Academic support builds strong foundation

Photo by Andrew Saulters

As I near the end of my time at Tech, the first few classes I took at Tech still stand out to me. Calculus II, Physics I, Physics II and more still send chills down my spine. Yet it isn’t the content of the classes as much as it is the transition to college and my anxiety about approaching professors and TAs, who often looked down on my cluelessness.

Tutoring services provided by OMED and other academic programs were incredibly helpful in understanding the material, but I never felt that I had much support in the classroom for any of those early classes. Some of my TAs and professors were great at teaching and being attentive when students needed them, but others were plainly pretentious. The latter behavior often drove my peers and myself away from the subjects.

Except for in CS 1371.

It strikes me as strange that, at Tech, so many students fear coding, but CS 1371, mandatory for engineering majors, scares most students at first.

What sets this course apart is the impressive skill set of the incredibly friendly team of TAs. I remember the recitations being helpful and relatable, and I never once thought a TA was incompetent or incapable of coming down to my level of knowledge. Outside of recitations, the TAs devote their time to long office and Help Desk hours to provide one-on-one attention whenever students need it.

What’s more is that the TAs work closely with the professor to code homework assignments and tests, allowing them to grow their own knowledge of programming and better support students in their classes. This must be beneficial for the professors as well because they get experience working with undergrads and can take that understanding back into the classroom.

The CS 1371 TAs are still celebrities in my mind. I know my year remembers Dilan, the head TA at the time, rather fondly. Because of this celebrity status, it seems really cool to be a CS 1371 TA. Even the hilarious internet references within homework assignments show that every TA is just like any other student and can, in fact, connect well with the students because they are not so far removed from the youthful confusion of freshman year. The amount of time that these TAs dedicate to their jobs reflects a true passion and investment, rather than a line on a résumé.

The skills, the culture and the genuine support of the CS 1371 TAs make the course that much more enjoyable and memorable. To me, there is no reason why similar programs cannot be implemented in other core courses. This would allow young students to truly feel that they were learning and to not absolutely hate those subjects. By creating a stronger foundation in all those early classes, these programs would have immeasurable benefits for all students, including the TAs who have the opportunity to develop and maintain an incredibly deep understanding of these subjects, beyond their freshman and sophomore years.