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WendyChinWendy Smith-Chin

Associate Professor & Computer Science and Information Technology Department Chair 

Community College of Baltimore County





 How did you get into CS?

I started having an interest in computer science in the early eighties when they introduced a computer science course into the curriculum at our high school. We learned how to do BASIC programming on a couple of computers in the back of a math classroom. That’s what sparked my interest, and I stuck with it and pursued a Computer Science Degree directly out of high school. I didn't feel like anybody tried to stop me from doing what I wanted to do, but being in an otherwise male-dominated field was potentially uncomfortable and discouraging for women at the time. When I graduated from college I went to work at Westinghouse Electric, which was here in Baltimore at the time. That role was a computer-related position as what would have been called a “secretary” at the time- not answering phones or anything, though; it was closer to data entry, almost a glorified admin. While I was there I was given plenty of opportunities to expand, including taking courses paid for by Westinghouse, which really catapulted me into a different area. I got my certification as a Novell network engineer and completed some database training which enabled me to do some hands-on networking and database work. These events are how I launched deeper into computer science.


What are some successes and challenges you've experienced along the way? 

A lot of people have a wiggly road to their final path, and my journey from starting out working for an engineering group at Westinghouse to where I am now as a department chair at a college was definitely unique. When I had my first child and wanted to work less, a close colleague at Westinghouse recommended keeping my computing skills up to date by teaching as an adjunct here at the community college. I did that and it did help, but it also started me on a different path out of industry and into education. From there, I ended up being an IT director at a very small private school with K-8 students, which was a really unique experience. I was there for about 6 or 7 years, then came back full-time to the community college where I had been adjuncting before. There was a lot of shifting gears in that mix. I returned to school, getting formal education in education, teaching and learning, then also went back and got my Master’s degree in Cyber Security. As it stands now, I work as the Department Chair of Computer Science and Information Technology and I also maintain my teaching piece here at the college.


The school I was at during my K-8 time was very small and served dyslexic students. One of my biggest successes there was coordinating our move into a much larger physical space. In the original location, there was a very small computer lab that even the teachers had to come into to do their most basic tasks. This was in the early 2000’s, so you would have expected the teachers to have computers on their desks, but they didn't. As we moved into this larger space, one of my roles as director was to decide how the computers, telephones, etc. were going to be set up in the new building. When we moved, we went from having about 20 computers in our old space to over 100 in the new one; it was great. We used a lot of different avenues to get the equipment; we didn’t have the money to just buy everything brand new, so we really had to be resourceful. A lot of the equipment was donated excess from the federal government, which we then had to retool and get ready for use. Getting all of that in order was a really proud moment.


What do you find compelling about CS?

Even from my early days, the foundations of what CS is are the same. The most basic skills- inputting, outputting, processing- we're still doing the same things. But the methods, and of course the capabilities that we have, have grown exponentially over the years. My current work in CS is on the education side, so I don't do much of the hands-on work that I used to do; at this point in my career, I'm molding others to be the computer scientists of the future. I find computing very interesting because it’s always changing. We just started a data science program, and now with chatGPT and AI we're seeing yet another shift. In my work, it's really just trying to decide what path to take and how we can support students as they begin to navigate industry and figure out what computer science means for the future.


What's going well for you now?

A couple of things come to mind. Here at CCBC we started our data science degree program. We’ve also been working on creating an AI path with a couple of courses in conjunction with Baltimore County Public Schools, so that's very exciting, and back in 2017 a colleague and I started the Women in Technology program here at CCBC. COVID did take a bit of a toll on it, but we’re getting back into meeting on a regular basis, plus we’re resuming the camp we host for high school girls in technology this summer. The Women in Technology group is there to support ladies in an arena where they may feel otherwise uncomfortable; we bring in people from outside industry to talk about their paths and provide encouragement and training. My colleague and I, who were both in computing in a time when there were very few women in the industry, are quite proud of that organization. 


Do you have any advice, suggestions, or resources that you would like to share with people who are learning or teaching CS?

Sometimes I feel like the thought of math is a barrier to folks when it comes to computer science, so my advice would be to not be afraid of the word ‘math’. If it isn’t something you're already comfortable with, it can be learned; don't let it scare you off of computing. Give it a try and you’ll probably find it's not as bad as you might think. As for teaching CS, I would just say that we need to make it relevant. In an introductory computer class, you’re going to have students from all walks of life; anything they learn needs to tie in to their life, their ongoing educational track, their professional goals. They need to understand how what they're learning pertains to these things. 


Anything else on your mind?

We've been working with the MCCE group for about 2 years now and it's been really eye-opening for us in a couple of ways on the computer science side. We’re working on a grant with our Teacher Ed. folks to incorporate computational thinking into the curriculum, and that's going very well. It has also given us access to resources in the State of Maryland that we didn't have previously, and that's been wonderful. We've had great opportunities for training and participation, getting to know people and hear different things. It's been very valuable in informing how we approach teaching and what we include in our courses and we’re grateful for that opportunity.

Dianne O'Grady-Cunniff, dogrady at usmd dot edu
Director, Maryland Center for Computing Education

Dr. Megean Garvin, mgarvin at usmd dot edu
Director of Research, Maryland Center for Computing Education

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Maryland Center for Computing Education
3300 Metzerott Rd. Adelphi, MD 20783
MCCE received initial support from the National Science Foundation, (MSP)2 Grant No. 0831970.