Personal growth through interpersonal collaboration: Computer science student explores benefits of group learning
Daniel Jomaa is a junior computer science student at Wayne State University, however ‘student’ isn’t his only title. He is the president of the WSU chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society. He is a lab coordinator for WSU C++ programming courses and the leader of a weekly computer science workshop. He also happens to be a co-founder of a start-up company.
In May 2018, Jomaa was asked to take part in the creation of a natural language system tailored to the restaurant take-out industry. The finalized product allows customers the ease of placing take-out orders via SMS text, and is already being utilized by pizza restaurant chains such as Jet’s, Marco’s and Sammy’s in roughly 20 locations.
“Technically speaking, I had to know Python, Java Script, CSS, HTML and Google Cloud. I knew none of that going in. None. And by the end, I knew all of it,” said Jomaa. “You can tackle any project you want to as long as you are willing to learn new skills.”
For Jomaa, this fight-or-flight experience confirmed the importance of self-guided, hands-on learning within the field of computer science, prompting him to envision a space where students could collaborate on ideas, share perspectives and learn new skills together. So when his first semester as ACM president commenced last semester, he immediately set out to make his vision a reality. Thanks to Jomaa, ACM now has a weekly workshop open to anyone interested in computer science. Plus, it’s totally free to join.
“The beautiful thing about computer science is that you don’t need materials. Everything is online or provided by the college, so I’m able to make it 100 percent free without any reliance on money,” said Jomaa. “That’s something that we’ve kind of unshackled ourselves from.”
Jomaa hopes the collaborative environment of his ACM workshops will be beneficial in preparing computer science majors for their senior projects, which involve working in teams to solve real-world problems for clients. He also believes the programming languages they’ve been concentrating on in the workshop, such as Python, will be extremely useful down the line regardless of what industry they end up in.
“Python is a very cool language because it’s super simple, and it has a lot of applications for the solo person,” said Jomaa. “It’s essentially the beginner’s language that can open up everything else, and it has a finger in everything from web development to machine learning to data science and more.”
Jomaa believes one of the best parts of teaching is “seeing the lightbulb” when students have successfully worked through a problem on their own. When it comes to studying computer science, Jomaa insists that aside from a computer, determination and an open mind are all you need.
“If you want to learn something, go learn it. It’s there. It’s available. It’s just waiting for you to go do it. And that’s it. That’s all it takes to become a computer scientist: ‘I want to learn this, therefore I will.’”
For more information on ACM and weekly workshops, contact Daniel Jomaa at firstname.lastname@example.org.