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April 8, 2019

Singh, Thornton Recognized for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching

Continuing Lecturer Alex Thornton and Assistant Professor of Computer Science Sameer Singh will be recognized for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching at UCI’s 26th Annual Celebration of Teaching. The two faculty members of the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS) will receive their awards at a dinner reception on April 18, 2019 at UCI’s Student Center.

Thornton, who has been a lecturer at UCI since 2000, will receive the campuswide award for Lecturer of the Year. He is currently teaching “ICS45C: Programming in C++ as a Second Language,” and one of his strengths is his emphasis on the practical application of any topic he’s covering. “Alongside my teaching, I am also a professional software engineer, which drives me to infuse all of my courses with realism wherever possible.” As a senior software architect at Conduent, he understands the importance of framing assignments in terms of real-world deployment. “One of my primary goals, across every course I’ve taught, has been to put students’ work into an intensely practical context.” In this way, he can then “show students that they can accomplish building something ‘real,’ sometimes even with relatively meager skills — and, in so doing, improve those skills.”

Singh is one of 12 faculty members who will be recognized as a Dean’s Honoree for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. He joined the faculty in 2016 and is currently teaching “CS 175: Projects in AI (in Minecraft),” a course in which small groups of students develop AI and machine learning algorithms for use in Minecraft. “Since I primarily enjoy research, I try to design my courses such that there are many unrestricted aspects.” He uses open-ended assignments to push students to be more creative and ambitious and to help them recognize how easy is it to overestimate what they can achieve. “Students often struggle with the open-endedness due to unfamiliarity, but I feel they eventually learn valuable skills that make them more confident and independent.”

Both Thornton and Singh are looking forward to the celebration later this month, a tradition that dates back to 1992. Over the years, through the UCI Division of Teaching Excellence and Innovation (DTEI), more than 300 professors, lecturers, and TAs have been recognized for exemplary teaching at this event.

— Shani Murray