Student Spotlight: Dinesh Ayyappan

Dinesh Ayyappan

Dinesh Ayyappan was born in south India and moved to Omaha, Nebraska when he was 5. The only language his parents both speak is English, so that was the dominant language for him and his brother. Dinesh completed his undergrad at Carnegie Mellon in Mechanical Engineering and then moved to Boston to do a teacher training program (Boston Teacher Residency) where he earned an M.Ed., attained Massachusetts teaching licensure in grades 8-12 physics (and eventually math as well), and met his wife in the same program! Dinesh and his wife taught in Boston public schools for five years before moving abroad to teach at international schools—first at a boarding school in the Himalayan foothills, and then three years ago in Singapore, where he lives now with his 15-month-old daughter and two cats. Dinesh was initially trained in secondary science education, but he also taught computer science for 7 years, and advanced math briefly.

"The course selection [in OMSCS] feels modern, the community is mature and helpful, and I’ve been pretty happy with the quality of courses I’ve taken."

Dinesh switched from teaching physics to teaching computer science because he began to believe that computer science would be more useful to more students than physics. He also wanted to continue doing work that was highly social, so teaching computer science was a good fit for his skills and interests. However, Dinesh felt that CS had changed a lot and his skills were out of date. Moreover, he wanted to become a more competent teacher whose computer science classroom felt current and relevant. However, with a baby on the way, Dinesh needed a program that was both flexible and remote: “I was so fortunate to find a program that met those criteria as well as being affordable and rigorous. The course selection feels modern, the community is mature and helpful, and I’ve been pretty happy with the quality of courses I’ve taken. Frankly, it’s amazing that I can do a rigorous graduate program in computer science at Georgia Tech from my home in Singapore.” Thus far, Dinesh’s favorite courses has been with Professor Joyner and Professor Goel because as a teacher, he notices and appreciates many of the “systems, processes, and conversational practices they use that help create welcoming, responsive, and productive communities.”

Besides computer science, Dinesh has become very interested in human-computer interaction, “but that’s still pretty proximate to computer science. Another field I’m interested in is game design applied to civic engagement and education, like the Playful City Lab at American University and, somewhat similar, Lifelong Kindergarten at the MIT Media Lab.” In fact, this summer, Dinesh started working in the Design & Intelligence Lab, led by Professor Ashok Goel. “My specific project is VERA, and one thing I'm working on is designing supports for learners working on open-ended, ill-defined tasks by anticipating when they’ll need support and giving them personalized feedback. It’s a fun mix of computer science, learning sciences, and human-computer interaction. The small problems are interesting to solve, and I feel the big picture goals are good for society.” If Dinesh could collaborate with any person, past or present, it would be “Ursula Le Guin—she has razor-sharp insight into our society’s strengths and flaws, and I think designing and developing technology with her input would be a meaningful and impactful process.” To Dinesh, computer science is the study of how to design systems and processes that use human brains as well as computer processors to accomplish goals that neither could efficiently do alone. In that same vein, he says, “I like that if I can give clear directions to a computer, it feels like my brain is more effective and I am more capable as a person.”

"I like that if I can give clear directions to a computer, it feels like my brain is more effective and I am more capable as a person."

After graduation, Dinesh would like to transition to computer science, though he is still figuring out whether he wants to go into research or industry. “I’m most interested in applications in education or climate—developing technologies that improve individuals' lives or move society towards a more equitable, sustainable future. “

Some fun facts about Dinesh are that he: has been to 31 countries and 45 US states; has been skydiving twice (once not attached to another person!); has flown a plane; and can jump on a slackline! How does someone so adventurous relax after a long day of debugging? “As my time in OMSCS has gone up, I've turned away from screens to relax, and I’ve found myself enjoying road biking before sunrise (when the air is coolest in Singapore), swimming, and reading before bedtime. But what I come back to most reliably and most often is just playing with my wife and toddler outdoors.”