Tufts Senior Lecturer and 2017 Lerman-Neubauer Prize Winner Ming Chow poses for a portrait. (Courtesy Ming Chow)

Ming Chow wins award for outstanding teaching

Ming Chow, a senior lecturer in the Department of Computer Science, has won this year’s Lerman-Neubauer Prize for Outstanding Teaching and Advising. The award is given annually to a professor in the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering, according to an announcement by the School of Engineering.

Dean of Arts and Sciences James Glaser said that the award is a major recognition of Chow’s commitment to his students as well as his excellence and creativity as a teacher.

The prize, which was first awarded to Gerald Gill in 1998, is a premier teaching award intended to recognize faculty who make a difference for students, Glaser said. He added that all full-time faculty are eligible for the award, regardless of tenure eligibility.

Spencer Perry, a sophomore working as a teaching assistant for Chow’s class COMP-20, noted that Chow genuinely cares about his students and goes well beyond the normal expectations for a professor.

“I’ve emailed him at just heinous times or over the weekend and he’s always very prompt in his response. He also has more office hours than any other computer science teacher I know of,” Perry said.

In addition, Perry emphasized that Chow’s connections to the technology industry meant that many students went to Chow for advice about internships.

“He’s definitely the point person for anything related to a real world job in computer science,” Perry said.

Perry said that Chow is skilled at informally connecting students with people in the industry and the academic field.

Chow agreed that Tufts should emphasize connecting people with alumni. He added that he hopes to support students by sharing his experience.

“I use war stories, experiences, that one luxury I do have compared to a lot of people here. I talk about failure, mistakes, what it was like to build systems in production,” Chow said.

Chow is co-teaching a course with Professor of Political Science Jeffrey Taliaferro this semester about the intersection of technology and security in the context of cyberwar, according to Perry.

“If you’re making policy, knowing the details is important,” Perry said. “It’s about actually giving a crap about the world around you and not getting too dug down in the nitty-gritty code and realizing that these things have a real world impact.”

Chow said that the key to teaching is showing students what they can be instead of telling them what they should be. He noted that this award reflected his influences as a teacher and the influences of other faculty members in the computer science department.

“I’ll be honest, there’s nothing special at all,” Chow said. “A lot of it is based on a couple things. For one, you’ve got to be there for students and be responsive. I don’t do anything elaborate.”

Chow emphasized that his teaching has built on the experience of other computer science professors, many of whom have previously won the Lerman-Neubauer Prize. Chow claimed that the award belongs not just to him but to all the teachers who have influenced him.

He mentioned that his inspirations include Senior Lecturer of Education Steven Cohen, Professor of Computer Science Robert Jacob, Assistant Professor of Computer Science Benjamin Hescott and Associate Professors of Computer Science Norman Ramsey and Alva Couch.

“Those are the people that stand the test of time,” Chow said

According to Glaser, the winner is selected by a committee headed by Dean of Undergraduate Studies Carmen Lowe and the previous two recipients of the award. This committee, Glaser noted, is tasked with compiling student recommendations and looking at the individual nominees.

Perry emphasized how much of a presence Chow is for computer science students in Halligan Hall.

“He’s basically given up his office because he prefers sitting on the couches talking to people. I think everyone feels like they could just ask him everything and anything,” Perry said. “He’s a character in every sense of the word. I think sometimes people classify him as a crazy fun personality, but I think sometimes in that narrative people lose track of just how much he cares.”

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