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CHIPS Articles: Naval Academy Opens Hopper Hall Named for Computing Trailblazer

Naval Academy Opens Hopper Hall Named for Computing Trailblazer
By Sharon Anderson, CHIPS senior editor - October 21, 2020
The Naval Academy Center for Cyber Security Studies, Hopper Hall, celebrated its official opening, Thursday, Oct. 15. Named for Rear Adm. Grace Hopper, a pioneer in computer programming, Hopper Hall is the Academy’s newest and most state-of-the-art academic building on the Yard.

Rear Adm. Grace Hopper was a known trailblazer — for more than four decades she was at the forefront of computing development — in the U.S. Navy, academia and in industry. Despite the many astonishing technology changes that have occurred since her death, she remains admired worldwide.

Rear Adm. Grace Hopper was an accomplished mathematician and professor at Vassar who joined the U.S. Navy Reserve during World War II. She later worked on a team to develop the UNIVAC computer and convert mathematic code into language, developing the first compiler in 1952 which led to the creation of COBOL.

Hopper knew that the key to computing advancement was the development and improvement of programming languages — languages that could be understood and used by people who were neither mathematicians nor computer experts. It took several years for Hopper to demonstrate that this idea was feasible to her skeptical colleagues, but she persevered.

Hopper served as the director of the Navy Programming Languages Group in the Navy’s Office of Information Systems Planning and developed validation software for COBOL and its compiler as part of a COBOL standardization program for the Navy.

Hopper was a gifted educator and a popular speaker, in some years she addressed more than 200 audiences, according to Yale history files.

To illustrate her ideas, Admiral Hopper often used analogies and examples that have become legendary. A favorite was a demonstration of the swift passage of time. Hopper holding a piece of wire about a foot long, would explain that it represented a nanosecond, since it was the maximum distance electricity could travel in wire in one-billionth of a second. She often contrasted this nanosecond with a microsecond — a coil of wire nearly a thousand feet long— as she encouraged (some would say admonished) young naval officers and programmers not to waste even a microsecond.

Hopper envisioned that in the near future, children would be doing their homework and learning on computers. She always embraced and looked forward to the technology developments of the future.

Hopper’s legendary standing has much to do with her persistence and absolute belief in the limitless power of computing technology and her impatience with bureaucracy. She is remembered for her now famous quip, "It's easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission."

Grace Hopper retired from the Navy in 1986 as a rear admiral. “In her legacy, the Hopper Hall building will be home to midshipmen in the Cyber Operations; Computer Engineering; Computer Science; Electrical Engineering; Information Technology; and Robotics and Control Engineering majors, as well as to laboratories for Naval Architecture and Ocean Engineering and Physics majors,” USNA reported.

The ribbon-cutting featured remarks from USNA Superintendent Vice Adm. Sean Buck, Maryland Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, Installations & Environment (EI&E) Charles Williams and other distinguished guests, and honored the numerous donors who contributed to the funding for the construction and use of the building, as well as the team who led the design and construction effort, according to USNA.

The philanthropic support provided via the Naval Academy Foundation has been essential for the outfitting of Hopper Hall and support of cyber and cyber-related disciplines at the Academy, USNA reported in a release.

"Admiral Hopper was a fierce advocate of investing in our youth and training the next generation of leaders. I think she would be incredibly pleased with the expanded learning and research opportunities for our midshipmen provided through the construction of Hopper Hall. These facilities are critical to the success of our Cyber Studies curriculum and our ability to commission officers fluent in cyber operations for the Fleet," said the U.S. Naval Academy's 63rd Superintendent Vice Adm. Sean Buck.

"The Brigade of Midshipmen will utilize the building's cutting-edge facilities for core courses in cyber science and electrical engineering, and for greater disciplinary study of majors in cyber operations, computer science, electrical and computer engineering, and robotics and control engineering," said Buck.

  • Classes officially began in-person September 2020.
  • USNA was the first institution of higher learning in the U.S. to require cyber security classes for all students.
  • Construction began October 2016, and was completed July 2020.
  • This is the Naval Academy’s first new academic building on the Yard since 1975.
  • This will be the first building at any of one of the three major service academies (USNA, USAFA, USMA) to be named after a woman.
  • The Naval Academy Foundation raised over $45 million in philanthropic support for the outfitting of Hopper Hall and support of cyber and cyber-related disciplines at the Academy.

~ U.S. Naval Academy

Explore Hopper Hall:

Admiral Hopper was a mentor to the CHIPS staff in the early days of Navy desktop computing deployment. She took a personal interest in CHIPS Magazine’s development and shared her rare wisdom and encouragement freely.

CHIPS website hosts a webpage dedicated to Hopper’s accomplishments and honors:

Lt. j.g. Grace Brewster Hopper working at the Bureau of Ordnance Computation Project, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., January 1946. Photo courtesy of the Defense Visual Information Center.
Portrait of Rear Adm. Grace Hopper. USNA photo
The Gamma Lab is a flexible makerspace equipped with a variety of rapid prototyping tools such as 3D printers, laser cutters, and vacuum forming machines. From custom printed circuit boards to advanced graphics and even 3D scanned models, this lab provides the hardware and software capabilities needed to generate a wide array of advanced prototypes and functional products. USNA photo
The Aerial Robotics Testing and Mission Lab is a robotics development and training center comprising a command and control room with integrated workspace, an aerodome with netting, a full motion capture system, and adjustable spectrum lighting. Indoor GPS repeaters allow midshipmen to configure their navigation controllers without leaving the building. USNA photo
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