Community service award highlights student’s commitment to tutoring, mentorship

June 30, 2016

By Shandana Mufti

Working toward a PhD is time-consuming: there’s research to be done, grants to be secured and papers to write. But Ben Greenman, who hopes to earn his PhD in computer science by 2020, made time to meet twice a week for four months with a high school junior, tutoring her in the basics of Java.

“It’s fun to be able to show her this brand new world of programming all day – and if she wants, this could be her career,” Ben says. “And now she has that new option.”

Ben and the student were connected through EachOneTeachOne, an organization that works to teach coding to girls and underrepresented youth in inner city schools and around the world. When the student’s teacher reached to the organization for help on behalf of the student, Ben was quick to respond to an email from Sarah Cortes, a mentor at EachOneTeachOne and also a CCIS PhD candidate. For his work with the student, Ben was awarded the CCIS Graduate Community Service Award.

He worked with the student to help her understand the basics of Java, supplementing the AP Java course she was taking at school. Ben says one of his biggest challenges was making the distinction between how to solve a problem and how to express the solution in Java. They spent hours learning the syntax and forms of Java, and solving math problems by hand. Each time they’d meet, they’d talk about what they’d worked on last time, what she’d been doing in class, and what she was struggling with. They’d also go over old tests to improve her skills. Now, Ben hopes she’ll take the AP Java test next year.

“Thanks to Ben, the student did not fail her class,” Cortes wrote in her nomination letter for the Community Service Award. “Thanks to Ben, one more girl is on the path to becoming a coder.”