CSS Scholars Selected for New Computer Science Mentor Program

September 16, 2019

Three CSS scholars have been selected to participate in the inaugural UNC CS Alumni Mentor Program, a new program that pairs sophomore and junior computer science majors with UNC alumni currently working in the computer science industry. Tsion Coulter and Charlie Helms (both of CSS 5) and Hakim Teasdell (CSS 6) were chosen through a selective application process and met their assigned mentors at a recent kick-off event at Google’s Chapel Hill office.

Stephanie Johnson, the computer science department’s career development coordinator, pairs each alumni mentor with both a sophomore and a junior mentee. This triad model facilitates peer-to-peer mentoring, giving the students an opportunity to develop their own leadership and mentoring skills.

Helms and Teasdell were paired together, thanks to similar career interests in software programming and development. Their mentor is Ron Brown, a professional services enablement lead for Talend, whose previous experiences include technical and engineering roles at IBM and assistant professor of computer science at the University of South Carolina. Brown is also a current adjunct faculty member here at UNC-Chapel Hill.

“I am really excited to be a part of this program,” said Helms. “I never had a technically skilled mentor in my life, and I really want to utilize all of his accumulated knowledge to help guide my pathway in a technical career. I am interested in working in industry for 10-20 years and then teaching at a university, so I am very grateful to have a mentor that has experience working in both industry and academia.”

As a sophomore, Teasdell is the youngest member of the triad, and he sees value in having both student and alumni mentors. “Having Charlie as a guide has already been beneficial,” Teasdell said. “He has presented me with opportunities that I have already been able to apply for, as well as sharing advice from his prior internship experience at Cisco this past summer. However, receiving guidance from someone who has already graduated and been in industry for years is invaluable. Ron gives us a more expert viewpoint and an understanding of how we can and will develop in the field.”

Coulter’s mentor is a recent Carolina graduate who is currently a project manager for Microsoft in Seattle, WA. “I am excited to be paired with a recent graduate who was in my shoes not that long ago,” Coulter said. “I’m hoping to learn how to better prepare for technical interviews and improve my resumé, while growing my professional network.”

According to Johnson, the students will work with their mentors to create two career or professional development learning objectives. Mentors will check in with their mentees once a month to ensure that the students are making progress toward their goals, with a wrap-up celebration at the end of the spring semester to celebrate a successful year of mentoring.

While Coulter, Helms, and Teasdell are excited about the professional benefits of the alumni mentoring program, they also hope to gain insights about life after college. “I’m looking forward to learning about the adjustment from being a full-time student to working full-time in a new area,” Coulter shared. Teasdell agrees: “I’m excited to learn more about life after school and hope to receive advice about navigating the aspects of life – especially as a black man – that we do not learn about in class.”

“I love that the mentors are all UNC alumni,” said Helms. “There are mentors that work for the U.S. Air Force, Google, Microsoft and more! It’s great to see the opportunities that a UNC computer science education can provide.”

Student applications for the 2020-2021 mentee class will be available in February or March, and current first- and second-year computer science majors are encouraged to apply. More information about the program can be found online here.

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From l-r, Hakim Teasdell, Tsion Coulter, and Charlie Helms enjoy the UNC CS Alumni Mentor kick-off event at Google's Chapel Hill office.