Class Act: Computer science teacher John Tomczak


Theo Sanders

According to Chief Officer of Information Jeff Ritter, Tomczak brings a fresh perspective to St. John’s computer science classes.

Ellie Monday and Wyatt Cyprow

Although he went from playing hockey and sailing in New York’s chilly air to enduring the Houston heat in the flatlands of Texas, John Tomczak was happy to trade his hockey stick for a golf club when he made the decision to become a computer science teacher at St. John’s.

Tomczak’s commitment to teaching computer science was inspired by his high school experience in computer classes. He was happy to play around with computers even though the material was difficult to comprehend. He lead the first season of the Robotics team at his high school, managing to travel to the world championships in St. Louis as head of the programming group.

Tomczak attended Nichols School, a small private school, before attending George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Once he began college, he realized that the tight-knit community at Nichols School gave him experiences that many of his college friends lacked. The constant encouragement by his teachers and the general helpfulness ingrained into the classroom atmosphere aided him on his path to becoming a teacher.

At Nichols School, a big part of his life was playing hockey. As sophomores, Tomczak and a few other players pushed to open up a third hockey team that focused more on the thrill and joy of playing hockey instead of development and preparation for college recruitment, which his school’s two teams focused on.

During college, Tomczak studied engineering, worked on Capitol Hill and was president of the finance club. He interned for Chris Collins, a New York representative in the House of Representatives. While working the phones at the office, Tomczak learned to deal with negative opinions. While he enjoyed his internship, he was not interested in the common career paths that many of his friends in college pursued.

“I was racking my brain for interesting people that I knew and teaching came up,” Tomczak said. “Then, I started exploring teaching, what it would be like for me and also whether or not I would be good at it.”

After a conversation with the headmaster at Nichols, Tomczak was able to get in touch with the recruiting firm that St. John’s uses to find its teachers. The firm put Tomczak in touch with several schools, including St. John’s, and he travelled around the country interviewing on campuses from Boston to Columbus.

“The biggest thing that really surprised me was when the computer science head Jeff Ritter called and asked me to come to town early Monday night and go out to dinner with bunch of other teachers,” Tomczak said.

After the interview, Tomczak was impressed by the kind gesture and felt that St. John’s was the school for him. As he drove to interviews at other schools over the next few weeks, Tomczak was just waiting for St. John’s to call.  When he did receive the call, he did not hesitate to say yes.

On his first day, he quickly recognized the welcoming atmosphere of St. John’s, and was surprised by how friendly the faculty were. Although the experience of starting at a new school was intially nerve-racking for Tomczak, he felt confident because of the assistance and understanding given by the St. John’s administration team.

“It’s great to be surrounded by such such smart and helpful faculty,” Tomczak said.

Chief Information Officer Jeff Ritter believes that Tomczak’s unique experiences are valuable to students in computer science classes.

“He has fresh perspectives on a lot of programming topics that weren’t around when I graduated college,” Ritter said. “Tomczak has been an enormous help for the computer science team, allowing them to offer several more classes and improve the overall learning experience in the computer science program.”

Junior William Urdahl, one of Tomczak’s Intro to Java students, said, “he is very knowledgeable and helpful [and he] has a philosophy of not just telling you the answer, but having you figure it out.”

This year, Tomczak wishes to become more comfortable teaching and develop his own unique teaching style. When he’s not teaching, Tomczak hopes to start playing golf year-round and sail. He also wants to fully settle into the St. John’s community and find a place to start sailing soon.