Skip to main content

Warren College Faculty Director

Doug and Patricia FisherI am the founding Faculty Director of Warren College. Patricia, who is a former Financial Aid Officer at Vanderbilt, and I have been married for 30 years.

I grew up in Glendora, California. I was awestruck by Godzilla at age 3, and dinosaurs after that, to include the present. We had dogs, who I mourned deeply when they passed, and I raised guinea pigs (more mourning), and my father and brother were members of the Simian Society, so our home on the hillside was something of a zoo of macaques rescued from abusive environments.   I am an Eagle Scout and loved backpacking with one of the earliest environmentalist groups – the Boy Scouts of America, which I am gradually re-embracing as they change policies towards inclusivity of gay members. I attended the University of California at Santa Cruz for a bit, and then attended the United States Naval Academy for two years. Both UCSC and USNA are residential college systems, and I made good friends at each. Perhaps as a result, I think friendships are critical in finding ways forward as a community, perhaps even as a nation. Those of my friends that disagree with me most strongly may think me naïve, but they know I am not malevolent or stupid, and similarly, I respect them. We can therefore discuss disagreements instead of throwing things.

As an undergraduate, I was an Assistant Scoutmaster while at UCSC and a disc jockey while at USNA. To my parent’s great relief, I found a home as a computer science undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), where I stayed for my PhD. I was an undergraduate peer counselor at UCI, which was largely a commuter campus. I lived on Balboa Peninsula and Balboa Island, a few feet from the sand, and took the bus daily into campus. I had a big French lop rabbit named Ishmael who entertained friends with her antics. What a great lifestyle that was! 

I met my wife, Patricia, at UCI, and we will be married for 30 years on August 31 o this year! She received her degree in Social Ecology from UCI with distinction. Patricia was a financial aid officer at Vanderbilt for many years, then a student loan specialist for the state of Tennessee, then the Director of Financial Aid at Watkins College in Nashville. More recently she was a financial planner, before giving up her business to join me in Arlington, Virginia, where I served at the National Science Foundation from 2007-2010, overseeing funded basic research in artificial intelligence and machine learning.  

I’ve been a faculty member in residence for many years, most recently at McGill Hall, where Patricia and I loved participating in student-led events. The talent at Vanderbilt, as we experienced at McGill and everywhere on campus, is amazing.

My own research and teaching has been in machine learning, computer models of human cognition, and artificial intelligence. More recently, I’m working in computational models of creativity and computing applications for long-term environmental and equitable societal sustainability. After innovating in using online teaching and learning methods in my courses to promote active learning in the classroom, I was asked to serve as the founding Director of the Vanderbilt Institute for Digital Learning (VIDL).  It is very rewarding to be part of a dedicated team, to include the VIDL staff, higher ups, and administrative support staff. I’ have enjoyed the same esprit de corps at Warren College.