Deborah is a former software engineer, turned high-school computer science teacher, turned university instructor who is tasked with creating a masters of Computer Science Education program at UMBC. We asked her about her work and her priorities.
What have you learned from your experience as a CS major and professional?
My experience as a CS professional gave me great opportunities to work on projects that I would never have thought of in my life. When I went to school, most of my studies in CS were about theory, and not about practical applications. As a CS professional, I learned that I could make a difference in the world with a few lines of code, get paid very well, and meet many different people across the world. This experience informed my work as a CS educator because I was able to share with students what really happens after you earn a CS degree. I was able to share that teamwork is the most important skill because that is what you do when you are in the workplace.
What do you see as the greatest opportunities in CS for both teachers and students?
For teachers, having some computer science background opens doors to very interesting classes and projects that are based on the reality of what happens in the industry. For students, it opens up a world with so many doors that connect to so many other areas of interest. Many industries now hire people with a CS background as a part of almost every team. You can work as a programmer, but you don't have to with a CS degree, because you gain problem-solving and analytical skills that can be used in many different industries. Programming is just a tool that allows you to help these industries in solving their unique challenges.
As a high school classroom teacher, you were an advocate for your students and strongly promoted diversity in CS. What were some of the challenges and successes of that work?
As a high school classroom teacher, the first challenge that I faced was a lack of support from administrators and counselors. 12 years ago CS was considered a specialized elective that did not belong to any department, nor was there any funding to support my program. I was able to be creative using my own funds to do many interesting projects and involve students who got recognition from community leaders and that is how I got attention to CS. Over time, my associate principal became very supportive and an advocate. Promoting diversity in CS was a struggle so I attended PTA, FFA, sporting events and every time I talked to parents and told them about CS and my background. I was able to build my program from 53 students in the first year to 358 students in my third year with a population that looked very much like the school. (Pizza, lemonade, and other drinks are your best friend in recruiting students and their parents) When I got the attention of the parents I was able to recruit diverse students
You have been a PD facilitator for CS for many years. What is the most important thing about serving in that role?
I have a deep-seated passion for working with teachers because I realized that CSforALL meant CS for all students and CS for all teachers. In the classroom, I could teach 150 students a year but by supporting teachers I increase the number of students I impact even more by having many teachers trained to teach CS. I have learned that offering support to teachers in other subjects to become qualified as CS teachers is one of the best ways to help districts and states meet the shortage of computer science teachers. Also, I have learned that many teachers have time for PD throughout the year but often can't go back to school to obtain a degree to become qualified CS teachers. Our online Master of Arts Education program at UMBC is just starting this year and I hope that each course will support classroom teachers to see the breadth and beauty of CS with a focus on direct applications to their classrooms and schools. The greatest lesson is that teachers will do anything for their students, even given up their Saturdays, and it takes weeks, if not months, to become qualified to teach computer science.
You are also a lifelong learner. What new learning has been the most meaningful to you?
Yes, when I find an area that needs to be taught I go back to school and get the knowledge myself so that I can share it with the teachers I work with. In computer science, there's always something new, it's always changing. I just finished a Master's program in cybersecurity at UMBC so now I have a strong understanding of the careers and specialties in this area from ethical hackers, cyber law, and pen testers to cyber-warfare and other industry aspects. The instructors were excellent and most are professionals from places like NSA. We live in an amazing area with so many experts. I also attend conferences like women in cybersecurity and the participants in these sessions were everything from an Olympian horse trainer to somebody who had been in prison and was building a new life for herself. Imposter syndrome is a big problem in computer science and cybersecurity but the truth is that all belong because we never know the people who want to attack our systems, how they think. So it's ideal to have everybody from every background contribute so that there's good diversity
Note: Deborah is also currently an MIT- Inspire CS-AI Fellow, an ISACA SheLeadsTech Ambassador, and a WiCyS-Women in CyberSecurity Mentor. But most of all, Deborah is a computer science evangelist through and through!