Born in what was once a small whaling hamlet on the outskirts of New York City, Associate Professor of Computer Science Brian Thoms, Ph.D., grew up playing soccer, baseball, surfing and learning his way around a computer.

He inherited a family legacy of computer science and a passion for teaching from his dad, a computer scientist, and his mom, a grade school science teacher.

“I got access to my mom’s teaching approaches and her rapport with students when I was very young,” Thoms said. “I wasn’t the most disciplined student and I had my struggles here and there. But she worked with me on how to learn.”

But it was a fourth-grade teacher Thoms remembers as “Dr. Paul” who made the most of the age of the personal computer for her students.

“She was teaching in a catholic school and had a Ph.D. in math,” Thoms said. “She was always pushing for computers in the classroom. Because of her, I’ve been taking programming since I was in the fourth grade. She just pushed it at every level.”

As the new director of CSUCI’s Master of Computer Science program, Thoms has the same level of commitment and flexibility with his students.

“I don’t adopt the same approach with every student,” Thoms said. “Everybody learns differently. Some students work better with multimedia, others with lab activities, tests or reading assignments. They’re all good approaches.”

Thoms is proud that the program now has five new tenure-track faculty members with experience in a broad range of areas, so that each student can explore the technical side of many different disciplines.

Thoms earned his undergraduate degree in computer science at Fordham University in New York, a master’s degree in Information Systems from the Stevens Institute of Technology and a Ph.D. in Information Systems and Technology from Claremont Graduate University in California.        

Thoms’ computer science experience stretches from the Dotcoms of the ‘90s to the steel jungle of Wall Street, where he worked for Salomon Smith Barney.

“I love New York City. NYC is great. The heartbeat of the city is unparalleled around the world,” Thoms said. “My family still lives there. It’s brutally cold and there’s a lot less space, but I love going home.”

But Thoms knows how to unplug, too. Sports has always been a big part of his life. While at Fordham, Thoms played Division 1 NCAA soccer, which he says his body won’t allow anymore, although “I actually kick the ball around now and then,” he said.

He loves to take his mountain bike for rides and has been surfing since he was 12, a sport he’s been able to transfer from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. Thoms took up scuba diving in 2015 and explored the water around the Galapagos, Hawaii, the Caribbean and the Mediterranean Sea.

In 2019, Thoms swam 2.2 miles in the Dwight Crum Pier-to-Pier challenge, in which several hundred contestants swim from the south side of Hermosa Beach Pier to the north side of the Manhattan Beach Pier. “I swam 2.2 miles with about 500 other people,” Thoms said. “It was crowded!”

CSUCI welcomed Thoms to the faculty in 2014. He believes CSUCI is a good fit because of the University’s model of interdisciplinary study, small class sizes, and the ability to experiment in the classroom.

This semester, Thoms is returning from a sabbatical during which he built an Android and IOS app for COMP449, Human-Computer Interaction that will allow his students to access their coursework and connect with one another from their mobile devices.

“I like working with social media technologies,” said Thoms, who teaches classes based on social media. “The mobile app connects with my online learning community. It operates more like a social network, than traditional learning management systems.”

Thoms reminds any students interested in the MS Computer Science program that your undergraduate degree does not necessarily need to be in Computer Science to get into the program.

“There are lots of different students we cater to,” he said. “There are some who come without a technical background. There are others who are already employed, and although they have to take some pre-requisite courses, they can get a master’s and go into the tech side of their field. Our program offers a large range of classes from machine learning to human-computer interaction.”

With the pandemic underscoring the importance of virtual environments, Thoms believes a solid understanding of computer technology in any field will be vitally important in a post-pandemic world.

For more on Extended University’s Master of Computer Science, visit:

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