By Scott Bureau
Ivona Bezáková believes that anyone can understand the mathematical foundations of computer science.
“Many people will tell you that they were bad at math in high school and will never be any good at it,” says Bezáková, an associate professor of computer science in RIT’s B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences, and a winner of the 2013 Eisenhart Award for Outstanding Teaching. “I have never been willing to accept that, because often times you just need to demystify the formulas, provide motivation and look at it from another viewpoint.”
Bezáková enjoys looking at math as a problem-solving tool for programming and algorithmic thinking. Her courses in Algorithms, Advanced Algorithms and Introduction to Computer Science Theory allow students to apply mathematical techniques to real-world computing problems.
“I realize that these classes aren’t always the student’s favorite at first, but by the end, they make a huge impact on their problem-solving skills,” says Bezáková. “It’s those ‘aha!’ moments that make teaching computer science worth it.”
Growing up in Slovakia, Bezáková found her love of mathematics at a young age through a program called the Correspondence Seminar. The program published five challenging math problems each month for elementary school-aged students to solve. The top 30 children in the country were invited to a prestigious math-centered camp.
“The seminar brought together students of all ages to play math games, attend lectures and participate in treasure hunts and activities outside,” says Bezáková. “It really created this community for people who have a passion for math.”
Bezáková went right to work teaching what she loves. In high school, she became a main organizer of the seminar for grades 4 through 6, where she designed problems, created problem description handouts, graded the solutions and organized the camp. As she explored different areas of math and began participating in the high-school level seminar in programming, she found that she enjoyed using math to solve real-world computer problems.
“While math was my main focus until almost the end of high school, I realized that I enjoyed algorithmic thinking, which relies on a strong mathematical background,” Bezáková says. “So, I decided to pursue computer science in college.”
After teaching programming at two prestigious high schools in Slovakia throughout college, Bezáková moved to the United States, where she began work on her doctorate at the University of Chicago. She found interests in theoretical analysis of randomized and approximation algorithms, with emphasis on the Markov chain Monte Carlo technique.
Since joining RIT in 2006, she has been involved with the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest, where she is responsible for the problem set design. Outside of the classroom, Bezáková loves to stay active and play sports with her husband and their children.
Most recently, Bezáková spent the spring 2013 quarter in Dubrovnik at the American College of Management and Technology. She led a study abroad program, where she taught two courses for a group of RIT computer science students.
“Being in Croatia for a quarter was great, because it’s a bit closer to home than the United States,” Bezáková jokes.
In addition, Bezáková was just awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation in support of her project titled Counting and Sampling Cuts and Paths in Planar and Lattice Graphs