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Life Lessons: Bill Bruno – 'We're all here to learn, even the teacher'

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by Gary Allen Patty Williams in her office.Bill Bruno is a bit of an anomaly when it comes to teaching. The PCC instructor of Computer Information Systems (CIS), has no computers in his Rock Creek classroom and favors textbooks only on a limited basis. Both methods, he says, get in the way of student learning."It’s more important that they understand the ‘why’ of things," the lanky 49-year-old says. "A textbook can’t say ‘Why am I doing this’… A good instructor cannot be replaced by a computer."Regardless of his methods, Bruno is nearly uniformly praised for bringing the very best out in his students."He seems to put a different twist on his material," says student Gil Darves, who took a Web scripting class from Bruno this summer. "What I also like is he wants you to succeed. He’s good about saying, ‘I’m not going to give you all the answers, but if you give it your best shot and whatever you can’t accomplish, I’ll help you."Bruno says in his classroom he attempts to foster an "atmosphere where we’re all here to learn, even the teacher …" His students ask lots of questions, Bruno says, and the classroom becomes a collaborative environment for learning.But make no mistake, Bruno’s classes are tough and appeal to the community college-type of student who is there in order to get a leg up on the industry.’Over time, it seems my courses attract students who really want to learn the material and work hard to gain the knowledge; the serious student as opposed to the casual learner," he says. "It isn’t easy to obtain an ‘A’ grade in my class unless you are willing to put in the necessary time."My classes are very challenging. Why? The students have huge lives outside of school and so many of them are struggling to start a new career or life. I feel it is very important to give them the best since they are giving their all to make a new start. To do otherwise would be to shortchange the student," Bruno says.When students graduate with a CIS degree from PCC they emerge into a marketplace teeming with openings for computer-trained people, an industry that Bruno knows something about.After graduating from Rutgers University in 1977 with an MBA and a concentration on marketing and finance, Bruno got a job as a computer programmer trainee when he found few openings in marketing or finance. After discovering that corporations were beginning to use computers as a business tool, his interest was sparked. Over a succession of jobs he slowly gravitated toward computers and then, while working at a chemical company,was assigned to a project team charged with creating a real-time order, inventory, shipping and accounting system."That’s when computers became my ‘thing,’" he says. "Real time processing was very new back in the mid-1970s and very exciting. The systems we designed at that time were the forerunners of today’s Web applications."A few years later Bruno was hired by an on-line software company, wrote a book on real-time processing and started a computer business with a partner. The business was "abandoned" a few years later "because it was too demanding and neither of us were into company management."Bruno then was hired as a consultant and instructor for a software firm and traveled the world teaching various software tools. Then came a systems analyst and programming position at Consolidated Freightways, a Portland company. But still Bruno yearned for his days teaching. So, in 1999 when an adjunct position for a computer instructor at PCC opened up, he jumped at the chance to give something back. (He was hired full time last fall for the Rock Creek Campus.)"Working in the business world we sometimes tend to forget there is a great need for our knowledge and skills to be given to those who are attempting to break into the field," he says. "The satisfaction I receive is when students are successful and I know I played a tiny, tiny part in their success."Marty Murray, the CIS department chair who first hired Bruno as a part-time instructor for the Sylvania Campus, has nothing but praise for her colleague. "… Bill is very dedicated to teaching students," she says. "He puts in long hours perfecting his handouts and communicating with students via e-mail and on listservs."He is extremely demanding and very meticulous. Bill is also determined to give students the skills they need to be productive in the working world. His focus is on those skills and not a giving a grade," Murray says.Bruno says his goal as an instructor is simple: "To create the excitement to learn and to put that knowledge to use and to show them that they can do it."As for aspirations, Bruno says ideally he would like to split his time between teaching at the community college level and working in the private sector. "It is difficult at times to ignore industry for two reasons: technology and money," he says. "A CIS instructor’s pay has absolutely no resemblance to what we could earn in the business. Perhaps the best position for me (would be) a part-time position in industry and a part-time PCC teaching position – the best of both worlds."

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »

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