Saturday, March 31, 2012

Checking in with the family

"... the standardized courses don't shed much light on future opportunities and they make it hard for students to identify what they're most interested in. The CS department, on the other hand, is great at demonstrating all the things that are going on in the modern comp sci world." -- Asa, one of our current CS students.

Asa's comment was in response to an event we held last Tuesday. We brought 100 current students up to FourSquare along with 100 of our CS alums for a mixer. Other than the fact that we aren't a department, I'm hoping he was spot on. 

Stuy CS from 1976 to the present

A couple of months ago, I started to try to organize the graduates I've had the privilege of teaching over the years. I put out some feelers and the response has been great. So far we have about 400 members. I like to refer to us as the Stuy CS family since I'd like to think there's a stronger bond than that typical between a teacher and his students.  I'd also like to think there's a common thread across the years that ties the older and younger graduates together.

To kick things off, I thought it would be a great idea to get the alums together with the current students. We've got people all over the tech map, from giant companies to startups. I started putting a list together here. I thought it would be great to expose our current students to the range of possibilities that await them.

Immediately, the family came through. Noah and Dave volunteered FourSquare as host for the event. They provided the food and the site. The alternative would have been to have the event at Stuy. This would have cost us and would have been somewhat mundane. Just being at a place like FourSquare seemed to really excite the current crop of Stuy students.

The evening of the event, I was a little nervous -- about 100 alums signed up, but would they show. I've been told that general alumni events can typically have a very high no-show rate, particularly when the event has no cost and registering is as easy as an email.

The kids and I arrived early -- school lets out at 3:30 and the event didn't start until 6:00. As 6:00 approached, the alums started to dribble in. By the time we started, we had a packed house!!! It was great seeing everybody again.

We had alums from every year. From 1995, my first set of graduates, to last years senior class. We also had a few older alums, including me and  my classmate and friend Steve from '84 and Gerry ('76) , who I met when he volunteered to help Stuy CS back in the 90's. He's become a good friend to both me and the program in the years since.

For my part, I was extremely touched that everyone showed. As a teacher, you'd like to think you've had enough of an impact that your students would give back, but we rarely get any evidence as to the effects we've had. I've been fortunate enough to be in contact with a number of my alums through the years and a number of them have been kind enough express gratitude (often times more than I deserve) but to see everyone show up en masse really meant a lot to me. The only down side was there was so much going on, I really didn't get to spend time with anyone -- it was like hosting a wedding or bar mitzvah -- everyone's there, but you don't get to see anyone. I hope we can remedy this with more events and smaller events in the future.

If any of the "family" is reading this, you've also got to give me some props -- even though I haven't seen many of the alums in years, I recognized almost everyone and remembered far more names than I probably deserved to.

We spent the evening mixing students and alums and the FourSquare crew threw in tours of the facilities. Afterwards, many of the alums stayed back to discuss how to move Stuy CS forward. How the alumni community can help Stuy CS and it's current students and how it can become a resource for fellow alums. I think there are a lot of things we can do as a community, and I'm excited about what's to come in the near future for us as a group.

For the students, feedback has been terrific. I've gotten comments like:

I was wavering between whether or not I would continue CS in college and as a career, but now I'm fairly certain.
I really enjoyed the compsci event, it was very helpful to talk to alumni because they reminded me that there is life after college. I also liked the community within a community feel of the event.

The students pretty much universally loved the event and  I really think they got a lot out of it. 

We had parent conferences last Thursday and Friday and parent after parent confirmed this. Just about every visitor I had mentioned how much their son or daughter got out of meeting the "family". People  who were in their shoes a few short years ago and are now doing great things in the tech community. 

From what I can tell, this was a unique event, at least to Stuy, no one's ever done anything like this before in any subject area. It looks like it was a slam dunk, at least with respect to value to the students. 

Now the "family" just has to decide where we can go from here.


  1. Thanks Mike for the awesome night. You are an inspiration. This is a great beginning and can't wait to see where it leads!

  2. Mike, it was great to see you again and be part of this event.  It is nice to see the younger crowd looking at all the opportunities.  This was more difficult in our time but we managed.  Just let me know what you need from me.  Count me in.  To the students that I spoke to, it was a pleasure meeting all of you and I hope I was at least a bit interesting :-)

  3. To CMU and MIT and CAL TECH and BERKLEY and STAMFORD. And it all starts in room 304 if my memory serves me. I Know that my son has engaged people in Seattle in this. You rock Mr. Zamansky. Forever in our debt.

  4. Forever in YOUR debt.

  5. Thanks Kevin -- as I said before the event, it will be up to all of us to make this great. Hoping to send out some thoughts on where to go in a day or so.

  6. Great to see you as well -- it's been far too long.

  7. Can't tell from the username, but I'm guessing Dennis. Thanks -- looking forward to getting out to Seattle some day -- haven't seen Spike in years. I still keep the mousepad with Spike, Dave, Eugene, and Ivan on my desk at Stuy (actually room 301).

  8. Well I feel stupid for having missed this. Glad to hear it was such a success!

  9. Here's to hoping for many more great events to come.