On Tuesday, Nov. 29, nearly 500 sophomore computer science students presented their seminar projects at the Cool Topics showcase. The biannual event is held at the culmination of CS 1944, a course dedicated to introducing students to the study of computer science and potential career paths. Throughout the course, students received guidance on creating resumes, went on mock interviews, and workshopped elevator pitches. 

Synonymous with CS 1944 and Cool Topics is long-time course instructor, Dwight Barnette, who believes the event is essential to student growth and engagement. Cool Topics is the first opportunity many students have to explore an array of new technologies and work as a team. Together, each student team selects a topic, ranging from beginner code applications to new developments in the field, creates a presentation about that topic, and delivers their presentation to a variety of audiences at the showcase.

This year, representatives from major employers Peraton, the CIA, and Lockheed Martin attended the event to watch presentations, network with students, and consider student resumes for employment opportunities. Student organizations, such as the Association for Women in Computing, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Club, and VTHacks, were in attendance to connect with students and recruit new members. The CS Undergraduate Academic Advisors were also on hand to listen to student presentations and provide “just-in-time” advice for students as they end the semester.

“CS 1944 helps with the professional aspect of going into software engineering. Learning new technologies and studying prior topics really helps to encapsulate all the knowledge needed for future jobs,” says Ahmad Kassem. Kassem’s team, including Michael Drougas, Bayan Rasooly, Ethan Werner, Nitin Soma, and Vaishnavi Alavala, presented on Go, an open-source coding language invented by Google.  

Current CS 1944 student Layla Scott presented on Google Grasshopper, a free application that teaches users how to code JavaScript. Her group, which includes peers Matthew Fuerst, Will Ayres, Rajith Pandeti, and Ananya Chilakamarthi, chose the topic because of Grasshopper’s broad scope and simplicity.

“It’s important because it is an in-depth, simple, and free way to learn the fundamentals of coding. JavaScript is widely used to create dynamic web pages, so not only will you learn to code, but you will also learn about web development,” says Scott.  

CS Instructor Dwight Barnette will retire at the end of December 2022.

“It has been rewarding to watch the range of topics the groups select and research each semester for Cool Topics,” shares Barnette, who will retire at the close of the fall 2022 semester. “Over the years, I have been made aware of a number of interesting developments in the field which were previously unknown to me.”  

A Virginia Tech alum, Barnette received his master’s in computer science in 1984 and joined the department as an instructor in 1987. With nearly 40 years of teaching experience at Virginia Tech, Barnette has taught over 200 courses to almost 25,000 students. During his time in the department, he has conducted research in instructional computing, online learning, and computer science education and received grants from the National Science Foundation, the Microsoft Corporation, and the Virginia Tech Center for Innovation in Learning.  

“It has been a most exciting time in which to be alive and experience all of the growth both at Virginia Tech and in the computer science field. The frenetic pace of change in computer science during my career has been both challenging and rewarding. I have been fortunate to be a part of the change that has taken place in the computer science department since I was here in graduate school and as a member of the faculty,” reflects Barnette.   

“I would like to truly thank my many colleagues and students with whom I have worked that have made my career so wonderful,” says Barnette. 

Barnette’s legacy of Cool Topics will continue to flourish as the undergraduate program enrollments in computer science increase annually.


Written by Tayler Butters, intern in the Department of Computer Science