Northwestern CS Recognizes Outstanding Teaching Assistant and Peer Mentors

Quarterly department awards recognize exceptional service to the CS community

Each quarter, Northwestern CS honors and recognizes students who demonstrate excellence in computer science mentoring and teaching with Peter and Adrienne Barris Outstanding Teaching Assistant and Outstanding Peer Mentor awards.

Teaching assistants and peer mentors can be nominated by any member of the department for service to the CS community that goes beyond expectations and for working with faculty to deliver courses and support of the highest quality.

“The winners of the winter quarter awards join a growing list of students who help enable a strong learning community and mission to educate the best and brightest,” said Samir Khuller, Peter and Adrienne Barris Chair of Computer Science at Northwestern Engineering. “Teaching assistants and peer mentors perform a critical function within the department — helping faculty teach great courses, and helping students excel.”

Madhav SureshMadhav Suresh

Madhav Suresh, a sixth-year PhD student in computer science at the McCormick School of Engineering, was named Peter and Adrienne Barris Outstanding Teaching Assistant for the winter 2022 quarter in recognition of his service to students in the COMP_SCI 343: Operating Systems course.

“Madhav consistently made sure that students were building from a solid foundation, digging deeper to find the root causes of their confusion rather than simply answering their direct questions and moving on,” a nominator said. “And he did so in an understanding and supportive manner, reminding students that they were working with difficult material and that struggle was a normal part of the learning process.”

Suresh’s research interests include building high performance data management systems with strong privacy guarantees.

Winter 2022 Outstanding Peer Mentors

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

Rohil BahlRohil Bahl

Rohil Bahl, a second-year computer science student in Northwestern Engineering also pursuing a minor in mathematics from Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, was a winter quarter peer mentor for the COMP_SCI 213: Intro to Computer Systems course and fall quarter peer mentor for the COMP_SCI 211: Fundamentals of Computer Programming II course.

“Helping other students overcome the challenges they faced in the course was not only gratifying, but also allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of the material,” Bahl said. “This award is validating because it means that I made a meaningful impact on the learning experience of the students I interacted with.”

Bahl plans to pursue a career as a software engineer.

“Rohil's depth of knowledge and preparation made him an unstumpable PM in both 213 and 211. No student question was beyond his reach,” a nominator said. “His dedication also extended beyond office hours. He would consistently follow up with students to make sure no question remained unanswered.”

Olivia EscousseOlivia Escousse

Olivia Escousse is earning a bachelor of arts degree in computer science and pursuing a minor in data science and music composition at Weinberg. She received an Outstanding Peer Mentor award for her support of students in the first offering of the COMP_SCI 397, 497: Data Privacy course.

“As a PM for our brand-new data privacy class, Olivia had to learn the class on the fly and could not draw on her own experience taking the class,” a nominator said. “She surmounted that challenge very well, providing excellent help to her students with great patience and consistent friendliness.”

Escousse described the service of a peer mentor as providing a safe space for students to learn, especially for those students who may feel hesitant to approach professors with questions or problems.

“As a peer mentor, I can be a less intimidating resource for students to turn to. By creating an environment where students feel comfortable, we can work through the issues fully and collaboratively,” Escousse said. “The most rewarding part is when the students have that ‘aha’ moment and finally understand the content. I love computer science and getting to share that excitement with other students is a true joy.”

Escousee is interested in the fields of design, machine learning, and video game development. She participates in several theater groups and is on the board of Northwestern’s Purple Crayon Players, a student-run theatre for younger audiences, as well as the Writing Board of the Waa-Mu Show, an original musical, written, performed, and presented by Northwestern students.

Rohith JayaramanRohith Jayaraman

Rohith Jayaraman (MS ’22) earned a master of science in computer science degree and graduate minor in engineering management through the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management Sciences at Northwestern Engineering. He was recognized for going “above and beyond” for students in the COMP_SCI 396: Intro to Web Development course.

“Students described coming in to Rohith's office hours feeling overwhelmed and helpless and leaving with clarity and confidence,” a nominator said. “Rohith's eagerness to assist students regardless of the issues they were having was highly appreciated.”

Jayaraman guided students through lab sessions and office hours and helped them navigate through questions, confusions, and deadlines.

“Our job is to help students learn by communicating and reiterating the concepts taught in class to help enable students to solve their problems,” Jayaraman said. “When grading, a peer mentor's job is simply to evaluate if the student has learned enough based on what was expected of them.”

In addition to peer mentoring, Jayaraman served as a board member of the Northwestern outreach organization SPLASH, a student organization dedicated to providing unique and fun learning opportunities to high school students in the greater Chicago area.

Jayaraman’s research focus is on databases and software development. He aims to be a software engineer and work his way up to a technical leadership position.

Dilan NairDilan Nair

Dilan Nair, computer science student in Northwestern Engineering, strives to help students gain valuable knowledge in the COMP_SCI 211: Fundamentals of Computer Programming II course.

He highlighted peer mentors’ willingness to devote extra time and effort to help ensure that everyone interested in computer science can learn and not get left behind.

“Dilan's ability to understand where students were coming from, and to guide them in the right direction was highly appreciated by 211 students,” a nominator said. “His extensive knowledge, enthusiasm, and eagerness to help made him a valuable member of the 211 team.”

Nair developed Plan Northwestern to help students and advisers create and share four-year course plans. The open-source, online tool allows students to search for and drag-and-drop courses into a four-year interface organized by academic quarter. The plan can then be saved and shared via a URL, which updates as the plan is modified.

“I focus on creating software to improve the quality of life and connect more people together,” Nair said.

Nair is president of the Software and Game Development Group at Northwestern University, a student group that aims to promote the development of personal projects and connect developers of all experience levels.

Jipeng SunJipeng Sun

A peer mentor for the COMP_SCI 351-2: Intermediate Computer Graphics course, Jipeng Sun is earning a master’s degree in computer science at Northwestern Engineering.

“I hope my recognition inspires more international students like me who might need to overcome language barriers and culture challenges but still keep the faith that they can positively create change to this diverse community in original ways,” Sun said.

Sun’s research focuses on the optimization of the encoder-decoder structure for live zebrafish brain 3D reconstruction with light field microscopy. He is coadvised by Emma Alexander, assistant professor of computer science; Oliver Cossairt, associate professor of computer science and electrical and computer engineering; Jack Tumblin, associate professor of computer science, and Florian Willomitzer, research assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Northwestern Engineering.

In 2016, Sun founded Sharing Tech Ltd., a computer-assisted learning enhancement organization based in China. He is interested in the co-evolution of humans and machines and is building an augmented reality system in his free time.

“Jipeng distinguished himself as a 351-2 PM mainly though his leadership,” a nominator said. “He undertook, of his own initiative, a serious rework of some of the course infrastructure to make it more approachable and intuitive to students. His passion for the material was very clear, and his infectious enthusiasm made him a student favorite.”

In the fall, Sun will start a PhD program in 3D imaging and display with the Computational Photography Lab advised by Cossairt.

McCormick News Article