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Illinois Math and Science Academy


Byflag states April-Hope Warham
Graduate of the Illinois Math and Science Academy

Working with and managing the Student Computing Support (SCS) team at the Illinois Math and Science Academy (IMSA) was the most beneficial part of my high school learning experience. The SCS team was around 25-30 students who took care of the 650 10th-12th grade students' computers.

You see, a student can only learn so much sitting behind a desk and doing repetitive homework problems. An A in an AP computer science class means nothing if you don't have the experience of an annoyed IT customer knocking on your door at eleven at night with no knowledge of how her computer "just stopped working". Ilya Nepomnyashchiy, who I worked with for two years and who was a manager of the SCS team for a year, explains that even though he'd helped people in a one-to-one environment before, "I learned a lot about processes in an environment where you have to serve 600+ customers."

An A in a business class doesn't teach you how to stay up until one in the morning online with a co-manager, hashing out the details of which team members are going to work when, who can work with whom, who has what skills and who needs a bit of help, either. Sandeep Paruchuri and I were managers of the SCS team our senior year at IMSA. "While it's one thing to work on a project for a few days with classmates, it's a completely different situation in the real world, one that has levels of seniority, knowledge, unique skills, and long term commitments to working on a project. Never before joining SCS did I realize the importance of teamwork, and the proper role of leadership."

Our Chief Information Officer and original SCS leader, Jim Gerry, has a slightly different take on SCS than its students. While we were allowed to work and set up our program, he was one of the people arguing for our right to do so. "There is a concern, and always will be, about students having access to "private" data, so clear lines of delineation must be drawn here. However, once this is made clear to administrators, we have their support," he explains. Our hardware vendors proved more difficult to deal with. Jim says it helps to start discussions with a vendor: "We use responsible students for repair and configuration, if you want to be our vendor, find a way to make this happen with your company...Once one company agrees to work with us, that helps, since we can tell others that "so-and-so" is working with us in that capacity, why can't you?"

The SCS team takes the place of 1.5 full-time workers (who we then do not have to pay). Our team members learn with an seasoned SCS member teaching and a new recruit apprenticing. Jim explains, "The worst that can happen is that a machine configuration gets messed up and requires more time (by other students) to fix. On the upside, there is student learning, which, when done hands-on like this, is very valuable.

SCS has had a positive impact on many IMSA students' lives. Having just finished my first year of college, I know that I've used SCS experiences in everything from my schoolwork and strategies to job interviews. Sandeep says that his SCS managing experience "will certainly provide the foundation for my future careers, technology or not."

A special thanks to Jim Gerry, Scott Swanson, Ralph Flickinger, Sandeep Paruchuri, and Ilya Nepomnyashchiy for their SCS amazingness throughout the years.

April-Hope Wareham was class of '08 at the Illinois Math and Science Academy and just finished her freshman year at the University of Tulsa studying computer science and Russian studies. An SCS team member for all three years at IMSA, she was a manager her junior and senior years.

Sandeep Paruchuri was class of '08 at IMSA. He was an SCS team member all three years at IMSA and a manager his senior year. He is currently studying economics at Northwestern University.

Ilya Nepomnyashchiy was class of '09 at IMSA. He was a manager of SCS his senior year and a team member all three years. Ilya will be studying at California Institute of Technology this fall with a major in computer science.