Computer Science

A new path forward

CS professor Ralph Grove prepares to retire

Ralph Grove

SUMMARY: Ralph Grove, a computer science professor, has made his mark on JMU through his mission to better his students and advance scholarship in his field. Now, after over fifteen years at JMU, he will retire at the end of the spring 2017 semester.

By: Brett Seekford

Among the many rotating quotes at the bottom of Ralph Grove’s professional website, he includes a Chinese proverb that states, “A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.” Carrying a unique tune, Grove, a computer science professor, has made his mark on JMU through his mission to better his students and advance scholarship in his field. Now, after over fifteen years at JMU, he will retire at the end of the spring 2017 semester.

Grove’s vast experience in various computer science-related jobs ultimately helped him find success as an academic. After earning his B.S. from Purdue University, he began his career working in data processing for several companies as well as a school system. By 1980, he made the transition into academia and started working as an adjunct instructor at Indiana University (IU). 

“I’ve found it very useful to have the commercial experience as a software developer when teaching applied computer science courses such as programming and web development. That experience allows me to share with the students an understanding of what the real world of computing is like,” Grove said.

After some time at IU, he had to earn his master’s degree in order to continue teaching. This new requirement, however, proved to be a blessing. “I went to graduate school for an M.S. in Computer Science, and I was having so much fun once I got there that I left my industry job and studied full time until completing my Ph.D.,” he explained.

Working at several universities, he eventually found his way to JMU and accepted a position in the Computer Science Department. Since his hiring, he has focused his research on the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and web-based information systems. His most recent studies have included investigations of multi-agent systems, or software systems with several independent components that oversee parts of the larger entity. His relationships with other faculty members have also led him to partner with colleagues to advance their research projects, as seen in his development of a semantic-data geospatial system with the help of former ISAT Professor James Wilson.

Grove’s involvement with the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) of Virginia has also shaped his career. The organization seeks to inspire interest in STEM-related fields by engaging elementary and middle school students in competitions that involve solving complicated scientific challenges. He found out about FLL through connections at Virginia Tech, and JMU later began hosting a regional tournament due to the efforts of Grove and his colleagues.

“The STEM fields have always had serious diversity issues, but FLL is highly inclusive so I saw this as a possible way to improve the breadth of STEM recruiting,” Grove said. “It was also a good way to develop the reputation of JMU as a STEM center among the thousands of kids who have participated in FLL activities at JMU.”

With his hand on the pulse of scientific innovation, Grove’s work at JMU has proved integral in making the Computer Science Department’s presence known around campus. “Ralph is a reputable scholar, publishing in several areas, including a well-regarded textbook on web development. He has been a leader in the Computer Science Department, and he will be greatly missed when he retires at the end of the year,” said Department Head Sharon Simmons.

But above all of his achievements and experiences, Grove says he will most remember the stories of the many students who passed through his classroom.

“I’ve met a lot of great students during my years at JMU and it’s very satisfying to see them go on to bigger and better things,” he said. “As an undergraduate, I left college for a year when I was questioning my role there and life in general. Ultimately, I returned and stayed on the Dean’s List until I completed my degree. Helping students find that same sort of personal motivation is rewarding to me.”

Leaving behind a legacy defined by his devotion to his students and a life-long pursuit of learning, Grove anticipates his retirement and looks forward to new ventures. There is little doubt, though, that he will continue sharing his experiences and raising important questions as he did at JMU. After this semester, he begins a new song.

Published: Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Last Updated: Monday, January 29, 2018

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