In memory of Professor Arnie Dyck (1945–2017): instructor, advisor and friend

Monday, June 12, 2017


It is with great sorrow that we announce that our long-time friend and dear colleague, Arnie Dyck, passed away on June 8, 2017 after a brief illness. He was 72.

Professor Arnie Dyck and wife Louisa

Born in Virgil, Ontario, in the heart of Niagara Region, Arnie was raised on a fruit farm where he developed the traditional Mennonite work ethic rooted in productive labour. In 1963, he left Virgil to attend the University of Waterloo to earn a Bachelor of Mathematics in 1968, followed by a Master of Mathematics in 1969.

After graduating, Arnie was hired as a lecturer by Professor Don Cowan, the first chair of the new Applied Analysis and Computer Science Department. As a fledgling department, among its early challenges was finding qualified instructors to teach the burgeoning number of undergraduate students eager to master a new and rapidly evolving discipline. With colleague Peter Brillinger, Arnie developed, expanded and delivered the department’s early curriculum, helping to establish Waterloo as Canada’s epicentre of computer science excellence.

In 1985, Arnie, Jay Black and Shirley Fenton redesigned CS 100, the introductory computer science course for students in other faculties. The re-imagined course was a dramatic departure from the previous way of teaching computer science, shifting emphasis from instruction rooted in programming to one that centred on using productivity software at a time when personal computers were just becoming available. Since it was first offered, tens of thousands of Waterloo students have completed CS 100.

Arnie introduced the practicum in first-year computer science courses. This pedagogical model — a precursor to the flipped classroom — reverses a course’s lecture and work components. Lectures were first given to large groups of students, who were then split into small groups to solve complex programming challenges. Such an instructional model is both time and resource intensive, but Arnie felt that putting concepts into practice early would reap the greatest pedagogic rewards.

Arnie was the Computer Science Department’s first academic advisor and later the Mathematics Faculty’s Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies from 1987 to 1991. He guided undergraduate computer science students on the courses to take and when to take them, ensuring that degree and specialization requirements were met. He authored several introductory textbooks on Fortran, WATFIV-S and Pascal, and published articles periodically on computer science education.

During his tenure, Arnie was promoted from Lecturer to Assistant Professor to Associate Professor and retired from the David R. Cheriton School of Computer Science in September 2007. After retirement, he continued working at Waterloo as the Associate Dean for Co-operative Studies in the Faculty of Mathematics, a position he held until 2011.

Numerous colleagues at the School of Computer Science and in the Dean’s office described Arnie as a pleasure to work with, as much a valued colleague as a dear friend who was unfailingly professional, respectful and above all kind and empathetic. Arnie believed strongly in students, in their potential and in guiding them to success.

Arnie and his wife Louisa moved in 2011 to Cobble Hill, a small town on Vancouver Island, to be nearer to their two children. Our thoughts are with Arnie’s family — wife Louisa, daughter Whitney and son-in-law Scott Flynn, son Andrew and daughter-in-law Bojana, and their two children, Stefan and Damian.

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