New mentoring program helps Computer Science students

Sam Houston State University has received a $178,385 grant from the Texas Workforce Commission to develop a mentoring program that is now making a difference in the lives of computer science students.

The Computer Science Mentoring Program, which went into effect at the beginning of the fall semester, was established to benefit students in freshman courses CS 146 and CS 147 by placing student assistants, or CS mentors, in the labs. These students have completed the basic computer science courses, and their accomplishments have been acknowledged by professors.

“We hire up to 10 mentors to support and assist students in the labs,” said Ken Hartness, the computer science undergraduate adviser. “Their purpose is to help create a small group of CS students who can assist each other.”

Hartness is also an assistant professor, the workshop coordinator and principal investigator of the CS Mentoring Program.

“In addition, these mentors assist us with the creation of materials that are used to encourage and educate high school students about the possibilities of our department; they assist with visiting high schools as well as the management of two workshops each summer,” said Hartness.

One of the workshops is directed towards high school students and the other to high school counselors.

“My primary responsibility as a CS mentor is to assist CS 146 students in successfully completing the course,” said senior Shannon Silessi, a biology major and computer science minor.

“The courses can seem challenging to students never exposed to computer programming. I organize study groups and offer tutoring in addition to assisting in the weekly lab. I also try to develop a relationship with the students to offer encouragement throughout the semester,” Silessi said.

Cihan Varol, assistant professor of computer science said he feels that the four CS mentors working in his classes help his students gain useful tips.

“The program is positive for the mentors and they learn how to communicate and teach the concepts to the students, thus grasping a deeper personal knowledge of the material,” said Varol.

Though the program is a new development, the student mentees are adopting well to the system. Varol said he has observed the class average rise greatly from the first test.

“Eventually, with the mentoring program, the class improved their grades and more importantly, they started to comment on the topics covered in the classroom,” Varol said.

“I definitely feel that this program is an excellent use of the funds supplied by the TWC grant,” Silessi said. “The majority of the students assigned to me have no problem coming to me for help anymore. My study group sessions always attract several students and not surprisingly, those are the students doing well on their exams.”

The TWC grant will assist the program through August 2010, at which time the future of the program will be determined.

“We intend to continue pursuing this, with volunteers if we must,” Hartness said.

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