Students gain teaching experience supporting Waterloo Computer Science

Thursday, June 6, 2024

Three computer science students looking at notes together in a math building on campus

By: Cameron Stirrup (he/him)

The Cheriton School of Computer Science (CS) Instructional Support Group (ISG) is elevating the experiences of co-op students with a passion for teaching. The impact instructional support assistants (ISAs) have on CS students helps strengthen the program’s reputation as a world leader.

Students working as ISAs gain a similar perspective to that of a course instructor. The program allows students to leverage their course experiences to support their peers. Co-op students who work as ISAs develop a passion for teaching and gain broadened perspectives on their own learning.

The integration of work and academics is invaluable for CS students who've participated in a course as a student as an ISA. However, the program also values the perspectives of co-op students from other faculties.

“I am very fortunate in the courses that I manage, that I can hire across many faculties. I love hiring Science students. I love hiring Arts students. They’re learning as they go and they have a different take on things,” says Barbara Daly (she/her), instructional support co-ordinator, Cheriton School of Computer Science.

The experiences of three co-op students show how impactful the ISG has been in shaping their career journeys.

Tom Iagovet (he/him)

Tom Iagovet

Iagovet, a fourth-year Computer Science co-op student, aspires to conduct cutting-edge mathematical research.

As an ISA, he manages the course website, grades assignments and answers student questions online.

Iagovet enjoys that the role includes hosting office hours and seeing his students experiment with new ideas and concepts.

“I notice that students will come and say that we can improve on the ideas that we've had in our lectures and that we can do better. It's an amazing feeling to see that somebody is genuinely curious about computer science,” says Iagovet. “The responsibilities of ISAs involve explaining complex things in very simple ways.”

Iagovet aspires to continue his education and earn a master’s degree in Computer Science. His experience with the ISG has given him a first-hand look at how computer science research occurs in the real world.

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This position is fundamentally about inspiring others. It's about inspiring them to be leaders in the same way that I strive to be a leader.

- Tom Iagovet, fourth-year Computer Science co-op student

Jennifer Phovixay (she/her)

Jennifer Phovixay

Phovixay is a fifth-year Fine Arts co-op student minoring in Mathematics. She has developed a passion for bridging visual art and mathematics together. As an ISA, she has seen where the two disciplines cross by experimenting with coding software.

“I could relate to other Arts students in entry-level CS courses because I’ve had minimal coding experience. I feel like through those courses, I’ve learned to see more of where those two worlds meet,” says Phovixay.

“AI art for example is becoming more mainstream and I feel like it can be a very good tool for artists to use if used cautiously.”

Phovixay’s current role as an ISA within CS 200 (Concept for Advanced Computer Usage), has her mentoring new ISAs and building key communication skills. As she is aiming to become a teacher at the high school level, this role gives her the opportunity to teach code in various ways.

The ISG has inspired Phovixay to pursue a Bachelor of Education at York University starting this fall.

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I felt like I gained a lot of skills from being given the opportunity to learn at my own pace. I’m an Arts student. I’m in a CS job. It’s possible.

- Jennifer Phovixay, fifth-year Fine Arts co-op student

Taebin Kim (he/him)

Taebin Kim

Kim is an ISA for CS 240 (Data Structures and Data Management) and the main point of contact for students. He assists with assignments, answers questions by email and hosts office hours. He also manages a LEARN site and grades student submissions with detail.

“The people of ISG value the joy of learning in itself. This value is motivational for me. I enjoy supporting students to help them learn,” says Kim.

As a third-year Computer Science co-op student, Kim’s dream is to teach at the university level. He plans to pursue his PhD and would like to return to the University of Waterloo as a faculty member.

“The reason why I applied for this position and was passionate about it was because I just really like teaching,” says Kim.

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The CS program has inspired my career goal. I want to pay it back to the ISG community because I was supported by this fabulous group of people. I want to be part of a group where I can help different students.

- Taebin Kim, third-year Computer Science co-op student

Iagovet, Phovixay and Kim’s work term experiences as ISAs have positively impacted both the students they support and their own career aspirations.