About the series: On Main Hall Green With … is an opportunity to connect with faculty on things in and out of the classroom. We’re featuring a different Lawrence faculty member each time — same questions, different answers.
Acacia Ackles came to Lawrence University in 2022 as a visiting professor in computer science. She quickly made her mark in the growing Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science Department, and in fall 2023 was hired as an assistant professor of computer science.
Ackles said a love of puzzles and problem-solving led her to computer science. And within that rapidly evolving field, she finds particular joy in the connections that link various academic disciplines. Since arriving at Lawrence, she has designed an introductory programming course for non-majors where students build games in Python, and she’s been collaborating with members of the biology faculty and their students on research.
Blending disciplines of statistics, data science, mathematics, and beyond, the expansive world of computer science comes to life through hands-on, innovative problem-solving.
That work ties into her academic interests. Ackles received a dual Ph.D. in integrative biology and ecology, evolutionary biology, and behavior at Michigan State University. She earned a Bachelor of Science in biology and applied mathematics at The George Washington University.
We caught up with Ackles to talk about interests in and out of the classroom.
In the classroom
Inside info: What’s one thing you want every student coming into your classes to know about you?
I want students to know that while I’m employed by Lawrence University, my responsibility is to you, the students. Academic institutions are wonderful centers of knowledge and discovery, but that knowledge and discovery is generated by the people who work and learn there, not the structures they work and learn in. I want students to know that I am here for them, because if I ask them to show up for me in my classroom, I want them to know I’ll show up for them in theirs.
Getting energized: What work have you done or will you be doing at Lawrence that gets you the most excited?
The most energizing work I’ve done so far is building new courses according to student interest. I love seeing where the flow of academic inspiration is and following it with passionate students. I’m always searching for new ideas for courses that students have been missing, and that I wish I had as a student.
Going places: Is there an example of somewhere your career has taken you (either a physical space or something more intellectual, emotional, or spiritual) that took you by surprise?
Honestly, I’m surprised to be here in Appleton, Wisconsin. I never expected to end up putting down permanent roots in the Midwest but am happy to have found this place and the students and community we have here at Lawrence. I’m not sure I’ll ever really warm up to the winters, but the Great Lakes world has really captivated me.
Out of the classroom
This or that: If you weren’t teaching for a living, what would you be doing?
I think I’d be a midwife or doula; I have a great passion and respect for fields surrounding maternity and community support around birth and family.
Right at home: Whether for work, relaxation or reflection, what’s your favorite spot on campus?
I’ll cheat a bit and say Björklunden is my favorite place “on campus.” Every time I’ve been there, it feels peaceful, relaxing, and yet deeply imbued with scholarship and inspiration.
One book, one recording, one film: Name one of each that speaks to your soul? Or you would recommend to a friend? Or both?
Book: The Black Cathedral, by Marcial Gala. Plays fast and loose with what it means to be a novel while hitting emotional notes with clarion accuracy.
Recording: Pedestrian Verse, by Frightened Rabbit. For when you love someone and all their flaws.
Film: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012). Never before or since has a movie so thoroughly delivered on its premise. That sure is Abraham Lincoln, and he sure is a vampire hunter.