Brown University’s Department of Computer Science (Brown CS) is announcing one of its most significant milestones of the past four decades: the full funding of a $10M Undergraduate Teaching Assistant (UTA) Endowment. “We’re immensely grateful to the more than 500 donors who have helped us reach that ambitious goal, and to the group of alums who led the campaign,” says Ugur Çetintemel, Professor and Brown CS Department Chair. “Our UTA program, in place since 1965, has allowed literally thousands of undergraduates to contribute to all aspects of instruction and play a mentoring role that's vital to the quality of coursework, the educational experience of their peers, and their own personal growth.”
“I’d like to start,” Ugur says, “by thanking the campaign committee and Brown CS staff for their hard work and incredible dedication: John Bazik, Marc Brown, Karen Catlin, Lauren Clarke, Tom Doeppner, Aisha Ferrazares, Tashana Landray, Ed Lazowska, Adam Leventhal, Daniel Leventhal, Norm Meyrowitz, Jesse Polhemus, Will Poole, Brad Silverberg, Andy van Dam, and Jeff Vogel. This campaign was a success because of Norm’s tremendous leadership, and I’m grateful for Ed’s continuing contributions and Lauren’s many, many hours of hard work. I’d also like to thank President Christina Paxson and Provost Richard Locke, who helped launch this project and gave it the final push that it needed, and Brown’s Division of Advancement for their support.”
One of the signature elements of the campaign was its use of crowdfunding, including a website that enabled people to donate and watch a “scoreboard” that showed progress toward the goal in real time. Gifts ranged from $5 to $1,000,000, creating a mosaic of donors that includes alums and friends of all ages, numerous professions, and many different life experiences.
Some donors formed affinity groups, such as the Women of CS ‘83, ‘84, and ‘85, creating UTAships whose name reflects their graduation year, or ones that honor or memorialize someone special. Not only will their tributes last as long as Brown CS does, showing appreciation for such people as Tom Doeppner, Doreen Green, Marie Moses, Randy Pausch, and Andy van Dam, many of the UTAships are designated for women or underrepresented minorities, helping add to the diversity of the Brown CS community. In the end, more than 500 gifts have funded 4 Meta UTAships, close to 20 Head UTAships, and close to 200 UTAships each year.
“We’re thrilled that the UTA program will continue to thrive and benefit new generations of students,” remarks Professor Andy van Dam, who started the program 53 years ago, “and our UTAs feel the same,” Meta-TA Zach Kirschenbaum, who maintains he’ll always be a CS 15 Humor TA, says, “The UTA program means a lot more to me than grading and debugging code. It’s about the sense of community with your staff, the ownership you have over a course, and the feeling of reward you get when a student has that ‘aha’ moment – it’s what keeps me coming back semester after semester. I’m extremely grateful for having the opportunity to serve as a UTA and MTA, and I’m excited for others to have the same opportunity.”
The UTA program has always been one of the cornerstones of Brown CS and its undergraduate student experience. “It turned out to be a game changer,” says alum Karen Catlin. “Being a UTA made me feel like I belonged. I loved being part of the Brown CS community, hanging out after hours with other undergrads and grad students, getting to know faculty and staff, and contributing to the success of CS courses. And the sense of community was especially important to me, a newbie to coding. I thrived because of it.”
The UTA program has expanded as Brown CS has grown, but in recent years, due to soaring enrollment and new federal employment regulations, it’s become dramatically more expensive. At the moment, more than one in six students at Brown is a CS concentrator, requiring up to 50 UTAs in some classes and a total of over 250 per semester, with more than 300 expected in the fall. At the same time, Brown faces increased budget pressure because of its admirable need-blind, no-loan financial aid policy. This endowment helps ensure that this one-of-a-kind program will operate at its current level for years to come.