Skip to Main Site Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Footer
Back To Top

A Mentor in College and Career

Published on July 13, 2022

A Mentor in College and Career

Professor Tasneem guides first-generation students into computer science careers

Two colleagues extending a hand while climbing stairs
Source: Shutterstock

Eastern faculty are known for developing close mentorships with students, helping them to master subject matter and even find success in the workplace after graduating. A classic example is Sarah Tasneem, professor and chair of the Computer Science Department, and first-generation college students Vanessa Zetino ’20 and Jafet Aparicio ’21. With Tasneem’s influence, both students stayed engaged, thrived in college and eventually secured positions as data engineers with Travelers Insurance in Hartford.

Vanessa Zetino
Vanessa Zetino '20

Zetino, of Norcross, GA, was in Tasneem’s Introduction to Computing and Problem Solving class in her very first semester at Eastern. She finished her last semester at Eastern taking Tasneem’s Operating Systems class, one of the most challenging courses in the Computer Science major. “She earned an ‘A’ in both classes,” said Tasneem, who was also Zetino’s advisor. “I vividly remember the meetings she and I used to have. She always looked so bright and full of happiness with a nice smile.”

Tasneem, knowing that Zetino was a female DACA student far from home, would always try to show she cared by talking with Zetino about any challenges she might face—adjusting, bullying, etc. “I found her eyes sparkled with pride and happiness when I tried to cheer her up by asking about her siblings and parents.”

Tasneem knew that Zetino liked art classes but believed a first-generation college student majoring in Computer Science would land a well-paid position in the field after graduation. “In our meetings I would try to motivate her so she stayed in the major and told her she could always do a minor in Art. Because of her hardworking and well-organized quality, along with her eagerness to learn, she completed her Computer Science major with two minors in Digital Art and Design and Management Information Systems in just four years.”

Sarah Tasneem
Sarah Tasneem

At the Travelers, Zetino is part of the Business Insights and Analytics Program, which allows participants to rotate into new roles every year to get a chance to take on new projects, learn new skills and grow company networks. “As a data engineer, I will be building architecture solutions in order to solve for different issues that come up in the company,” said Zetino. “I will be working with Python and using AWS services.”

Zetino’s interest in the STEM field began when her eighth grade teacher Ms. Postell exposed her to coding and robotics. "I had a personal interest in coding at that young age because there were games I used to play online that allowed me to customize my profile using code; Ms. Postell further enhanced my curiosity. As a freshman, I chose to major in Computer Science because of my prior interests and because it would allow for tons of more opportunities down the line.”

She said Eastern's liberal arts education enhanced her growth as a student and human being. “I really enjoyed diving into different subjects. It gave me a way to find other passions,” said Zetino. “I gained an interest in user-experience design and was able to take a course with Professor Chen, one of my favorite professors at Eastern. Dr. Tasneem always took the time to ask about my family, while also making sure to ask if I had an internship or job lined up. I’m truly grateful for the relationships I was able to build with some of my professors.”

Zetino offers this advice for students: “I encourage everyone to always have a few or at least one professor they can count on to advocate for them. If you don’t know who to turn to when something comes up, you’ll have them.”

Jafet Aparicio
Jafet Aparicio '21

Aparicio, of Durham, NC, double majored in Computer Science and Mathematics with a concentration in Data Science. In his first semester, he took Tasneem’s Fundamentals of Computing class. Upon learning the first day that he, too, was a first-generation student far away from home, Tasneem knew Aparicio might need help adjusting to campus life at a Connecticut university and began advising him. 

“He started making friends, was very attentive and stayed engaged in class,” said Tasneem. “Within weeks, I came to realize that he was not only hardworking but also had the ambition and motivation to do well in college. After seeing his grades in his first few assignments, I talked to him about the Honors Program. I guided him to apply for it. He did and got accepted and his career at Eastern began an upward trend. Finally, as he had the credentials, I recommended him to be the student marshal at his graduation ceremony in Spring 2021.”

Tasneem showed compassion for Aparicio by responding to a favor he asked of her. He asked her if there will be any possible exam dates close to the Thanksgiving holiday, as he would be buying a plane ticket for North Carolina. Tasneem, who has a reputation of always accommodating student needs, appreciated Aparicio’s ability to plan ahead in order to save money on a plane ticket home, and reassured him, telling him to make the reservation, inform her of the date and she would have him take exam earlier.

Aparicio has been interested in computer science since his senior year in high school when he became inspired to start an online business and needed to learn how to build a website. He found a program called Code the Dream that introduced him to the world of programming and he was hooked. At Eastern, he decided to focus on the data aspect of programming and majored in mathematics.

Jafet Aparicio and Sarah Tasneem
Jafet Aparicio and Sarah Tasneem at Commencement

Aparicio loves his job at the Travelers. “My role involves implementing predictive models while working alongside data scientists. I am also heavily involved in automating all of our processes.”

Aparicio said he cherished Eastern's liberal arts education. “The curriculum helped me explore other subjects while continuing to take classes in the subjects that I was for sure interested in. My experience was filled with many other concepts and material, from biology to guitar lessons. Thanks to the staff in both Computer Science and Mathematics Departments, I was able to land an internship at Cigna my sophomore year. I also thank Dr. Tasneem who encouraged me to apply to the Honors Program. With her letter of recommendation, I was accepted.

“Dr. Tasneem’s guidance opened a door for me to grow as a student and technology professional very early in my college career.” He continued. “I was able to complete my Honors Thesis where I conducted research in an area of my choice and focused on machine learning and natural language processing with my thesis mentor, Computer Science Professor Garrett Dancik. His incredible talent helped me gain exposure to complex data science concepts that I now have the privilege to work with in my current data engineering role.”

Written by Dwight Bachman

Categories: Alumni, Computer Science