Faculty Spotlight: AC Chapin

Assistant Professor in the Community Education, Business & Applied Technology (CEBAT) division, AC Chapin joined Harford Community College in 2006. Her energetic, supportive teaching style helps students to develop the confidence needed to successfully tackle challenging computer programming assignments.

Dedicated to the College and our students, Chapin has made many significant contributions over the years. She developed the Java I course so that students could take a two-semester sequence all in Java, learning programming in an object-oriented way from the ground up, instead of always starting in C and doing the more advanced Java course as an afterthought. During her first program review, she changed the Computer Information Systems (CIS) degree structure to cover a broader range of CIS courses, requiring both Operating Systems and Networks as well as a two-semester programming sequence.

Prior to the pandemic, Chapin had never taught an online course. She is currently teaching the two-semester Java Programming sequence and the Intro to CIS course. To keep students on track and engaged in their learning, she’s kept the frequent assignments from her face-to-face classes, so students stay connected to the course. She does an excellent job of translating complicated materials into understandable lectures and exercises. In-class time is spent on a lot of programming practice. She uses discussion boards in Blackboard for students to discuss course concepts among themselves and to ask her questions, and they are strongly encouraged to do their work in groups. “In some sections this was very effective, with students discussing every assignment and helping each other constantly,” she said.

Chapin empowers students to learn and think critically. Her classes are dynamic learning environments where students engage in a learning process that is supportive. “My approach to giving help is based on never answering questions. Obviously ‘never’ is an exaggeration, but in most cases when working on a problem or program, the student does know enough to figure out the answer to their own question, they just haven’t thought to apply the right course material. So, if I answer their question with a question that reminds them to think through the topic they need, they can figure it out, which is more satisfying for them and means they’re more likely to solve similar problems in future. Sometimes we have to go through a few rounds of questions to backtrack far enough to something the student is confident on, and then we can build forward from there.” Chapin’s approach allows students to take pride in independently reaching the right conclusion, which establishes a growth mindset and the confidence to attempt more difficult problems.

She is a strong proponent of group work and believes it helps with her students’ academic success. “Having several people work on a program or project strengthens the skills of everyone involved, making them articulate their understanding and work to catch each other’s mistakes. Even in a group that mixes very strong and weak students, the weak students get more help than I could give in a classroom full of other students, and for the stronger students: as everyone who has ever taught knows, the way to really, really learn something is to have to teach it to someone else.” Chapin added, “I must admit I also get a thrill of satisfaction when I hear students working in a group who get stuck and are about to ask me how to do something, and then one of them asks one of the questions I usually ask, and they all realize they know the answer and they already do know how to solve the problem.”

She loves watching students realize they can solve problems and write programs that really work, even when the problems are complex and even when the skills they’re using are things they struggled to understand just a few weeks earlier. She also enjoys seeing a student who takes an intro CIS course just to satisfy a Gen Ed requirement then realize they’re good at it and decides to enroll in programming classes or major in CIS. For Chapin, that is a real accomplishment.

What does she hope her students will take away from her courses? “How to be as lazy as humanly possible. The programmer’s approach to life is to identify problems, annoyances, and difficulties, and create tools to solve them so that the computer deals with it and you don’t have to. Of course, sometimes being lazy means putting in a lot of time now to build something the right way so that you and everyone else can be lazy tomorrow and next month and next year. Sometimes programmers are so lazy they will put in ten hours building a tool to save themselves ten minutes, but that’s ten minutes over and over again, and the programming is more fun than the tedious thing they’re avoiding ever having to do again.” She also hopes that her students learn that computers are very complex and sometimes very stupid tools, which they can learn to use if they refuse to be too intimidated by the complexity or too frustrated by the stupidity.

In addition to her exceptional teaching abilities, Assistant Professor Chapin also demonstrates her commitment to excellence through College service. She will go to great lengths to assist new faculty from basic logistical information to guidance on higher education. Chapin has served on the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) Steering Committee for approximately 10 years. Her input on faculty development is always insightful. She also exhibits the same passion for students on the Academic Appeals Committee where she advocates for students’ best interests. All Harford programs of study are required to go through periodic program reviews; Chapin completed the CIS program reviews for two cycles almost single handedly while ensuring the programs were represented and reported accurately.

Prior to coming to HCC, she was a teaching and research assistant at the University of Virginia and taught at Dickinson College.

At the age of 13, she attended Mary Baldwin College as part of the Program for the Exceptionally Gifted. After two years, she transferred to University of Maryland at College Park and earned a degree in Computer Science and in Mathematics. She attended UVA for grad school and earned a master’s degree, finishing all coursework and qualifying exams for the PhD, but not the dissertation.

In her free time, Chapin enjoys fiction, particularly audiobooks and audio plays, fiber crafts such as crochet and crewel, and playing Dungeons and Dragons.

Harford Community College extends its sincere appreciation to AC for her many accomplishments and contributions to the College and its students, faculty and staff. Her energetic teaching style, her caring and enthusiastic way with students, and her “team player” attitude make her a shining example of Harford’s stellar faculty.