University of Toronto Magazine University of Toronto Magazine
Prof. Daniel Zingaro, wearing a red and yellow jumpsuit, in a parachute harness, floating toward a lectern
Illustration by David Sparshott

His Message to Students? I Persevered, and So Can You

Born visually impaired, Prof. Daniel Zingaro connects with students by sharing his own trials at school – and his triumphs

Computer science professor Daniel Zingaro almost dropped out of computer science at university. Twice. He also nearly failed a course he now teaches.

While others might keep this less-than-pristine academic history to themselves, he makes a point of sharing it with his students. “I want them to know it’s not an intellectual failing to struggle, and they’re not alone if they’re finding certain concepts really tough,” says Zingaro, a faculty adviser and associate professor in the teaching stream at U of T Mississauga.

For him, falling in love with computing was the easy part. One of his earliest memories is sitting contentedly beside his programmer father as they created a math game together. Born visually impaired, Zingaro couldn’t see the screen but was mesmerized by the process. Once he began using accessible technology, he designed his own games.

As a computer science student, however, keeping pace was often an uphill battle. “I felt like I wasn’t getting it like everyone else,” he says. “I spent hours puzzling things out.” At one point, he came close to switching to psychology.

Zingaro had barely started his master’s when he decided he’d had enough. His supervisor convinced him to persevere, and while doing his PhD he found his niche exploring how to teach computer science.

Today he’s the recipient of a U of T Early Career Teaching Award and an internationally recognized expert in an active-learning approach that’s now widely used in computer science education. He no longer has time to design games, but he listens to video game music (it’s a thing), enjoys indoor rock climbing and even tried skydiving. He shares his interests with his students to give them an opportunity to connect.

“My aim is for students to be comfortable telling me they don’t understand,” he says. “I assure them that we have a shared responsibility for their learning. And I try to show them that putting in the extra effort is worth it because of the great feeling you get in the end. It’s all about not giving up.”

Recent Posts

Nisha Pahuja, wearing a black 3/4 sleeve top and black-framed glasses, sitting on a chair at a corner next to potted plants in front of large windows, with sunlight flooding the room

Fighting for Justice

In her latest documentary, filmmaker Nisha Pahuja tackles a most difficult topic – sexual assault

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. 2 Responses to “ His Message to Students? I Persevered, and So Can You ”

  2. Angelo Zingaro says:

    I read this story with interest and can attest to the many challenges of continuing to persevere in spite of adversity. The programmer father can confirm!

  3. University of Toronto Magazine says:

    Wendy Burton (PhD 2016) writes:

    It was so nice to see this short piece about award-winning computer science teacher Dan Zingaro.

    On top of everything else, Dan has a great sense of humour. My son was one of his “seeing eye students,” which is how he described the many students who hung around his office, seeking coaching -- or companionship with a kindred spirit.

    Dan is a wonderful mentor. He encouraged my son to become a TA, an experience that he now puts to use as a scrum master and team lead at a tech firm.

    The world needs more Dans!