Last month on October 30th, high school teachers, counselors, and mentors traveled from as far as Cypress, College Station, and Pearland, TX, to the UT Dallas campus to accept their 2015 Computer Science Inspiration Award at the Computer Science Inspiration Awards Luncheon. Despite heavy rain that day, approximately thirty dedicated teachers/mentors attended to accept their award.
The award recognizes nominated high school teachers, mentors, and counselors for inspiring one or more UT Dallas CS Freshmen. Incoming CS freshmen were given the chance to nominate a high school teacher or mentor that inspired them to major in computer science/software engineering.
Dr. Gopal Gupta, professor, and Head of the UT Dallas Department of Computer Science, welcomed the visiting teachers by expressing his gratitude saying, “As technology encompasses all aspects of our daily lives, the demand for computing professionals continues to increase and we want to thank you for helping inspire students to enter Computer Science and Software Engineering professions.” Dr. Gupta went on to provide some insight to the UT Dallas Computer Science department and its accomplishments, including the LinkedIn ranking placing UT Dallas #21 on its list of “Best Universities for Software Developers.” Dr. Gupta went on to speak about the employment placement numbers for UT Dallas CS/SE students once they graduate, including how many UT Dallas CS/SE alumni work for corporations such as Amazon, Microsoft, and Google.
During the luncheon, the visiting teachers were able to learn about all the cutting-edge programs that the CS department provides for the CS/SE undergraduates from the faculty and staff members who manage and run the programs. Prof. Les (Arnold) Gordon, Prof. John Cole, Prof. Ivor Page, and Prof. Janell Straach, spoke to the teachers about the CS1200 experience in which all freshmen students are enrolled during their first year. They went on to explain that the CS1200 courses help students’ transition successfully from high school to university life/work. All four professors gave examples of projects that students would be working on during the course. Of primary importance the projects are designed to encourage a sense of creativity and critical thinking. For example, this semester, Dr. Straach’s students will be competing in a Robot Competition where the students will need to teach their robots how to dance to the “Cupid’s Shuffle” and be able to do art. Dr. Ivor Page talked to the teachers about the competitive programming in which his teams of students were taking part, including the ACM Regional Programming Competition. He went on to inform the teachers of the Computer Science Computing Scholars (CS2 ) Program, its specifics, and the benefits of being a part of the challenging invitation-only program. Dr. Page explained that one of the objectives of the program was that “the program is designed to get students into research. We want these students to be well prepared to go on to doing a PhD. “
Don Vogel, UT Dallas CS Professor in charge of the sequence of courses on learning computer programming, spoke to the teachers about how this sequence of courses is structured. The CS Department has been working hard to make these courses more hands-on, by building a new classroom where every desk is equipped with a computer were exercises can be conducted during the lectures.
Students studying CS/SE at UT Dallas also have the opportunity to take part in undergraduate research. Dr. Ovidiu Daescu spoke in detail about how the UT Dallas CS department works with students in order to integrate them into lab research.
Dr. Linda Morales, professor, and Director of the Computer Science Mentor Center (CSMC)/ Discrete Math Mentor Center (DMMC), educated the teachers on CSMC/DMMC, a walk-in tutoring service for students needing assistance in Discrete Math. She explained the vision of the program by saying, “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 teachers were able to hear from Jerry Alexander, Assistant Dean for student development and director of Industrial Practice Programs (IPP) for the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, about how UT Dallas helps students obtain internships and jobs.
To inform the teachers about student life in general and specifically, the Living Learning Communities (LLC), and dorm life, was the Director of the LLC, Mary Jane Partain who gave insight into the life of a freshmen student in the LLC and what the LLC is and how it builds a strong community amongst the students living there.
Jill Blanchar, an Information Security Executive at Bank of America and a representative for The National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), shared upcoming scholarship opportunities that both the teachers and the students could apply for through Bank of America.
Dr. Jey Veerasamy, UT Dallas CS professor and director of Center for Computer Science Education & Outreach (CCSEO), closed out the luncheon by providing the teachers information on the CCSEO and its outreach efforts. Dr. Veerasamy informed teachers that the CCSEO offers hands-on workshops that they are able to attend that aim to increase their computer programming skill set. Workshops include topics such as iOS App Development, Data Analysis, and Cloud Computing.
One of the attendees was the CS teacher Stacey Armstrong of Cypress High School in Houston. Many of his students come to UT Dallas to compete in High School programming contests and excel in the competition. In years past, a team of Mr. Armstrong solved all the contest problems in 47 minutes, impressing all present. A large number of Mr. Armstrong’s students have gone through the UT Dallas CS program over the years, thanks to his positive recommendation of the program.
The event ended with the teachers receiving their awards and their students coming to thank them for all they had done for them. The teachers were offered a tour of the UT Dallas campus after the lunch. Despite the rain, the teachers all went on the tour of the UT Dallas campus. The event would not have been possible were it not for Dr. Janell Straach, Dr. Linda Morales, Ms. Mary Vogel, the UT Dallas CS department, and the teachers who inspire each student to pursue computer science and software engineering. The awards will be continued next year as well.
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 over 1,600 bachelor’s-degree students, more than 1,100 master’s students, 160 PhD students, and 80 faculty members, as of Fall 2015. 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.