The Professor Is In: Q&A with Jonathan Hill

Seidenberg Associate Dean and Creative Labs founder Jonathan Hill, DPS, talks chicken coops, HBO’s Girls, Rasputin, and much more in this month’s The Professor Is In. >>Read More

Written by Pace student  Sarah Aires ’14

Jonathan Hill, DPS, Associate Dean of the Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems, founded the Seidenberg Creative Labs, a fee-for-service research lab in software development. Start-ups and established companies often want prototypes for web, mobile or digital marketing projects and students and faculty in the lab build and test these products and record the results so companies can have a real-life, market-ready product. There are plenty of enthusiastic students in the lab where peer interactions, working relationships with clients and research are fundamental aspects to the lab’s team work.  Hill has received several grants for his influential research including a lofty $250,000 grant from the Verizon Foundation to establish a STEM Co-laboratory at Pace along with School of Education Professor Lauren Birney, EdD.

Hill also facilitates an active collaboration with Aalto University in Finland. The program is in its second year, and Hill will be joining 10 students on a trip to Helsinki where students will work together with students from universities all around the world including China, India, Germany, and New Zealand to work on projects for established national companies like Panasonic, ABB, Sony, and Audi. Hill is incredibly enthusiastic about the ever-changing start-up world where technologies like Skype allow people from across the globe to work with one another from San Francisco to Shanghai. After going to California to become a “Dot Com” millionaire, which didn’t work out quite the way he planned, he taught for several years when he was granted the opportunity to work on a project at Pace. Years later he is still teaching students he calls the most ambitious he’s known.

What was your favorite class?
My favorite class as an undergrad was a Problem Solving with Computers class. Of course, the class was back in the last century so it was punch card computing. I’ve always had a natural affinity for computers and that was an opportunity to explore. Another favorite class was a Russian history course. One of the best professors I ever had, Bill Brennan, taught Soviet history. This was a guy who could paint pictures with words. I ended up minoring in Russian history because of him.

Least favorite?
My least favorite was an international business class taught by the one and only bad professor I ever had in my undergrad career. He was disinterested and… it’s ironic because I went on to do a lot of international business.

What one thing or person made you passionate about your career?
My mentor at City University of New York, Stuart Schulman, who runs the entrepreneurship program there. He had a passion for applied higher education and taught me to combine academics and business and allowed me to navigate higher education. I taught there for 15 years.

What quality do you most value in your students?
Passion, a sense of humor, and a willingness to jump into the deep end of the pool. Pace students are wonderful in that way. The ones who are successful and satisfied are the ones who have come here for the right reasons.  Because they are going to school in the best city in the world and that makes it an amazing place to go to school. There are so many rich opportunities right outside our door and folks who come here and take advantage and make the most of their time here do amazing things.

What’s your advice to students to make the most out of their time in college?
Get involved. In a few words: over commit. Go out and do things and take advantage of this amazing city and amazing school. Universities are like deserts in the sense that there are these amazing oases, but you have to know where to look. Hopefully you have someone to start you on a path and show you where they are. If you don’t find them you can die of thirst but if you find them, you have this amazing experience.

If you had to do it all over again and took another path, what profession would you like to attempt? What profession would you not like to do?
I’d like to be an artist. I’ve come late in my life to the great satisfaction of making things – designing and creating things. Software can be very creative. I made a chicken coop last summer with my son and now we have chickens in our backyard!

I wouldn’t want to be the adviser to The Pace Press [chuckles. Editor’s Note: Sarah Aires, the author of this article is also an editor for The Pace Press.]

What is your favorite book/TV show?
I’ve been inhaling a series of historical novels by a British writer named Bernard Cornwell. Reading those aloud to my kids. They’re fabulous. They’re about the Anglo-Saxon England in the 800s and have fascinating stories. They’re really great fun. I suppose I should say I watch Girls, but my children tell me it’s not appropriate for me. For those of us who watched James at 16, we’ve seen the apotheosis of television.

What would you do if you had an extra hour every day?
I would learn to meditate.

What is your favorite journey/experience?
I used to travel a lot and I lived abroad. I lived in Russia and New Zealand. But my favorite journey has most certainly been raising my family.

What are your favorite words or sayings to live by?
I would say I could pick many of the psalms from the Old Testament and find comfort, richness and reflection on the human condition.

If you could have any five people, living or dead, imagined or real, as guests at a dinner party, who would you choose?
Martin Luther King Jr., Alfred the Great of England who is in that awesome book series, Rasputin from Russian history, Linus Torvalds, the Finnish programmer who built Linux and Yukihiro Matsumoto, a software programmer who created the hot programming language, Ruby. It has a whole philosophy about meeting the human needs of the programmer around it!