Letter from the Editor: Why you should start your college CS learning at a community college.

Hello reader, please enjoy another of our series, “A letter from our editor.” Nick Giampietro has been writing for the GetReal blog since it started, and has recently started studying computer science. Here, he shares his experience at PCC, so you can make a more informed decision when you start your college journey.


Dear HS Students,

Don’t go straight to a university, if you want to study computer science. Start at a community college. Besides the obvious monetary benefits (it’s much cheaper), you’ll find that the instructors at community colleges are often much more active and passionate about helping you succeed.

Shot of TCB at PCC Sylvania

This is TCB, the Technology Classroom Building, at PCC Sylvania

University professors are almost always very qualified people, but they don’t necessarily care about you. They have a Ph.D in whatever they’re teaching, usually professional experience, and actively do research. But something has happened to many science departments: professors get so caught up in their research that they forget that universities are about students. And as a result, many freshmen and sophomores get turned off by class sizes over 100, and no face-to-face contact with their professor.

And guess what? Community college instructors are also very qualified. Take Michael Trigoboff of Portland Community College, for example. He also has a Ph.D in computer science, and he’s been a professional programmer for over 30 years. Does that sound qualified to you?

Portrait shot of Michael Trigoboff

Dr. Trigoboff meets his students with a smile and a subtle sense of humor, every class we have.

Right now I just started taking a class with Dr. Trigoboff called “Programming Systems,” (using Java and C++) and have been very happy with the experience. In a classroom of less than 30, everyone gets plenty of time to speak with him and ask questions whenever they want. He programs right before your eyes, helps teach you often difficult things like how to use a professional-level IDE (which is not really a part of computer science, but is definitely a big part of any programming job).

In a nutshell, he works hard to help each of his students succeed. If you also want to succeed, best you find people who want to help you along.

Plus, community colleges often work closely with nearby universities, so transferring is easy. That way, you can get your first two years of university schooling done for a much lower cost, with people who are much more interested in helping you, and then you can transfer to a university—where, then taking upper-division classes since you started at a CC, you’ll also get much closer contact with your professors.

What’s more, you might even be able to start going to community college in high school. Ask your school counselor about early college programs, and see if you can get started NOW.

Read on:

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A Thunderdome of Engineering in Hillsboro, Part 2: Getting ready for college and more.

Last week we talked about how we love the engineering program at Hillsboro high school; we love it because it’s got a great fab lab, which is a really great tool for those learning to engineer. After all, it’s much more real if you can hold the things you design.

Well this week we’re going to talk about a different part of HHS’s engineering program: the way they teach engineering.

The IB design cycle, on the wall in Mr. Domes's classroom. Start at "identify the problem."

Over at HHS, things are a little different. Don Domes, a teacher at HHS, wants students to be able to spend their class time actually learning, not listening to a droning lecture or being confused if they miss one day. And so he’s made his own Vimeo channel onto which he uploads his lectures. The lectures are pretty short, too. Short enough to do during/after reading a section from a textbook.

Quick background on classroom inversion: This is a new educational theory where where, instead of homework, students listen to a lecture at home (by watching a video or something). That frees up class time for students to be able to work on homework with someone around who can help them. Once you get into high school, your parents usually aren’t able to help you with your homework unless they do work in the subject you’re confused about. This classroom inversion theory means you’ll have your teacher to help you out and answer questions, which means it’s a lot easier to make sure everyone gets it. And this is exactly what Mr. Domes does every day.


Just one video from Mr. Domes’s Vimeo channel. Looks like
video games are cheaper than your parents might say.
(Though a gaming computer takes more power than that)

You might know that a lot of high school classes are pretty chaotic, especially during ‘free work’ time. When we were in Mr. Domes’s class, we saw a very interesting thing: everyone came to class and got right to work without waiting for a lecture or anything. They talked occasionally, like people do, but because they got what was going on nobody had given up and decided to goof off. Everyone was actually, legitimately interested in what they were doing.

A list of the PCC college credits Mr. Domes enables his students to get, through his classes.

We thought “there has to be another reason for this.” What about those one or two people who are just stuck taking the class because it’s required? Nope, even they were interested. Maybe not because they’re in love with the subject, but because there was another perk to the class: college credit.

That’s right. Mr. Domes went out of his way to make as many of his classes as possible college compatible. Portland Community College works with Mr. Domes and lets him award real college credit to his students, just for taking and passing his classes. The advantage of that is obvious: you can save a lot of time after graduation.

We think HHS has a great engineering program, for the fab labs we mentioned last week as well as their classroom inversion and college credit integration. These kinds of things might not be around in your school, but even if they’re not there’s still something you can learn from it. If you’re young enough, consider an early college program where you go to a community college to earn both your high school degree and some college credit. And if you can find a lecture on what you’re currently learning, listen to it before you go to class so you can get ahead of the game.