The spring of 2017 brought a different educational experience for three young students from NUS High School of Math and Science (NUSH). Owen Leong, Daniel Lim, and Isaac Tay made up the very first batch of students from the NUSH-DigiPen Honors Track — a joint programme that allows talented individuals from NUSH the opportunity to take college-level computer science modules with institutions such as DigiPen (Singapore). The trio came equipped with a basic foundation in programming and hopes to broaden their horizons.
“My interest in programming began from my second year in NUSH where the school offered an introductory course called ‘Problem Solving in Computing,’ in which I learned the basics of programming,” said Owen Leong, of his motivation to take up the programme. “I was enticed by what could be done using programming and continued to explore various areas of computer science. I was interested in finding out more about the teaching style in DigiPen, given that it is a relatively small institute in terms of the number of students, and that it is based in the U.S.”
Isaac Tay expressed a different motivation. He attributed his choice to a keen interest in computer games. “This led me to want to learn more about the fundamental techniques in optimization, which DigiPen seems to focus more on compared to complicated high-level techniques, which I had already heard too much about,” he explained.
The three students had also visited DigiPen’s main campus in Redmond, Washington, in August 2016. DigiPen establishes partnerships with schools such as NUSH to allow their students to take advanced ProjectFUN workshops at DigiPen’s main overseas campus as part of an educational holiday program.
“The best part was when we were brought to their research lab, where they worked on the Formula One program and the Zero Engine, and this made me even more interested in DigiPen,” said Daniel Lim, commenting on his experience.
To qualify for the programme, the students had to prove their proficiency by taking a diagnostics test in high-level programming. Successfully clearing this hurdle qualified the three students for “Higher-Level Programming II: The C++ Programming Language,” the first of the available Honors Track modules.
The Honors Track provided a steep learning curve even for these talented students. Adapting to a new school environment typically poses a challenge for most, and the three students had to juggle these college-level modules with the other subjects they were taking in their main curriculum.
“To be honest, this C++ course that I attended went beyond my expectations,” Owen said, speaking about the challenges they faced during the course. “It revealed that the features of the C++ language are far richer than I had known. In the first few weeks I encountered terminology that I did not understand, but this problem was solved as I moved through the course.”
Daniel added that the stricter standards at DigiPen also challenged the students, saying, “We had to follow several coding style guidelines, properly document our code, and make sure that the code does not violate any single warning the compiler makes.”
All three students agree that the Honors Track has benefitted their education in ways that exceeded their initial expectations, particularly where fundamentals are concerned.
“It’s all these small underlying mechanics that you never see getting explained that really helped a lot,” elaborated Isaac. “My advice to juniors who would also be taking the Honors Track would be to have a strong foundation in C. Initially I was struggling with the lessons a little since my C was slightly rusty, as I did not really code in it despite having studied it. This led to the lessons being harder than they should have been.”
Daniel had slightly more practical advice to offer: “Study hard for the course, making sure to get good results for quizzes, midterms, and finals. Follow all guidelines for labs no matter how lazy you feel, because taking a few minutes to properly document your code while following all guidelines can help you avoid losing unnecessary marks.”
Having successfully completed their first semester at DigiPen (Singapore), the students will be moving on to the second phase of the Honors Track this summer.