Shortly before arriving at Rice University to teach Computer Science courses, Luis F. Guzmán Nateras gave a presentation on Cross-Lingual Learning for Event Detection to a colleague’s students in Sri Lanka. Watching the video on YouTube, it is easy to get caught up his enthusiasm for his topic and his engaging teaching style. Guzmán Nateras is equally enthusiastic about beginning his faculty role as a CS Lecturer at Rice.
“It is not a secret that Rice is one of the top computer science programs in the country,” said Guzmán Nateras. “So anyone working in CS would find a Rice faculty role extremely appealing. However, what sets Rice apart in my opinion, is the culture of care that is fostered in the department.”
“This culture aligns well with my own values and teaching style; I've always tried to create learning environments based on understanding and trust in my classrooms. Hence, the CS department at Rice seemed to me like a perfect place to further develop my career and, hopefully, make a meaningful impact in the students' lives.”
Although his passion for research is strong, he looks forward to being able to focus on teaching at Rice. He’s taught students at the Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolas de Hidalgo and at the University of Oregon, flipping from Spanish to English as easily as he navigated the 5900-foot drop in altitude from central Mexico’s mountains to Eugene, Oregon. Now, Guzmán Nateras anticipates exploring Houston almost as much as he looks forward to teaching and getting to know Rice undergraduates.
He said, “Working with undergrads is always a good time. It's hard not to get infected by their energy and desire to learn. In some ways, I think that experiencing the students’ enthusiasm for a subject reignites my own, and we end up feeding off each other in a positive cycle.”
“Of course, having a highly diverse classroom, as is the case in most of the Rice classes, further strengthens this phenomenon as it promotes the exchange of divergent ideas which usually leads to insightful discussion. Some of the best classroom dynamics I've experienced have been possible due to the presence of non-CS students that have forced me to look at things from a different perspective.”
The areas he most loves to teach are machine learning (ML), natural language processing (NLP), and introducing students to programming. Guzmán Nateras is open to teaching other CS courses in the future, especially if he can work with first- and second-year students.
“There is just something about watching a new concept finally 'click' in the mind of students,” he said. “You can actually see physical manifestations of such 'Aha!' moments: their eyes get bigger, their mouths open, they nod and relax on their seats. It is hard to describe, but the feeling you get as a teacher when it happens is pretty great. That is why I particularly like working with lower-level students like freshmen or sophomores; they are experiencing most of the subjects for the first time.”
Ten years ago, Rice CS faculty members reshaped the department’s introductory courses to create a level playing field where students with little or no experience could proceed at the same pace as students who had begun programming in middle or high school. Around the same time, Guzmán Nateras discovered a similar challenge at the Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolas de Hidalgo.
He said, “Traditional CS courses have been pretty harsh for non-experienced students, and inspiring non-traditional students can be a difficult challenge for the teachers as well. However, this combination of difficult subjects plus inexperienced students creates a perfect scenario for those moments of sudden realization that are very hard to beat.”
His passion for teaching introductory level courses aligns with his interest in CS Education research. His methods and pedagogy have evolved over the last decade, and he has been influenced by stellar instructors at each level of his own academic path. In addition to his computer science Ph.D. from the University of Oregon, Guzmán Nateras also completed his B.S. in Computer Engineering and his M.S. in Electrical Engineering at Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolas de Hidalgo.
“I’ve had many great instructors throughout my studies, and my own teaching style is somewhat of an amalgamation of the bits and pieces I liked the most from theirs. In particular, I’ve always enjoyed when professors create an atmosphere of familiarity and approachability while also conveying their passion for whatever topic they teach. I believe such an environment increases the students’ engagement and, in turn, their learning potential,” he said. “That is the kind of energy and excitement I hope to bring to Rice students this fall.”