The Discrete Math Mentor Center (DMMC)/Computer Science Mentor Center (CSMC) celebrated its three-year anniversary in the spring of 2015. The DMMC welcomes students of Computer Science and Software Engineering who are studying Discrete Mathematics to augment and integrate their classroom learning.
A solid understanding of Discrete Mathematics is essential to the success of Computer Science and Software Engineering students. The DMMC/CSMC provides focused learning activities to help students gain this expertise. Since its inception in Fall 2012, the Center has expanded beyond its original mission of supporting Discrete Math students. The Center’s services are heavily used: the number of student visits for spring 2015 semester was 2097, interacting with 19 mentors.
The Center started as walk-in tutoring service offered by Dr. Linda Morales. Dr. Morales utilized a cooperative model of shared knowledge and learning, inviting students who had successfully mastered the concepts of Discrete Mathematics to assist in the mentoring of the next generation of Discrete Math students. Her goal was to provide additional resources to ensure that students understood, embraced and owned the principles of Discrete Mathematics. The DMMC has grown into a vibrant center open 7 days a week. It offers a variety of services designed to enhance and reinforce classroom activities by engaging students in an immersive environment. Students receive on-the-spot individualized or group tutoring. They attend review sessions tightly integrated with classroom lectures. Students can study and do their homework at the Center, where expert coaching is readily available. Instructors offer quizzes through the Center and address deficiencies through targeted review sessions, freeing classroom time to cover new material.
Dr. Morales, DMMC Director, explains the DMMC vision, “Our students begin the semester with a desire to learn. This is best done through engagement, support and immersion. We are fortunate to be able to provide students an environment that reinforces their learning and helps them achieve their potential as computer scientists and software engineers. The best compliment for a professor is for a student to say: ‘I learned so much in your class… My understanding is so much better now.’”
The Center offers innovative learning opportunities. Recognizing that Discrete Math is challenging for many students and that concepts are often best learned through practice, the Center offers a second chance for students who have performed below expectations on tests. Students do not always realize that they may not have achieved mastery of concepts until they take an exam. In most cases, students are eager to remedy the deficiency if offered a way to do so. The Center provides a way for instructors to capitalize on this eagerness. At an instructor’s request, students are given the opportunity take “exam re-work” sessions at the Center, re-doing their solutions to exam problems in a closely supervised setting. They are encouraged to ask for guidance from the supervising mentor when they are stuck. At the instructor’s discretion, if the student has exhibited mastery by the end of the session, the exam grade can be improved. Offering students a second chance to prove their knowledge on exams is a winning strategy for student success. Students gain knowledge and confidence, and their readiness for more challenging material improves.
Dr. Gopal Gupta, Computer Science Department Head, is an ardent supporter of the program. According to Dr. Gupta, “we teach all this great material in our classrooms, that is akin to leading a horse to the water, but how do we make sure that the horse actually drinks, that is, all students who are taught in the classroom actually learn the material? Dr. Morales’ second chance method is a way to ensure that students actually absorb the material. With the second chance model, students see concrete rewards that appear achievable, so they invest the time to get these rewards, and in the process realize that if they apply themselves, they can master discrete math. The light bulb switches on in student’s mind, and in turn we have a student who will turn out to be a much better computer scientist.”
Feedback from one instructor highlights the value added by the Center. “…one thing that stood out is that compared to previous semesters, many more students were able to correctly answer questions on fundamental concepts of computer organization. … I believe this is a direct result from the successful review session … before the exam and the excellent mentoring service provided by mentors of the DMMC. I also polled the students in both of my classes and many of them indicated that they benefit from that review session and the mentoring services…I just wanted to express my gratitude to the services that the DMMC provides to students in my classes and would like to say a big ‘Thank you!’ to you! I also hope that the Center will continue to provide mentoring services and review sessions…”
Student feedback further reinforces the positive experiences that many students have benefitted from. “I had such pleasant experiences in the discrete math lab this semester; I spent at least 2 hours a week in the lab at minimum, and more than 6 hours at my worst. Not only were [the Mentors] knowledgeable on the subject 9 times out of ten, but they were also resourceful during that 10th encounter–if they did not understand a topic fully they would work through the problem with me until both of us fully grasped the material…” “[The DMMC] was vital to my success in Discrete Math 2, every mentor was friendly and helpful.” “The [DMMC] is superb for learning. It would be good if it would be offered for other classes too besides discrete math.”
Mentors also derive great benefit from the program. “As a mentor, I really enjoy helping the students learn the material. Teaching students a certain subject helps keep the subject fresh on my mind, which of course comes in handy when I am in other classes. One thing I really enjoy is when students I have mentored come back to me after I am done teaching them and this time I get to ask them different questions, for instance, asking for help when it comes to future courses to take or what subjects are interesting. The DMMC has also greatly improved my knowledge and I am now clearly able to explain theorems and other various subjects in multiple ways so students can clearly grasp the concept. “
The Center owes its success to wholehearted support from the Computer Science Department and the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, to dedicated faculty, and most importantly, to a dedicated group of student mentors. Student mentors share some important qualities. They are enthusiastic, responsible, dedicated and caring. They are excellent academic performers, love Computer Science and Discrete Mathematics in particular, and enjoy helping fellow students learn what they need to proceed to the next step. It is not unusual for a mentor to stay late to assist students and the feedback from students about the quality of mentorship has been glowingly positive. Moreover, mentors develop their own broader understanding of the fundamentals through their interaction with the students they help, assuring their own academic success.
DISCRETE MATH MENTOR CENTER HOURS OF OPERATION
Location: CN (Clark Center) Room 1.214
If you have any questions about the DMMC please email Dr. Linda Morales.
About the UT Dallas Computer Science Department:
The UT Dallas Computer Science program is one of the largest Computer Science departments in the United States with, as of Fall 2015, over 1,600 bachelor’s-degree students, more than 1,100 master’s students, 160 PhD students, and 80 faculty members. With The University of Texas at Dallas’ unique history of starting as a graduate institution first, the CS Department is built on a legacy of valuing innovative research and providing advanced training for software engineers and computer scientists.