Meet Zach Oster!

Zach Oster.  (UW-Whitewater photo/Craig Schreiner)

Dr. Oster came to UW-Whitewater in 2013 from Iowa State University where he served as a research and teaching assistant, and from Grand View University where he was an adjunct lecturer. His professional experiences include designing, implementing, and conducting initial testing on a system for automating satellite downlink operations through the U.S. Geological Survey. His research interests include formal methods for specification, analysis, and verification of requirements and design preferences in component-based and compositional software systems.

Now that you have completed your first year as a faculty member at UW-Whitewater, can you share one reflection on the year?

Most people, including students in my introductory courses, view computer science as “writing program code”, which is true in the same way that a carpenter’s job is “cutting pieces of wood and attaching them to each other”: there’s more to it. The real challenge of computer science is to take a problem that seems simple to us as humans, break it down into a sequence of small steps that a computer can understand, try out that sequence of steps to see if it really does solve the problem, and then repeat the process as you figure out which steps you forgot to include. (It turns out that teaching computer science involves a similar process!) It’s a different way of thinking, and it can be hard to grasp for those who are new to computer science. Once students grasp this idea, though, many of them quickly see how creatively and intellectually rewarding computer science can be. Guiding and seeing this process of discovery is part of what makes teaching so rewarding for me.

What is his favorite thing about UW-Whitewater so far?

That people are friendly and welcoming. And that people enjoy working together to get exciting things done.

What made him want to teach?

He’s always liked learning and being able to show people how to accomplish tasks.  It’s also rewarding to witness people figure things out – going from not understanding various topics all the way through to comprehension.

 What is his approach to teaching and what can students expect in the classroom?

Dr. Oster’s approach is to begin by building a strong foundation of basic ideas that will continue to grow as new concepts are introduced. He uses lectures interspersed with in-class labs to allow students to try things out and promote optimal learning integration.

What is one experience that occurred during his undergraduate or graduate school experience that made a definite impact on his approach to his academic career?

His first year of grad school was a real challenge and he had to learn how to ask for help. Students sometimes need to be invited to ask for help and he tries to always keep that in mind, especially in introductory classes. He is very open to questions and reaches out to students when necessary.

What book would he recommend to his students?

The Mythical Man-Month by Frederick P. Brooks. Jr. It has a lot of content relating to project management and how it can go wrong as well as interesting anecdotes relating to software engineering.

What is something that students would be surprised to learn about him?

He has played the clarinet since the fifth grade and was a double major in computer science and music as an undergrad.

What does he like to do outside of work?

He enjoys playing music, reading, and taking walks.

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