Tri wearing headphones focusing on work

Tri Nguyen

Hoping to make the web a better place for everyone

Course Reflections

Reflections are an essential part of the learning process. These courses are some of the defining moments in my college career at Wheaton. I have provided some of my thoughts on why they are so, my memories from taking them and a few writing assignments written in them.

Robots, Games and Problem Solving - Spring 2011

I took my first computer science class about 8 years ago in high school. It was taught in C++. After less than 2 weeks, I dropped out of that class, convinced that I was not smart enough to take on the subject.

Rewind to 3 years ago, when I decided to take an introductory class to Computer Science (CS), almost as an afterthought. I came into college determined to major in Economics, and figured that Computer Science would be a fun, less reading-intensive class to take in addition to the regular Economics courses. Little did I know that this class, COMP 115 “Robots, Games and Problem Solving”, would change my college career and potentially my life path.

After a few weeks of taking COMP 115, I started to notice an unusual trend. I was more motivated to do this class’s homework than any other class. For the first time, I enjoyed thoroughly working on a homework problem and often wished to have more problems to do. This was such a powerful experience to me that at that point I decided to major in CS in addition to Economics.

In hindsight, that was one of the most fruitful decisions I have made, and yet one with a high degree of uncertainty. I would not take another CS class after COMP 115 for another year due to the schedule of the department. I was unaware of how difficult other classes in the department might be. It was as if I decided to take a dive into the pool without knowing how deep it was.

The amazing thing about the CS department at Wheaton is that they do not let you swim alone. Since joining the department, I have had the opportunities to forge many close relationships with other students and professors in the department. These ties provide me with a nourishing environment to learn not just in the classroom but also beyond. I had the chance to build real life applications, experiment with new ideas and toys, and give back to the community by helping newer students.

I have since fully enjoyed wading and swimming in this pool of Computer Science knowledge. Despite being a relatively young field of study, Computer Science embodies an infinite pool that has the potential to reach its application in any other aspect of life. This single facet has remained a deep motivational force that pushes me through from those very first simple homework problems to complex web applications that I build today.

Climate Change, Past and Present - Spring 2011

I take this Physics class with a single purpose in mind - to reaffirm my personal belief in the environmental degradation that the world is experiencing and figure out how to protect Mother Nature. I come away from it with a renewed and more informed view the environmental issues that we face today, but also a much richer understanding of the Earth’s history.

Earth is an incredibly resilient yet ever-changing place. In that long history, the existence of human beings is but a small speck. If we were to scale the long history into a 20-year period, the construction of the pyramids is just 12 minutes ago from the present, and the dninosaus first appeared a year ago. This humbling realization has me think about my own action every day, especially those that carry a direct impact on nature.

And while our presence is fleeting, we as a human race are inflicting profound and irreversible damage on this planet. These damages are observed and predicted from the understanding of how climatic systems evolve and interact, and backed up by data collected from highly technological monitoring and prediction equipments.

An unforgettable assignment from this class was an essay on the paleoclimate of the period called Carboniferous, between 354 million years and 290 million years ago. As this period is dated so far back, little research is available to document the state of the Earth at that point. In order to complete the assignment, I used all the data I could find combined with the theories learned in class about how a climate system evolves to paint a picture of what Earth might have looked like during this period. The excitement in the final paper when the pieces start to come together is palpable. From a seemingly dead end, I am able to uncover new insights and make hypotheses that would hopefully shed better light on the understanding of the paleoclimate of this period.

Cultural Identity and History Lessons - Fall 2010

How would we feel if the first lesson we learned in college was that most of what we were taught in history class up to this point is not true? Yet, this is exactly the kind of lesson I come to expect of a college classroom - one that would intrigue you, challenge you, make you first go “Huh?”, then “Ahh!”.

In my First-Year Seminar (FYS) at Wheaton, I was shown not just the biases and untruths in history textbooks, but also the psychological, sociological and political mechanisms that we humans arrive at our idiosyncracies, sometimes unintentionally, others maliciously.

First, to appreciate the vast diversity that is present in the world, we look at the differences that are right within our classroom of fifteen. As an international student who has lived in two different countries prior, I experience college from a perspective that is quite different from the girl next to me who comes from a town of less than two thousand people in rural New England area and has not been outside of the country. As one of my professors later explains, “Wheaton is the most diverse place for some and also the least diverse for others”.

Unlike other classes that I have taken since the fall of 2010 which focus more heavily on academic subjects, this FYS does not seem like a class. It is more an informal discussion among the freshmen about our own experiences prior to college, what we hope to get out of it and what strategies we might employ to do so. Through this exercise we recognize our own cultural identity and its contrast with others’.

Coming back to the history lesson, each of us is then to pick out a chapter of our choice in a history textbook, carry out research and rewrite it in a fashion that we think is more unbiased. This assignment really captures my fascination, for I never before thought that such an exercise would be a realistic thing for an adult to do, much less so a first-year college student. I chose to rewrite the chapter on the American involvement in the Vietnam War. Being in the position of a writer of history, even just for the audience of one, carries tremendous power and responsiblity. I am aware of the details that I choose to include and those I choose to leave out. I am also cognizant of the choice of tone and attitude in presenting a complex story, careful not to make any strong bias for one side or the other.

Without expecting it, this class teaches me the ability to think critically, in its purest sense. To be critical is not only about finding faults and gaps in another person’s argument, but also the assumptions and mistakes within one’s own.