”

Studying, researching and co-authoring papers with Andrea may have been a joyous experience, but she also had high standards. Duane Bailey says, “Andrea was a consummate scholar, a deep thinker, a master writer, and a fierce editor, and she demanded the same of her students. I’ve not met a student from her tutorials whose view of our discipline was not fundamentally changed by the experience.”

Department chair John B. McCoy and John T. McCoy Professor of Computer Science Stephen Freund concurs, “Andrea embodied all that we aspire to and value as a department. Her research students have become leaders in her field, and her efforts to broaden participation in computer science have enabled countless others to explore the intellectual depth, beauty, excitement of our discipline.”

Andrea was also deeply involved in the launch and development of our cognitive science program. Her courses on machine learning and artificial intelligence were pivotal to the new program’s curriculum, and the brilliance and compassion of her mentoring helped launch the careers of many future cognitive scientists.

That teaching and mentoring excellence was rooted in Andrea’s field-leading research. Her projects ranged from uses of machine learning in diagnosing telephone systems to predicting expressive bow controls for violin and viola. One unusual project, inspired by a conversation with Rosenburg Professor of Environmental Studies and Biology Emeritus Hank Art, developed algorithms that could identify individual spotted salamanders from series of pictures over time. Such diverse interests equipped her well to co-author with Kim Bruce and Tom Murtagh the textbook Java: an Eventful Approach, which has since changed the way introductory computer science is taught.

As if this were not enough, Andrea also served as department chair from 2005 to 2008 and as Acting Dean of the Faculty from August 2009 to March 2010—a key point in the historic financial downturn. “Hers was often the last light on in Hopkins,” recalls a colleague from those times. That stamina was another hallmark. As Art Munson ’01 recalled at her retirement, “During my senior year, the Computer Science students printed T-shirts with a Top 10 list of ways you know you’ve been in the computer lab too late. It included: (7) Professor Danyluk shows up. (2) Professor Danyluk goes home.”

Her disciplinary colleagues were quick to see the benefits of involving Andrea in developing standards for the field as a whole. She worked on such issues for the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and especially the Computing Research Association (CRA), where she served on the Committees on Widening Participation in Computing Research (CRA-WP), and on the Status of Women (CRA-W). She was the first ever co-chair of the latter group to come from a liberal arts college, as opposed to a major university or independent research lab. Just before she passed away the CRA honored her with their A. Nico Habermann Award for contributions in computer science research, which the Association formally announced earlier today.

Over the course of 28 years at Williams, Andrea Danyluk profoundly influenced our curriculum, our people and our college, not to mention her profession, through her scholarly gifts, her commitment to mentoring and leadership and her talent for finding joy in belonging within the Williams family. All of this complements her rich life with her own family, as detailed in their obituary.

Andrea is survived by her husband Andrew and children Stephan and Katherine, and siblings Yvonne Gonzalez and Daniel Pohoreckyj. The family will hold wakes this Sunday and Monday, March 6 and 7, from 3 to 6 PM and 4 to 7 PM, respectively, at the Flynn and Dagnoli Montagna Home in North Adams. Following a funeral service next Thursday, March 10, at the St. Nicholas Church in Watervliet, NY at 10 AM, Andrea will be interred at the college cemetery.

A campus memorial is also being planned on a timeline in keeping with Ukrainian tradition. Look for additional information once those plans are set.

In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be directed to the Computing Research Association’s Committee on Widening Participation in Computing Research (CRA-WP) or the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Our thoughts are with Andrea’s family, friends, students and colleagues in the wake of their loss, which we all share.