most significant bits
newsletter of uw computer science & engineering
volume 21, number 1, spring 2011
university of washington
CSE logo
 home CSE Home    MSB archive Spring 2011 MSB    MSB Archive   Contact Info Contact Info 
CSE Security & Privacy Research Chair's message Reges wins UW teaching award News Warren Jessop retires Datagrams Awards Alumni Achievement Awards Hank Levy elected to NAE Anokwa wins UW grad medal Two win Borg Scholarships Mark Bun wins Goldwater Dodge to competitive workshops CHI Best Paper to HS student Capstone courses Digital design capstone Audio capstone
msb21.1 PDF

Give to CSE

We all know the difference one line of code makes to the success of new software. In the same way, one gift of any size makes a difference to the success of CSE teaching and research. Your gift provides the department with resources for scholarships, fellowships, research support, and funds to build the CSE community we hope you value. As you think about your giving, please consider making a gift to CSE. Every gift, regardless of size, helps maintain a quality experience for students that reflects the sense of community you've come to expect from us. Give online.

About MSB

MSB is a twice yearly publication of UW CSE supported by the Industrial Affiliates Program.

Editor: Kay Beck-Benton
Contributors: Ed Lazowska, Hank Levy, Sandy Marvinney, Alexei Czeskis, Hannah Hickey
Photo credits: Bruce Hemingway, Mary Levin, S. Morris Rose

We want to hear from you!

Do you have news you’d like to share with the CSE community? Comments or suggestions for future issues of MSB? Let us know! Email the editors at and be sure to visit us online at:

Sign up for MSB email

MSB is now available via email. To sign up, send an email to
  msb at

Stuart Reges wins UW teaching award

Stuart Reges

More than a third of UW undergraduates will have an opportunity to take a class designed by Stuart Reges, winner of this year's University of Washington Distinguished Teaching Award. Some of them may be surprised to leave the course considering a career in computer science.

About eight years ago, UW CSE decided to follow Stanford, Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon, and other universities in making coordination of the introductory programming course a specialty to be handled by an expert.

CSE chair Hank Levy characterized the UW's introductory programming class at that time as "a disaster."

"We placed that disaster in Stuart's hands," Levy wrote.

The turnaround was dramatic. A chart of undergraduate enrollment in computer science at the UW shows a sharp inflection point when Reges was hired in 2004, and a steady increase ever since. In 2009, Reges became the first member of the UW's College of Engineering promoted to the rank of principal lecturer.

"There were high numbers before," says Reges, pointing to the dot-com peak in the late 90s, "but we're setting records."

Last year more than 1,600 students took CSE 142, "Introduction to Computer Programming." More than 500 women enrolled, which is also an all-time high. A former student describes Reges' lectures as "a mixture of clear concepts, useful examples, and interesting facts." Evaluations from hundreds of students enrolled in an introductory programming course last fall were a perfect 5.0.

Among the reasons for Reges' popularity is what he calls "nifty assignments" — coding assignments that illustrate a concept, but are also fun. One has students create a program where you can type in any name and it calculates all the words that can be formed using the same letters. Another programming assignment has users complete a standard personality questionnaire and then maps the results along four personality dimensions. Reges has written a book on "nifty assignments" that is now used in more than 100 colleges and universities across the country.

Reges is a late convert to computer science who encourages others to consider all their options. As an undergraduate, Reges majored in math, but he also won university-wide awards for English and poetry. He pursued graduate research at Stanford in artificial intelligence only to discover that his real love was teaching. Students who flock to his classes discover a passionate evangelist for his discipline.

"The reason that I want to teach 1,650 students a year is that I find the ones who are talented and enthusiastic, and then I ask them: 'Why aren't you considering computer science?'" Many of the students in this category are women; award nominators credit Reges for helping the department recruit and retain a record number of female students.

"Stuart is the master of captivating and organized lectures, wellscoped assignments, and fair grading," says Hélène Martin, a UW CSE alum who now teaches computer science at Seattle's Garfield High School, "but what sets him apart from other teachers is his ability to inspire students individually and develop their passions." Hélène is among many former students who credit Reges with their career choice.

Key to Reges' success is what has been referred to as a "phalanx of undergraduate teaching assistants." He used a similar strategy in previous positions at Stanford and the University of Arizona. Reges works to create a community among the TAs, holding a weekly meeting where they cover course updates but also share food and discuss their different approaches to teaching the material. The TAs can decide how to run their sections and have input into the course as a whole. Last year, the department had 98 applications for nine TA positions, and for the first time could not interview all the applicants.

On top of lecturing, Reges also holds an optional honors section, a separate class where top students meet once a week for smallgroup discussions. Sometimes that time takes him well beyond the standard workday. Reges notes that on a recent evening, he held an honors section from 7 to 9 p.m., then stayed later to talk with students. What makes it worthwhile, he says, is seeing what a difference an outstanding teacher can make.

"To be able to have this kind of impact on people's lives is just incredible."

CSE logo
Computer Science & Engineering Box 352350, University of Washington Seattle, WA 98195-2350 Privacy policy and terms of use