Michael Fredericks serves as associate professor of computer science at Olivet College. He has been a member of the faculty since 2002 and holds a deep regard for small, liberal arts colleges and the kind of learning experience they provide. Professor Fredericks had an unusual start at OC, first working as a consultant with a goal to revamp the CS 110 course before teaching part time and then full time. Now 17 years later, Professor Fredericks still calls himself lucky to work at Olivet College.
Why do you love OC?
My mentor at my previous job had told me that if he had the chance to do it all over again, he would have worked at a small, liberal arts college. I found myself in that position and I could then understand why he said it. Everyone knew everyone else, and everybody knew everybody’s children’s names and asked about them. It was like being part of a tight-knit community, much like a family. It was small and the students were engaged, as was the faculty and staff. I knew I had lucked out with this job!
What is your favorite memory from your time at OC?
In 2014, our four-year-old son, Lucas, was diagnosed with stage four cancer. It was a horrible time in our lives, and we struggled very hard as a family with his diagnosis. Olivet was wonderful and stood behind us the whole time, offering any assistance that we needed. A friend of ours started tying blue ribbons, my son’s favorite color, on trees in our town in support.
My favorite memory at Olivet was coming to campus and seeing all the trees on campus decorated with blue ribbons — faculty here had heard the story of the ribbons and did it themselves. All the faculty wore blue ribbons on their regalia, and they decorated my office door with blue ribbons. It was a show of support that my family will never forget!
Our son is great now; he is three-and-a-half years in remission and his future looks great! The ribbon is still on my regalia and my office door. I now use the tragedy to help students. I present on his diagnosis and treatment timeline through a father and educator view for the science seminar every other year. I even bring Lucas down so they can ask him questions, too!
Where do your passions for teaching and computer science stem from?
I’ve always been a nerd! I’ve had computers since computers have been available. I enjoy teaching computer science. I try to break it down to basic terms to make it easier for students who are nervous or confused to understand. I still live for the moment when you can see in the student’s eyes that they finally understood the concept.
I remember one student approached me in an advanced course and said, “Professor Fredericks, that stuff you taught us in Excel can really be used. I used it at my internship yesterday!”
What is your teaching style like?
Structured chaos! I tend to use a lot of humor and real-life situations in my teaching so students can connect to it and feel comfortable in their learning, especially in Self and Community courses.
What’s the average day in your role or some of the unique things you are responsible for?
The average day for me would be teaching two to three courses, advising students, lunch, future class prep and grading.
One unique opportunity I am responsible for is Tech Talk Tuesdays. It’s a bi-monthly presentation on technology in education for faculty, by faculty. Presentations include websites, apps and other topics of interest in technology to engage our students.
Why do you encourage students to attend OC?
OC offers small class sizes and professors will know who you are. This can mean they call you out at lunch if you skipped their class earlier that day! I talk about how OC “walks the talk” on Individual and Social Responsibility. Many schools talk about diversity and inclusion, but you can see it in action every day here.
What do you look forward to in your role?
I enjoy Honors Convocation and Commencement each year. I am always amazed at how accomplished our students are when they are paid tribute to at Honors Convocation! Graduation always has a slight melancholy feel to it for me. I’m happy to see all the students graduate, but I’m sad to see them go. I’ve watched them grow so much in the four years they have been here.
What advice do you share with students?
Really learn and live the Compact while at OC and from that point forward. Know who you are and stay true to that person! The lines of ethics, morality and being a good citizen are getting more blurry in society, and it is easy to lose yourself in the madness. Be More, Do Good!
What is an interesting or little-known fact about yourself?
I have played bass in a seven-piece horn band for 27 years. We have opened for Journey, The Commodores, Smash Mouth, Smokey Robinson and The Spinners on some of the biggest stages in the state. I have a bass and guitar in my office and have had impromptu music sessions with students during office hours.