Faculty Member Phil Prins

Philip Prins, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Computer Science

What first comes to mind when someone says “computer engineer”? World traveler? Mountain climber? Scoutmaster? Presbyterian elder? No? Maybe they should. Phil Prins, Seattle Pacific University’s resident computer engineer for 20 years, is as conversant about climbing, traveling, and biking as he is about bytes and processors.

Phil first taught at SPU as an adjunct in electrical engineering. At the time he was finishing his Ph.D. and working in industry. That went so well that everyone realized the former Calvin College professor needed to return to teaching fulltime — in computer science. Yes, Phil is both an electrical engineer and a computer scientist, with graduate degrees in each. This made him a perfect choice to teach hardware and software combination courses included in both majors and to develop a new major that sat squarely between the two: computer engineering. He served as this program’s coordinator and academic advisor for the next 20 years.

Phil has always brought energy and infectious joy to his classes. Students like his style, a seemingly off-the-cuff “let’s figure out what makes this work” approach. Memorable lectures have included building a computer out of a cardboard box (to give an inside view of its components); arranging students around the room and having them carefully pointing at each other (to show how data items can be linked together); and illustrating the power of supercomputers via empty printer paper boxes (to show what it might look like to process 50 multiplication problems per sheet, compounded by 5,000 sheets per box, and then stretched around the equator — all of this calculated in one brief second). Phil’s classes have always been about the phrase “seeing is believing”! They have also been about building useful products. With funding from a Cheney Foundation grant, his computer architecture class built a cluster computer that has since been used for teaching, student projects, and faculty research.

Phil’s professional interests go far beyond a Seattle classroom. He was one of the original members of the Northwest Region of the Consortium for Computing Sciences in Colleges and encouraged — nay, prodded — SPU to host the Northwest Region Conference in 2002. He has been a visiting professor and consulted in India and Kyrgyzstan. Phil is an internationally sought after expert in engineering and computing educational program assessment, something he plans to continue into retirement.

But if all you know about Phil is hardware and software, you’ve not scratched the surface. For several years he has been a daily bicycle commuter to Seattle Pacific, riding to work from north Bothell. He is an avid mountain climber and the former president of the Everett Mountaineers. This interest led him to create a well-received university seminar called “Because It Is There,” an exploration of geography, geology, and other topics based on the joy of mountain climbing (and the occasional day hike). He is a member of the Highpointers Club and has bagged the high points of all 50 states, including Denali.

Phil and his wife, Lori Prins, love of travel, coupled with a passion for missions, form the basis of their retirement plans. They hope to be able to spend a large chunk of each year applying their engineering and nursing expertise in emerging countries, which leads us to ask, “Where in the world will Dr. Prins teach next?” When they are at home, look for them at Snohomish’s First Presbyterian Church, a mainstage theatre production, or perhaps a midweek stay at Camp Casey. Of course, their most treasured place will be by the side of the two cutest little grandchildren in all of Oregon. All the best, Dr. Prins!

Posted: Monday, July 9, 2012