Changing the Face of Technology: Code Like A Girl

Cheryl Swanier

Cheryl Swanier is being honored as a Champion of Change for her work to expand opportunities for young learners from communities historically underserved or underrepresented in tech fields.

As a computer scientist and an educator, I am not here just to teach but to be innovative, creative, and to make a difference in the lives of the students that I serve. I am honored to be invited to the White House with others from across the nation who are increasing public engagement, particularly in technology. At Fort Valley State University (FVSU), one of my goals is to recruit and retain minorities and girls in computing. My goal as an educator is not just to lecture, but also to inspire enthusiasm, get students to actively participate in their education, and facilitate their learning with proper educational scaffolding. I believe that with adequate support almost any student who really applies himself or herself can be successful.

I have always wanted to make a difference in the world, particularly Computer Science. As a computer scientist, I help shape the future by stimulating the minds of the workforce of tomorrow and by collaborating with many programs focused on increasing the computing pipeline and getting students interested in STEM disciplines and future technology careers. For the past five years, I have tirelessly worked with outreach initiatives sponsored by the National Science Foundation to broaden participation in computing (BPC) and to improve computer science education at all levels. One of these initiatives is the ARTSI Alliance (Advancing Robotics, Technology for Societal Impact), which enabled me to establish the first robotics lab at Fort Valley State University. The robotics programming is implemented in Tekkotsu, a robotics application framework in conjunction with Dr. Dave Touretzky at Carnegie Mellon University. Another initiative is the STARS Alliance (Students & Technology in Academia, Research & Service), a regional partnership among academia, industry, K-12 and the community to strengthen local BPC programs by focusing on K-12 outreach, community service, student leadership and computing diversity research. Other BPC initiatives that I have collaborated with include African-American Researchers in Computing Science (AARCS), which aims to increase the number of African-Americans at the levels of tenure track faculty and research scientist in the computing sciences, and the Alliance for the Advancement of African-American Researchers in Computing (A4RC), an alliance to increase the number of African-American recipients of advanced degrees in computing, particularly, at the Ph.D. level.

I am also actively affiliated with professional organizations such as the National Council of Women in Technology (NCWIT) Academic Alliance and the NCWIT Pacesetters. Consequently, I provide mentoring to undergraduate students and ascertain strategies that would increase the number of underrepresented minorities and women in computing. I facilitate presentations to provide undergraduates with opportunities to gain information on research experiences, internships and on exploring the graduate experience. As a result of my mentoring activities, I have students who are pursuing PhDs in computer science, working in Corporate America and governmental agencies.  In 2013, I was honored to receive the Undergraduate Research Mentoring Award from NCWIT for excellence in mentoring undergraduate women in computing science.

I also advise the undergraduate chapter of the FVSU Association of Computing Machinery (ACM), and I actively encourage community service. Every semester, my students and I are tutoring local middle school students in mathematics and providing workshops to teach middle and high school students how to write code using a visual programming language, to develop websites as well as how to program robots.  In addition, the FVSU ACM hosts a Distinguished Lecture Series where computer scientists from both academia and industry are invited to FVSU to inspire our students by sharing their experiences and expertise. I also chair the annual Research Day Program at my institution, which showcases the research of faculty and students via poster sessions and oral presentations.

I partner with organizations such as Girls Inc., Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Dr. Betty Shabazz Delta Academy and Dr. Jeanne L. Noble Delta GEMS, and Links, Inc. in a concerted effort to broaden participation in computing for underrepresented minorities and girls.  In 2012, I was honored to receive the Special Recognition Award for the STEM outreach activities that I provide for Girls Inc., an organization that inspires all girls to be Strong, Smart, and Bold. These workshops include teaching girls from K-12 how to learn visual programming languages, develop websites, and program robots.

As a college professor, I have been given the means and opportunity to reach many young adults, by teaching and nurturing their talent. I am a living affirmation that your dreams and goals are attainable. In addition to teaching, I believe that mentoring is very valuable for a student’s success. In computer science and engineering programs, there are proportionately fewer women and minorities in these areas, and I will continue to contribute to ongoing efforts of building support networks to recruit and improve the success rate of these students. During all of my computer science studies, I can only remember one woman that I had as an instructor, which at times was discouraging. So I invite you to sit with me as I continue my endeavors in broadening participation in computing.

Cheryl Swanier is the Associate Professor in For Valley State University’s Department of Mathematics and Computer Science.

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