Meet the Faculty - Andrew Exley

Tell us about your journey to the University of Minnesota.

I am from Minnesota originally so I am very familiar with the University. I took some classes at the U of M during high school. I got my undergraduate degree in computer science from Carleton College just outside of the cities. After graduating, I took a year off, but didn’t enjoy working life so I decided to go back to school to keep learning.

I came back to the University of Minnesota for my Ph.D. program. I was interested in both natural language processing and robotics. The U of M is very strong in robotics and they had just hired a new professor that specializes in natural language processing, so I wanted to be part of that. I joined the Natural Language Processing Lab and completed my graduate degree. 

During my Ph.D. program, I helped with teaching and realized how much I enjoyed it. I ended up doing more teaching than researching, which is why my degree took a little longer to complete. Eventually I got my degree and accepted a tenure track position at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. It was a cool position, but was far away from family and friends, so after four years, I came back to Minnesota for the role that I am in now.

What do you enjoy most about teaching? What are your teaching interests?

I really enjoy the opportunity to see students go from not understanding a topic to realizing how something can be useful and applying it to bigger problems in their work and life. In any given class, you will see the progression from not understanding to understanding. But it is rewarding to see students realize how these topics fit into a bigger picture and help them get to their goals. That’s a big win for me and I love seeing it.

I enjoy teaching a lot of different subjects. When I was in Washington, I got a chance to teach systems courses about organization and architecture. I taught a digital electronics course as well. At the U of M, I have mainly taught artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing (NLP) courses.

What courses are you teaching this spring? What can students expect to get out of that class?

This spring I am teaching an undergraduate AI course (4511) and Introduction to Python. For the intro class, I hope that students can gain enough of an understanding of programming so when they are faced with problems in the future, they will have a better idea of how to go about solving it. For the AI course, I hope students get an understanding of the basics of artificial intelligence and what it actually means. The vast majority of the time, AI is just a program that makes decisions based on good input and isn’t necessarily that intelligent.  

What do you do outside of the classroom for fun?

Outside of the classroom I have two big passions - playing ultimate frisbee and playing board games. My favorite game is Agricola. It is a four-player game with lots of intricate rules and interactions. Those are the types of games I enjoy playing.

Do you have a favorite spot in the city?

I like Minnehaha Falls Park. It is a fun place to walk around and get into nature a bit.