ECU computer science instructor follows in late father’s footsteps

When his father taught as a professor at East Carolina University, Aleksei Vilkomir traveled from Moscow to Greenville to visit.

“The first time I came here, I was really impressed with the university,” Vilkomir said. “I studied in post-Soviet Union, so the university looks different and feels different. It’s completely different.”

Aleksei Vilkomir instructs students in class.

Now, a year and a half after his father’s death, Vilkomir is following in his father’s footsteps as a new teaching instructor in the Department of Computer Science.

“I think he would be really surprised,” Vilkomir said of his father’s reaction to his new career.

Dr. Sergiy Vilkomir came to ECU in 2008, serving as a professor in the Department of Computer Science. He received numerous honors, including a faculty research award, ECU scholar-teacher award and a distinguished professor of teaching award from the UNC Board of Governors.

After visiting his father, Aleksei Vilkomir began making plans with his wife to move the family from Russia to Greenville. He arrived in 2019 and started work toward a master’s degree at ECU.

“I was an IT manager and that was more of a manager position, and I wanted to switch back to be closer to software engineering,” he said. “We discussed it several years. It’s not so easy to decide that ‘OK, I’m going back to school.’ It’s not cheap, first of all, to move to another country, so it took us like six years.”

He obtained his master’s in software engineering in 2020, and with both of his parents working as teachers, he gravitated toward a career in the classroom.

“I wanted to try to share my knowledge, and I wanted to somehow pay back the computer science department and the university and to try to share my many years of experience,” he said.

With nearly 20 years of experience in the field, he was hired to begin teaching at ECU this fall.

“I have quite a bit of experience in computer-related fields,” he said. “I was a software developer. I was an automation engineer for a short time, and I was an IT manager for more than 10 years.”

Still, the classroom would be different.

“On the first day, I was extremely nervous, but I thought the students were probably even more nervous,” he said of his first time leading a class on Aug. 23. “Everything IT related, I have experience and I have a good education, so it’s not a problem. After the first day, I went to my colleagues and asked them for some hints. You need to find an approach to the students because with them it’s not always easy to start.”

Vilkomir said he wants to integrate classical educational approaches with hands-on activities. As an example, he is showing his discrete structures students how it is connected to software development.

“We do coding in the discrete structures class, and before that was not the case here,” he said.

He said every student learns differently.

“You need to take into account the background of the students, especially if we’re talking about intro courses,” he said. “Students have different backgrounds and some of them have more experience and know what I am showing, but for other students, sometimes it’s a challenge.”

Sergiy Vilkomir started teaching at ECU in 2008 and was a professor in the Department of Computer Science until his death in 2020. (ECU photo)

ECU started its bachelor’s degree in software engineering in 2019, and Vilkomir is happy to be among the program’s first instructors.

“It is exciting, but I also feel some responsibility,” he said. “Like for the foundation courses, I was the first person who introduced programming to these students, and I need to do it in such a way that they want to do it and want to continue with the program.”

Eventually, he would like to climb the teaching ladder, but his focus now is on the fall semester.

“At some point I would like to get my Ph.D. and move from a teaching instructor to the next level, but right now I want to build a solid foundation for my courses,” he said.

Dr. Venkat Gudivada, professor and chair of ECU’s Department of Computer Science, worked with Sergiy Vilkomir for about five years.

“Dr. Vilkomir took great interest in teaching as well as involving students in his research,” Gudivada said. “His research papers are primarily co-authored with students. He was very organized and methodical in his approach to teaching and research.”

Gudivada said he sees similarities between father and son, such as their attention to detail and commitment to a student-centric learning environment.

“We are excited that Aleksei chose to fill the vacuum left by his father,” Gudivada said. “… Aleksei is very generous with his time in getting involved with departmental activities beyond the call of duty. Aleksei is an excellent addition to the department. He continues the legacy of his late father.”

Aleksei Vilkomir said his father, who died on Feb. 9, 2020, is never far from his mind, especially when he teaches SENG 1010, a discrete structures course.

“It is very personal to me because my father was teaching a similar course, and for me, I don’t want to do a bad job with this course because it is a memory of my father,” he said.

He is reminded of his father every day he walks into his office — C111 in the Science and Technology Building, the one with the “UNDAUNTED” banner hanging on the wall. It’s the same office his father had when he taught at ECU.

“I had the choice of several offices,” he said. “I decided on this one.”

Aleksei Vilkomir works in his office, the same office his late father, Sergiy Vilkomir, worked in as a professor before his death in 2020.