The Emerging Scholars Program (ESP) at Columbia University

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Hello from the Emerging Scholars Program (ESP) at Columbia University! ESP is a peer-led workshop designed to encourage talented students to stay in the CS major after introductory classes. The goal of ESP is to show students that CS is necessarily a collaborative activity and that it involves much more than just programming. ESP's target audience includes students enrolled in Introduction to Computer Science classes who have not yet declared a major, but are contemplating CS.

ESP follows the Peer-Led Team Learning teaching paradigm. Since the workshops are led by another student rather than a professor or TA, the sessions can be more interactive. Each week, small groups meet with a peer leader who presents one or more problems from a variety of CS fields, from robotics to natural language processing. Students work as a group to analyze the problems and brainstorm solutions. 

Fifty-seven students have completed ESP in nine different sections since its founding in 2008. Of those students who have participated in ESP and declared majors, 45% of them have declared CS. One ESP participant has gone on to win the Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship, and two ESP assistants have gone on to receive CRA-W summer research positions. One ESP peer leader now works full time at Microsoft.

ESP receives consistently positive student feedback. ESP student Diana Cimino explained: "Through the varied workshops, I was exposed to interesting  people and ideas, realizing the breadth of an entirely fascinating subject in which I had no previous experience." The majority of students rated their peer leaders as "fantastic" and would "definitely" recommend ESP to other students.

Visit Columbia's ESP program at and for more about Peer Led Team Learning (PLTL) check out the great resources at:

Joshua Gordon is a PhD student in computer science at Columbia University.