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New lecturer aims to create opportunities for CS students

Ethan Ordentlich

Ethan Ordentlich joins UIC’s computer science faculty as a lecturer this fall, where he will co-teach CS 251, Data Structures, with Clinical Assistant Professor Adam Koehler, and Lecturer Drishika Dey.

Ordentlich received his undergraduate degree in computer science from the California Institute of Technology, and fully expected to become a software engineer and obtain a job in industry after graduation. During his time at Caltech, though, he served as a teaching assistant for a data structures class and enjoyed it so much that the professor asked if he was interested in a career in teaching.

He received a lot of guidance from Caltech on how to pursue a career in teaching, and completed his master’s degree in computer science from the University of California at Berkeley. His thesis centered on how to use autograders to effectively run a large undergraduate computer science course. Defining a “large” course is subjective; whereas a large class at Caltech was around 180 students, Ordentlich said at Berkely that meant between 1,000 to 1,500 students per class.

He is excited to teach at UIC and appreciates that computer science is investing in additional faculty to support recent student body growth in the major. Additionally, he is excited to work at a university that focuses on underserved and minority populations.

“I’m really excited to help people that haven’t had these sorts of chances before,” Ordentlich said. “Computer science is a topic that I can look at and appreciate the world with, but it is a very incredibly large and effective tool of social mobility, and I want to help create opportunities for people.”

While he chose to focus on education rather than research, Ordentlich conducts informal research to improve his teaching. He enjoys working on auto graders, which generate feedback for students. He works with human graders to more effectively use the auto grader tools, in an effort to provide high-quality feedback to students faster, to improve student learning.