In the News

April 5, 2017

A passion for education

By Katherine Li Smith

UCI alumnus David Tong '05 uses his CS degree to teach STEM skills to students and educators at the TGR Learning Lab.

Every Monday morning David Tong, B.S. computer science ’05, walks through the high glass doors of the TGR Learning Lab in Anaheim and is greeted by the fresh aroma of coffee and possibilities. Shortly after his mug is filled, and the computers have warmed up, the fun begins.

Outside yellow school buses quickly empty while the TGR Learning Lab fills with the cacophony of fifth- and sixth-graders eager to learn. Now that the children have arrived, Tong is ready to begin another week as director of TGR EDU: Create, the professional development branch of the TGR Learning Lab.

A room full of kids is not what most computer science majors imagine when they picture post-college careers, but this was exactly Tong’s dream.

Born and raised in California, Tong attended UCI as a computer science major in the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS). Tong remembers UCI as being the perfect option for an Orange County native, because, “it was nice to stay close to family, but still experience the independence of living on campus during my first year at the Middle Earth dorms.”

As an ICS undergraduate, he had every intention of working in the IT field. While at UCI, Tong obtained an IT internship through the SAGE Scholars Program, at the time led by Karina Hamilton, yet he still found himself, “content, but not satisfied.”

After a little soul searching and encouragement from Hamilton to take a summer job at a tech education camp, Tong quickly realized his passion for education went beyond his own schooling.

“I figured when I wanted to work beyond the hours I was required, I was probably doing something I was passionate about,” said Tong.

He became part of the Community Teaching Fellowships in Math and Science (CTFMS), and worked closely with local high school teachers. He devoted his undergraduate summers to volunteering with different education programs, including the California Summer School for Mathematics and Science (COSMOS), and the Gifted Students Academy (GSA).

“There was little turning back, and I soon after decided to obtain a minor in education,” Tong wrote of his experience back in 2008, shortly after graduation and completing the intern teacher credential program at UC Irvine. That same year, he began a career with the Tiger Woods Foundation.

Tong spent his early days teaching aerospace and forensics to kids at the TGR Learning Lab. Since then, his role and the program have evolved in positive ways.

While children pour into classrooms, Tong and his professional development team now work in a separate setting with their teachers on designing new strategies for teaching STEM through hands-on projects. The program involves strengthening teachers’ STEM knowledge, a lending library and continuing support by TGR staff. This is where Tong’s expertise shines: as an integral component of the professional development program that focuses on the importance of technology in a typical classroom environment.

“My background in ICS has led to the development of many CS-related programs at the TGR Learning Lab, said Tong. “I was able to develop a seven-week course that introduced students to basic programming concepts through a game-design platform. This enabled them to work through a simplified software lifecycle where they could receive feedback from their peers and take ownership of their final projects. ”

Although he still enjoys his time with the kids, Tong says his new mission is to excite new teachers and re-ignite veteran educators.

He added: “I’ve also recently organized a coding PD for upper elementary teachers that aims to increase their confidence in discussing and delivering computer science content. There are so many applications and careers in this field, and our elementary teachers have the ability to inspire and excite the students at a young age.”

The experience is fully immersive for both students and teachers, and arguably for Tong and the staff, as they work and learn together for the entire week before a new class arrives the following Monday.

In the afternoons, once the younger children have headed home, the seventh- through 12th-grade students are welcomed to the TGR Learning Lab. Conversations between staff and students permeate the student lounge and café before they head upstairs to the classrooms at 4 p.m. for their career-based class like robotics, video and film production, design, or green-energy engineering.

These days, Tong still makes time to stay in touch with alumni from the SAGE Scholars Program, as well as fellow ICS graduates.

“It's an amazing network of talented individuals who continue to work hard to reach their goals and grow the company they work with.”

“There is also a handful of Anteaters who also work for the Tiger Woods Foundation,” he added.

It’s clear David truly “lives to work” and not the other way around. But can you really call it work when Monday can’t come fast enough?

— Katherine Li Smith
A passion for education

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