By Mia Rossi
“Can you play bridge?”
That was one of the main questions Ken Krauss, professor of mathematics and computer science at Northampton Community College (NCC), was asked during his interview fifty years ago.
Krauss started his own undergraduate journey in history when he earned his bachelor’s in history from what is now the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha, OK. As he began his graduate work, he realized mathematics was his true passion. A philosophical and abstract thinker, he saw that many philosophers were also mathematicians. After earning his master’s in mathematics from the University of Oklahoma, he was ready to pursue his career.
“I was living in Norman, Oklahoma, because my first wife’s family lived out there. I grew up in Montgomery County, PA, and we moved back after we had my son. I knew I wanted to make a good living for my family, and that’s what brought me to NCC.”
When he was interviewed at NCC, the one question he distinctly remembers being asked came from a mathematics instructor at the time. “He asked whether or not I could play bridge because they were getting a bridge club started at the College. It was funny,” said Krauss.
After a few more pertinent questions, Krauss negotiated a $8,300/year starting salary and started at NCC as a mathematics instructor in the Fall of 1970. “I started when I was 26, and I’m ready to retire after 50 years of service. I always joke with my students that I’m a slow learner because it’s my 100th semester,” Krauss says.
President Richard C. Richardson was the president at the time he got hired, and Krauss has been with NCC through every college president since. He’s also had seven deans. “I always had a good relationship with administration, and it’s part of the reason I’ve stayed here so long. It’s very important to have strong and respectful deans. I’ve certainly been blessed with that.”
In 1978, Krauss decided to get his master’s in computer science and a PhD in information science from Lehigh University. The College and Lehigh had an agreement where professors from one institution could take classes from the other for free. He began the remainder of his graduate work in mathematics until a professor at Lehigh, who had worked with theoretical computer science, began mentoring Krauss. The subject interested Krauss because of the cross over with mathematics. “It made me think what’s the difference between what a human thinks and reasons versus what a computer can problem solve. We program a computer to follow an algorithm. For example, you can teach a horse to stomp his foot four times when you make a noise. It’s just following a sequence but knows nothing about the number four.”
He put together NCC’s computer science program after studying at Lehigh and became professor of mathematics and computer science at NCC as he began to teach in both areas.
Krauss loves teaching mathematics and computer science and all that’s related to it.
“We can have logic, but we still don’t know exactly what all we can comprehend or compute. We still don’t know all of what we’re capable of.”
There is nothing more rewarding than when something he teaches clicks for a student, says Krauss. “Once you understand it, it’s a part of you. For a student, that’s a wonderful feeling when you get what someone’s been trying to explain to you.”
Krauss, says he’s made great friends, met great students and truly had enjoyed the people he’s worked with. Getting choked up, he says, “A student once took my course who was absolutely brilliant. He could’ve studied wherever he would’ve liked. I asked him one day, ‘you can take a course like this anywhere you want, why here, in my classroom?’ He said, ‘my mother and father both had you, and they told me you made a difference and impact on them. They advised that I take this class.’” Those moments were the highlights of his career at NCC, said Krauss.
“I’ve taught students and their children and grandchildren. I was a chairman of college senate at NCC, president of the faculty union, and I’ve been on ten accreditation teams for the Middle States Accreditation Association. I taught part time at area colleges like Lafayette, Muhlenberg, Moravian, and Lehigh as well.” Krauss has done it all in his time at NCC.
Denise Francois, Krauss’s current dean, said that what makes Krauss so special is that, “he sees his students not just for who they are, or have been, but also for who they could be.”
When he leaves NCC, Krauss will spend his time traveling to visit his children and grandchildren sprinkled all over the country. His children, five boys and one girl, live in Oregon, California, Nevada, New York, Massachusetts and Colorado. Krauss and his wife will go on road trips to see them. “We have a home on a big lake, and I’ll be spending time water skiing and relaxing on my boat, too.”
Krauss says he will still be teaching even after retirement. “I teach my grandchildren when they need help with their homework.” However, he says, “I’ll truly miss waking up every day and teaching students daily in front of a captive classroom.”