San Diego, December 15, 2005 -- For faculty and students in the new Computer Science and Engineering building, it wasn't uncommon this fall to run across freshmen wandering the halls strumming their ukuleles. Meetings were also occasionally interrupted by a rousing ukulele rendition of Help Me Rhonda wafting from the conference room down the hall.
Freshman seminar courses teach special topics to entering students in an effort to create an early open environment of student-faculty interaction, and CSE faculty are doing their part.
CSE professor Joseph Pasquale, for example, teaches a very popular freshman seminar on the slide rule (CSE 87). Newly-appointed CSE chair Keith Marzullo says the success of Pasquale's course got him thinking. "I wondered what I could teach that would elicit a similar level of interest," says Marzullo. "The one skill that I thought had a hope of generating that type of interest was the ukulele."
Marzullo knows all about the ukulele. In his limited spare time, he is a professional musician. He regularly plays Hawai`ian slack key (ki`hoalu) guitar for local events and venues. He has studied with musicians from O`ahu, the Big Island, and Maui, and has even performed in shows on the islands. "When you hang around Hawai`ian musicians, you learn how to play the ukulele," notes Marzullo.
The ukulele looks like a small four-string guitar, and is easy to pick up. By the end of the first class, the students are playing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and Mary Had a Little Lamb, and by the end of the class they are playing songs by the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Jimmy Buffett, and Harry Belafonte. The last class is held as a typical Hawai`ian "kanikapila", or musical party. The students are encouraged to lead songs -- either ones that we've done in class or ones that they have figured out by themselves -- and the audience is encouraged to sing along.
"This year, being the second time the course has been offered, several alumni from the first class joined in," recalls Marzullo. "They helped keep the spirit of aloha flowing."
Marzullo's colleagues in the CSE department say there is another benefit from the course: a department chair who plays the ukulele is a wonderful subject for Christmas party skits.