Meet the Faculty - Samuel Fountain

Tell us about your journey to the University of Minnesota.

I started at the University of Minnesota as an undergraduate student. I grew up in the Savage/Shakopee area. When I was applying to schools, I applied to the U of M and both Iowa universities. Minnesota was the school I liked the best and it also had a B.S. in computer science.

I started out in computing engineering in my first semester. I didn’t fall in love with it immediately. My father actually has a degree in computer science. He encouraged me to take at least one computer science class to see if I like it. Four weeks into that first class, CSCI 1133 -  Introduction to Computing and Programming Concepts with Steve Jensen, I switched my intended major to computer science. I just fell in love with it. At the end of the semester, I asked professor Jensen about applying to be an undergraduate teaching assistant (TA), and I have worked for the computer science department ever since.

I have been working for the department for 6 years. I was an undergraduate TA, then a graduate TA and graduate instructor. Once I finished my master’s degree, I started as a teaching specialist while starting my Ph.D. studies.

What made you want to keep continuing your journey in the Department of Computer Science at the U of M?

I really loved being a TA. Each summer I would do a more technical internship, and after every experience, I realized that I really missed teaching. I finished my undergraduate degree during COVID and I was still missing being a TA, so I decided to continue on and get my master’s degree. I continued to teach in grad school and that’s when I decided I want to teach at the collegiate level long term. That pushed me to pursue my Ph.D.

I am working in Ali Anwar’s lab for my Ph.D. program. It is the Distributed Machine Learning Systems Lab. I am focusing more on the distributed systems side of things. No matter what I decide to do going forward in my career, teaching is something that is very important to me.

What do you enjoy most about teaching? What are your teaching interests?

I fell in love with computer science during my first class. I enjoy being able to hold discussions with students about this topic that I am so passionate about and see them share in that excitement. I like helping them discover more about this field and go on that journey. I currently teach introductory classes, but hope to eventually teach more distributed systems topics in the future. I have had a lot of help from Shana Watters. When I was a graduate instructor, she was my supervisor. She is on my mentoring committee and has done a lot to shape the way I teach.

What courses are you teaching this fall? What can students expect to get out of that class?

I am teaching CSCI 1133 this fall. It is the first introduction to computer science. I am also teaching CSCI 1913 - Algorithms and Data Structures. I like this course because students have already gotten over the first hurdle of learning the basics and now they can apply them and do interesting things. The course focuses more on applications of core concepts but there is still a lot of new content.

I am also teaching CSCI 2915 - Teaching Methods in CS, which is the TA training course. I am co-teaching that class with Phil Barry and Jacqueline Burt. That class helps you become an effective teacher, and is also applicable to jobs in the workforce and beyond.

I am also tentatively scheduled to teach 1135, which is the companion course for 1133. It is a great chance to exercise computer science skills with a TA or instructor and get more practice.

As a former U of M undergrad yourself, what advice do you have for incoming computer science students?

When I was a freshman, I didn’t really know what it took to be a good student. I didn’t understand what it meant to read at a collegiate level or take effective notes. These are actual skills that you have to develop. Honing those skills can make a huge difference in your academic success as well as your stress levels.

For computer science specifically, there are a lot of short hands and acronyms. There are so many different areas of the field and if you never took a class in that specific topic, you may not have learned all of those acronyms. Don’t be afraid to ask and make sure you know what is being talked about. Advocate for yourself and ask questions because there is probably another person in the room that also did not know.

Also, I think it is worth looking into a study abroad program. If you can make it work, it is a great experience, even if it is just for a few weeks. I ended up studying abroad four different times during my time as an undergraduate. I went to Germany, Iceland, Denmark and Norway.

What do you do outside of the classroom for fun?

During the school year, I do research outside of the classroom. Being a student and teaching full-time takes up the majority of my week. I also enjoy cooking and reading when I can find the time. I like high fantasy novels and true crime/white collar crime novels. I am in a book club with some friends and we read Marvel comics together. I also have two dogs at home and like playing with them.

Do you have a favorite spot in the city?

You can probably find me at Bona in Stadium Village during the week. I do a lot of lunches there with my colleagues. When I was a student, I spent a lot of time studying in the biomedical library. That was my favorite study spot.