Dr. Rose Shumba
Chair & Professor
Department of Computer Science
Bowie State University
How did you get into this area?
I've always loved plants and biology, so naturally, after finishing high school, I thought I'd study Agriculture. But a chat with my brother-in-law made me think about Agricultural Engineering. I even managed to score an internship at our city’s only Institute of Agriculture. However, there were no local programs in this field, so I had to rethink my plans. I eventually chose Agricultural Economics because it was the right fit for me.
Then I bumped into my old high school friend, Mercy. She was studying Computer Science and was so enthusiastic about it that it got me curious. I got hooked when I visited the computer lab with her and saw a computer for the first time. Hearing about her goal to work in a bank because of the increasing use of computers got me thinking about my career too.
After college, I landed a job as a software engineer at a top tech company that builds software and hardware for banks. My old university even nominated me for a scholarship to get an MSc and a Ph.D. in Computer Science at Manchester Victoria and Birmingham Universities, respectively. After which, I started my career in academia.
Why did this work become essential to you?
First, I love the challenge of solving problems using technology. Something is exciting about creating solutions that have real-world impacts. Whether building software to simplify banking or designing an app to streamline daily tasks, knowing that my work is improving people's lives is a beautiful feeling.
Second, the field of computer science is constantly changing, and this constant evolution means I'm always learning something new. I'm never stuck in a rut because there's always a new challenge to tackle or a new concept to understand. This constant growth and the chance to be innovative make my work so fulfilling.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the opportunity to inspire and educate the next generation became integral to why this work is essential to me. Seeing my students grasp new concepts, develop innovative solutions, and grow into confident, capable professionals is an enriching experience. The opportunity to play a small part in their journey makes this work indispensable to me.
Reflecting on my academic journey, I remember having limited opportunities to experience the practical side of my education. I need more experiential learning to explore different career paths and understand the real-world applications of my studies.
So now, I'm passionate about giving my students those opportunities. Through internships, co-ops, and industry-related capstone projects, my students can bridge the gap between what they learn in the classroom and what they'll do in their careers. These experiences allow them to explore different career paths, develop critical professional skills, and even network within their industry.
Incorporating these real-world learning opportunities into my work as an educator has become essential. Seeing how these experiences empower my students, helping them grow into professionals ready to make a difference in their industry, is truly rewarding. That's why this work is so important to me.
How did your professional workspace experience influence how you educate students?
My experiences in the professional workspace have greatly influenced my approach to educating students. Having been on the front lines of the industry, I've seen first-hand the types of skills that are necessary for success. This insight allows me to tailor my teaching methods to better prepare students for what they'll face when they enter the workforce.
One of the critical lessons I've learned from my professional experience is the importance of practical, hands-on learning. In the professional world, more is needed to understand theoretical concepts; you must be able to apply these concepts in real-world situations. Because of this, I prioritize incorporating practical exercises and real-world examples into my lessons.
In addition, my professional experience has shown me the value of soft skills like communication, teamwork, and problem-solving. These are often just as important as technical skills in a professional setting, so I aim to help students develop these abilities alongside their technical knowledge.
Lastly, my experience has taught me the importance of staying current with industry trends and evolving technologies. To prepare my students for the fast-paced tech industry, I strive to keep my curriculum up-to-date and incorporate the latest technologies and methodologies into my lessons.
My professional experience has shaped my teaching methods by emphasizing the importance of practical and soft skills and staying current with industry trends.
What opportunities made a difference?
Reflecting on my journey, some standout experiences shaped me. My high school teachers had faith in me and gave me opportunities like tutoring math in schools, a first taste of how fulfilling teaching could be.
Early in my career, I was lucky to have mentors who steered me through various professional ups and downs, offering wisdom and support that helped me to grow.
Another pivotal experience was attending conferences like the Special Interest Group in Computer Science Education. These events connected me with like-minded professionals, fostering collaborations that led to co-authoring papers and proposals - these were key stepping stones in my academic development.
Presenting research at discipline-specific conferences was also invaluable. It was a platform to sharpen my research and presentation skills, and more importantly, it linked me with a national network of faculty members, which led to committee nominations.
Importantly, my internship at an agricultural engineering institute was a turning point, although not directly related to my current field. It opened my eyes to the practicalities of the professional world and sparked my curiosity about the inner workings of things.
My friend Mercy was also a significant influence. Her passion for computer science inspired me to explore this field, which eventually became my career and love.
Working at a leading tech company straight out of college was an opportunity of a lifetime. I was involved in real-world projects, resolved actual problems, and got to understand the intricacies of professional life. This experience equipped me with priceless insights and skills.
Finally, being nominated for a British Council scholarship for an MS in Computer Science at Manchester University, followed by a Ph.D. at Birmingham University, was life-changing. It enriched my academic knowledge and gave me a global perspective, fostering personal and professional growth.
These opportunities shaped my career path and influenced how I educate my students today. They taught me the value of being proactive and seizing opportunities and the immense difference they can make in one's life - this is why I firmly believe in giving my students practical learning opportunities.
What are some challenges you have faced?
There were many hurdles on my path to where I am now. My schooling was lonely, as I needed more female companions. My friend Mercy, the only other woman studying computer science with me, was a commuter and only sometimes around. This left me with primarily male peers I would sit with after classes. This was an isolating experience, but it taught me to rely on my strength and resilience.
When I went to the UK for my master's degree, I was the only woman and black student among 15. It was challenging to find my place in such an environment. The program I was enrolled in, an MS in System Design, was also rigorous. It included subjects like formal methods, AI, and expert systems, some of which were new to me. Learning these topics was a struggle, especially without the convenience of personal laptops back then. I would spend my weekends in the lab, writing programs in LISP, and dedicating my time and energy to catch up with the program’s pace.
When I started my Ph.D., my personal life also presented challenges. I had just become a mother to a two-week-old baby, and my husband was also pursuing his Ph.D. Daycare was prohibitively expensive, so we had to juggle our schedules to care for our baby. It was a time of intense pressure and little rest, but it taught me about perseverance, sacrifice, and the power of dedicated effort.
Through all these experiences, I have been in places where I had to work twice as hard to gain acceptance. I've been in environments where I needed to fit in. But these struggles have shaped me, making me more robust and determined. They have taught me the importance of resilience, hard work, and self-belief, values that I now strive to instill in my students.
What are some successes you have had?
I've had many successes in my journey that I'm grateful for. For instance, when applying for promotion, I confidently decided to do a promotion to full professor and tenure. Even though I was told that no one had ever been granted both simultaneously, I trusted in my capabilities and my work. To the surprise of many of my colleagues, I achieved both at my first attempt, demonstrating the importance of self-belief and determination.
Another achievement I'm particularly proud of is my work in promoting gender diversity in the tech field. Throughout my career, I've been driven by my own experiences of loneliness as a woman in a male-dominated field. I founded a Women in Computer Science Club at every institution I've worked at. These clubs, which usually grow from about six to fifty members, provide a supportive community for women in tech. They offer opportunities to learn more about the field, network with other women, and discover various career paths.
To further this mission, I've also sought funding to support research and participation in events like the Grace Hopper Conference, one of the largest gatherings of women technologists worldwide. Last year, we took students to this conference, and six of them returned with job offers and internships, a testament to the impact of such opportunities.
In terms of experiential learning, recognizing the lack of opportunities I faced in my education, I've worked to build a pipeline for our students to the tech industry. We invite industry partners to our campus for various activities like guest lectures, mentorships for capstone projects, and offering internships. This project has seen great success, demonstrating the power of hands-on learning in preparing students for their future careers. These successes validate my work and approach and fuel my ongoing commitment to broaden participation in tech and enhance my students' educational experience.