Northwestern CS Announces Fall 2023 Outstanding Teaching Assistant and Peer Mentors | News & Events | Computer Science

Northwestern CS Announces Fall 2023 Outstanding Teaching Assistant and Peer Mentors | News & Events | Computer Science

Northwestern Computer Science honors and recognizes students who demonstrate excellence in computer science mentoring and teaching with the Peter and Adrienne Barris Outstanding Teaching Assistant and Outstanding Peer Mentor awards. Six students were cited in fall 2023.

“I am delighted that we are able to recognize our hardest working teaching assistants and peer mentors, who play such an integral role in the education we provide to our students,” said Samir Khuller, Peter and Adrienne Barris Chair of Computer Science at Northwestern Engineering.

Nominated by any member of the department for service to the CS community that goes beyond expectations, the teaching assistants and peer mentors work with faculty to deliver courses and support of the highest quality.

“Good teaching assistants and peer mentors can really make a good class great,” said Vincent St-Amour, associate professor of instruction and chair of the awards committee. “Their hard work and dedication are a big help to better reach our students and build community in our classes.”

The fall 2023 awards committee also included Connor Bain, assistant professor of instruction; Andrew Crotty, assistant professor of computer science; Branden Ghena, assistant professor of instruction; Miklos Racz, assistant professor of computer science at the McCormick School of Engineering and assistant professor of statistics at Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences; and Xinyu Xing, associate professor of computer science.

Alexandros Lotsos

Alexandros LotsosLotsos was named the Peter and Adrienne Barris Outstanding Teaching Assistant (TA) for the fall 2023 quarter in recognition of his service to students in the COMP_SCI 330: Human Computer Interaction (HCI) course. He is a third-year student in the joint PhD program in Computer Science and Learning Sciences (CS + LS) through Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy (SESP) and Northwestern Engineering.

“Alexandros Lotsos’s work as a teaching assistant for Comp Sci 330 was instrumental in making the class a success despite its incredible size of more than 200 students,” a nominator said.

“Thanks to his extensive HCI experience and proactive nature, Alex took the lead on many aspects of the course redesign — including identifying resources, developing course content, shaping the learning goals of the class, and designing weekly activities to keep students engaged.”

Lotsos is a member of the Tangible Interaction Design and Learning (TIDAL) Lab, advised by Michael Horn, professor of computer science at Northwestern Engineering and professor of learning sciences at SESP.

Lotsos’s research focuses on HCI and interaction design education in postsecondary engineering and computer science programs. He investigates the application of artificial intelligence (AI) tools to aid the qualitative research process and the analysis of qualitative data.

Lotsos is examining how various groups understand the interaction design domain — including UX designers, product designers, educators, and students in higher education programs.

“By understanding how key stakeholders in interaction design conceive of the profession, we can better understand how to prepare students for an increasingly important field and help support higher education programs in this endeavor,” Lotsos said.

He is also building a qualitative analysis tool that will allow researchers to interface with generative AI models designed to support them in their work.

“In the future, I hope that my research in this space can help researchers make even more meaningful contributions in their respective fields,” Lotsos said.

Lotsos is honored by this recognition and considers the award a validation of his efforts to give back to the CS community and make a difference among faculty members, fellow teaching assistants, and students.

“The way I see it, every student has the potential to go on and contribute meaningfully to the field, whether in academia, industry, or otherwise,” Lotsos said. “It’s about planting seeds for a future that I might not directly witness but will undoubtedly benefit the collective progress and shared knowledge of our community.”

Fall 2023 Outstanding Peer Mentors

The Northwestern CS peer mentor program is designed to ensure that students representing a range of computing backgrounds receive individual attention and real-time feedback.

Cameron Churchwell

Cameron ChurchwellChurchwell is pursuing a double major in computer science and mathematics. Nominators highlighted how he encouraged students to pursue and reach ambitious goals in the COMP_SCI 449: Deep Learning course.

“When students’ final project ideas stretched beyond what would be reasonably achievable, Cameron did not nudge them towards more modest goals,” a nominator said. “He rolled up his sleeves and supported them by building the necessary tools and infrastructure they needed to achieve their plan. Students saw much further than they would have otherwise because they were standing on Cameron’s shoulders.”

Churchwell’s current research project focuses on the artificial generation and editing of natural-sounding human speech — called speech synthesis or neural speech editing. He is a member of Interactive Audio Lab, advised by Bryan Pardo, a professor of computer science at Northwestern Engineering and professor of radio, television, and film at Northwestern’s School of Communication.

Churchwell describes the dual role of peer mentors as assisting students through any learning roadblocks while bridging the experience gap between the professor and the students.

“All of the people who have inspired me the most are educators, so it means a lot to me that I have been recognized as one now too,” Churchwell said. “I intend to pursue a PhD to continue growing as a researcher and ultimately become a professor.”

Churchwell is a member of the Slivka Residential College of Science and Engineering and the Northwestern University Marching Band.

Elena Fabian

Elena FabianFabian, a fourth-year student earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science at Northwestern Engineering with a minor in legal studies from Weinberg, has served as a peer mentor for COMP_SCI 213: Intro to Computer Systems for the past five quarters. Nominators recognized Fabian as a “pillar” of the course.

“In addition to her excellent work with day-to-day question-answering and office hours, Elena’s eagerness to contribute to all aspects of the class — from proctoring exams to double-checking assignments to creating new course materials — has made a lasting contribution to the
class,” a nominator said.

Fabian explained that peer mentors can increase the accessibility of courses both through problem-solving in office hours and by providing lessons learned from their first-hand experience with the course material.

“This honor hopefully means I’ve helped students enjoy understanding the class material — or at the very least, made it approachable instead of intimidating — the way peer mentors have done for me,” Fabian said.

Interested in the intersection of the legal and technical fields, Fabian collaborated with members of Peter Dinda’s Prescience Lab on the Privacy Backplane project. Combining systems and privacy research, Privacy Backplace is a full-stack approach to individualized privacy controls throughout the Internet of Things. Dinda is a professor of computer Science and (by courtesy) electrical and computer engineering at Northwestern Engineering.

Fabian is currently completing an embedded software internship at the Chamberlain Group and plans to attend law school next year.

Alex Kang

Alex KangKang is a fourth-year student in computer science at Northwestern Engineering. Students in CS 213 praised his depth of knowledge, thoroughness, and “inexhaustible patience.”

“Alex showed a remarkable knack for connecting with his students — making sure to remember their names and tailoring his answers to their strengths and struggles,” a nominator said. “He also provided valuable advice about recruiting, interviews, and internships.”

Kang said the strength of a peer mentor lies in their ability to fully relate to the undergraduate student experience.

“I’m really honored to receive this award as a sign that I’ve had a positive impact on other students’ academic journeys,” Kang said. “It means the world to me to know that I’ve contributed to their college experience, whether that be as someone who they could ask for career advice or just someone they went to for help on a difficult assignment.”

Kang applies the skills he has acquired through internships, classes, and extracurricular activities — including Northwestern Formula Racing’s electrical sub-team — to solve practical, daily problems. Kang is currently developing a water bottle that tracks and updates him on his water consumption throughout the day.

Kang plans to complete his degree this winter and will join Tesla in the spring for a firmware engineering internship. He aims to pursue a career in industry working in embedded software.

Mattie Poelsterl

Mattie PoelsterlPoelsterl, a third-year computer science student in Weinberg, has served as a COMP_SCI 214: Data Structures and Algorithms peer mentor for multiple quarters. Nominators acknowledge her eagerness, preparedness, and diligence.

“I have tried to improve how I facilitate the learning process. I tie concepts in CS 214 back to material students have seen in previous core sequence classes or relate them to their application in more advanced courses,” Poelsterl said. “With my experience as a peer mentor, I am considering pursuing a PhD more seriously than earlier in my academic career.”

Poelsterl plans to explore research opportunities in the field of computational linguistics with a particular focus on the application of algorithms and statistical models to answer questions about how technology reflects and interacts with the social world.

Poelsterl is a member of the leadership team of the Society of Trans and Nonbinary Students, a student advocacy and affinity organization at Northwestern.

Vikram Srikishan

Vikram SrikishanSrikishan is a fourth-year student pursuing a combined bachelor’s and master’s degree in computer science. He was recognized for his support of the newly launched COMP_SCI 396: Foundations of Security course, developed by assistant professor of instruction Sruti Bhagavatula.

“Vikram lives on the cutting edge and does excellent work there,” a nominator said. “As a peer mentor for the first offering of this class, he was exploring unknown territory.”

In addition to holding regular office hours, Srikishan helped fine-tune the course and aided in the development of homework assignments and rubrics. He aimed to create an approachable and inclusive learning environment by offering both technical guidance and empathetic support.

“I’m deeply grateful for this honor and thrilled that I was able to positively impact the class by fostering a supportive learning environment,” Srikishan said. “Throughout my academic career, the CS community at Northwestern has been a constant source of inspiration and support. Being able to give back to this community has been a profoundly rewarding experience, and I look forward to being a peer mentor for other classes in the future.”

Srikishan is a member of SESP’s Evanston School District 65 Research Practice Partnership team through the TIDAL lab and Technological Innovations for Inclusive Learning and Teaching (tiilt) Lab, directed by Marcelo Worsley, Karr Family Associate Professor of Computer Science at Northwestern Engineering and associate professor of learning sciences at SESP. Through this program, Srikishan helps teach computer science and programming techniques to fifth grade students via project-based learning.

“We use this experience to improve our curriculum and learn how we can most effectively foster interest in computer science from an early age,” Srikishan said.

Read More