Robert Moll Retires

Professor Robert Moll retired this past December, after spending more than forty years on the UMass Amherst Computer Science faculty. He arrived with a full black beard from MIT in the fall of 1973, after completing a doctorate in theoretical computer science that spring. "These were early days in the computer revolution," noted Moll. Four years later, in 1977, Ken Olson, Digital Equipment Corporation founder, famously announced that "there is no reason why anyone would want a computer in their home."

Early on, Moll's research was in theoretical computer science, computational logic, and machine learning/optimization. His interests changed in the early 2000s, when he became interested in online interactive teaching and learning. Working with the Center for Educational Software Development (then CCBIT), he developed an online automated homework system for elementary Java instruction, and this work led to the creation of the online interactive textbook iJava. This text has been the mainstay of the department's introductory programming class, CS 121 (which has a current enrollment of 550 students/semester), for many years now. The textbook is also being used at no cost by more than fifty high schools.

Beginning in the late 1980s, Moll was the department's undergraduate program director.  He was then associate chair of the department for ten years, during the chairmanships of Bruce Croft and Andrew Barto. One of his singular contributions during these years was the creation of the department's Bay State Fellowship Program, through which our strongest undergraduates are offered support to complete a two year master's degree. Close to one hundred students have now received Bay State Fellowships. Moll will continue to oversee this program post-retirement.

"For four decades, Robbie has been the face of computer science to our incoming freshman as well as to students across campus who want some exposure to programming," noted Lori Clarke, chair of computer science. "Now at alumni events, the most asked for faculty member is Robbie. We are delighted that summer students wanting to learn introductory programming skills and problem solving will still be able to benefit from his experience and enthusiasm."