Ugrad Student Profiles:

Tiffany Yam and David Stecher

From the Spring 2009 issue of Threads

Tiffany Yam found it through teaching. Dave Stecher discovered it through research. These two exemplary students uncovered their passions for computer science along different routes, but each has made a valuable contribution to the Department during their undergraduate years at Duke.

David Stecher

David Stecher

Tiffany Yam

Tiffany Yam

Tiffany Yam wasn’t sure what major to pursue when she began as a Duke freshman in 2005. But between drawing, economics, and biology classes, Yam took COMPSCI 6, Program Design & Analysis I, and loved the basic programming. The following semester, while still a freshman, Yam became a Teaching Assistant for the class, and continued to do so each subsequent year. Last year, as a junior, Yam was TA for COMPSCI 018S, a seminar course for students in the Duke Emerging Scholars in Computer Science (DES-CS) program. Together with Professor Susan Rodger and TA Joanna Shih, Yam co-taught a seminar of 12 students. “That was my favorite one to TA,” says Yam. “It gave me the opportunity to actually teach and be creative in how I taught.” During the class, Yam was a good leader with strong mentoring skills, says Rodger. “She helped create a fun atmosphere.”

Next year, Yam will take a job at Citigroup in New York City, and knows her CS skills will be a valuable asset in the financial sector. But someday she may return to school to pursue the intersection of CS and art, her reigning passions. “I’ve always wanted to combine the two,” says Yam.

The DES-CS program also made an impact on Dave Stecher, a junior this year. After hearing about the program on a visitation weekend, Stecher enrolled as soon as he arrived at Duke. The program encourages students with little or no programming experience to learn more about CS by taking a series of two regular computer science courses with two half-credit seminar courses. The classes propelled Stecher into a CS major and into Jeff Forbes’ Program Design & Analysis II course during his sophomore year. “It was a lot of work,” recalls Stecher, but it appealed to him. Shortly after, Stecher successfully applied to be a fellow in C-SURF, the CS Undergraduate Research Fellows Program. Through the program, Stecher is working with Forbes on the analysis of social networks and is building a bibliographic recommender system within the Duke Science and Engineering Departments.

“It’s fun to be able to build something and have it work,” says Stecher. Stecher has done a great job gathering data for the project and working through difficult algorithms, says Forbes. “He works very well independently.” The project is currently moving into a user study phase, and Stecher hopes it will be up and running before he graduates next year.

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