Westmont Magazine Wayne Iba: New Trails, Deep Wells and O(N^2)
After 15 years as a professor in our computer science program, Wayne Iba has retired. He and his wife Fran—a former administrative assistant in a few departments—have settled on their farm in Oregon, just outside of Ashland. In a farewell address to the Westmont community, he described his aspirations to live a sustainable life on their land and to undertake new challenges, such as following the Rule of St. Benedict. Several professors shared their appreciation for him.
“Wayne is a gentle giant, not only physically,” David Hunter observes. “He thinks deeply and creatively, he does not shirk from challenging students and colleagues, and at the same time he is humble and empathetic.” According to Russ Howell, the “phrase gentle giant applies to Wayne on many levels: gentle in relationships, yet with a giant impact on those he touches; gentle in disposition, yet with a giant and firm set of values; and gentle in his departure, yet leaving us with a giant hole to fill—not only for a replacement, but also in our hearts.”
During his time at Westmont, Wayne has ventured into many endeavors that reveal his breadth of interests and his interdisciplinary mind. An expert in machine learning, he has explored artificial intelligence, made quantitative studies of the influence of individuals on communities, examined differences between traditional and computational philosophy, studied evolutionary algorithms, and pondered the growing ethical questions about the Internet. He sees beauty in the natural world, in human relationships, and in mathematics and coding. “Wayne is one of the very few people in the world with whom I can share an understanding of what beautiful code looks like,” Don Patterson observes. “Our time as colleagues has been much shorter than I would have liked, but not everything can grow at O(N^2).” Many students could say their time with Wayne has indeed been “an exponential-growth function.”
“I’ve been slow to write this tribute to Wayne,” Chris Hoeckley admits, “stumped by the request to write just two sentences about someone with whom I have ridden side by side for miles and miles talking of swarms, or souls, or pacifism, or paternalism, about someone who makes the shallow pool of my ideas feel like a deep well, about someone with whom I did my last tree job, about someone who sought me out after I fled the room in anger, and listened in the moment of crisis, about the gentlest but still strongest voice on campus for the liberal arts, about someone who always puts learning over achieving, about the hours sitting in silence, intending to consent to the presence and action of God within. How can I write just two sentences? I can’t.”
Deborah Dunn’s words of farewell capture the feeling of many colleagues: “Wayne is one of the most conscientious and sincere people I know. Whether he is organizing a discussion among colleagues from multiple disciplines, admonishing friends for speaking ill of others, or insisting that we consider a course of action that feels risky and non-intuitive, Wayne reminds us that all of our actions, large and small, matter. I also appreciate his sense of fun, his love of a good discussion, and his reminder that failure is something to learn from. I will miss him terribly.”