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Computer engineering professor builds Honors students’ social networks

It is either completely counterintuitive or perfectly understandable that a self-described introverted computer engineer would require his students to build a social network for themselves. For Dr. Perry Alexander, it is probably more the latter than the former.

Dr. Alexander, professor of electrical and computer engineering and director of the Information and Telecommunication Technology Center, is as passionate about connecting his University Honors Program students with one another and with their professors as he is about teaching them the history of computing – and that is saying a lot.

“As part of each of my Honors courses, I teach university survival skills. I’m trying to help them figure out what they need to do while they’re here: meet your professors, find your department and talk to other professors,” he says. “Every student has to come meet me. It’s worth points; it’s a homework assignment.”

He says that even the sharpest students can have difficulty navigating a large university like KU, especially when it comes to seeking research opportunities, which the Honors Program encourages and cultivates. So his class requirements give them a gentle nudge in that direction.

“The whole aura of research can be intimidating. These students are astonishingly bright, but there are still pragmatic, practical things you have to learn. Bringing a student closer to faculty faster is a very good thing the Honors Program does,” Dr. Alexander says.

He also thinks that part of his responsibility to his students is to inform them about all of the things professors do – not just what the students see.

“Most students aren’t aware of our full job,” he says. “Every bit of research I do involves a student – I’m teaching all the time I’m doing that, too.”

Another part of his course requirements for Honors students is that they must find an organized activity outside of their major to do for fun.

“Everybody I’ve known in my life who is really good at what they do is equally good at something else,” he explains.

This semester, Dr. Alexander is teaching the University Scholars seminar, called “Searching for a Just Machine,” about British mathematician who was, in Dr. Alexander’s opinion, the creator of the computer. Although he will be introducing students to the world of computer science, he says he stands to learn some things from them as well.

“Doing the University Scholars seminar, I get to see students from across the University with majors I don’t know anything about. I get to have a diverse group of students to talk to and learn what they are doing,” he says.

Dr. Alexander has been teaching Honors students for more than 10 years and appreciates that he continues to gain new understandings of both academic disciplines and the students themselves.

As a KU alumnus himself, he admires the environment the Honors Program creates for its students.

“The thing they get is the interaction with one another – the presence of people who are of like mind. They all get it that they have to study. They all get it that they are working hard. That is important, particularly for really strong students,” he says.

Dr. Alexander lives in Lawrence with his wife, Pam, and son, Tate, who is 10. He enjoys listening to and discovering new music and reading science fiction.

KU Today
Course offerings are “among the most comprehensive in the nation,” according to “A Review of Fifty Public University Honors Programs”
98% of University Honors Program graduates are employed or accepted to graduate school within six months of graduation
40% of students in the University Honors Program conduct research before graduation
9 to 1: Average ratio of KU honors students to faculty advisors
1 of only 7 programs nationwide to receive a top rating from “A Review of Fifty Public University Honors Programs” in 2014
60% of University Honors Program students study abroad
KU honors students select their advisors from top-ranked KU faculty