Dr. Colleen Lewis

Dr. Colleen Lewis

The Denice Denton Emerging Leader ABIE Award recognizes a junior faculty member for high-quality research and significant positive impact on diversity. This year’s winner is Dr. Colleen Lewis, a professor of computer science at Harvey Mudd College who specializes in computer science education. Colleen is passionate about broadening participation in computer science as one strategy she can use to fight inequity and injustice, and this goal drives her teaching, research, and service at Harvey Mudd College.

Before joining the faculty at Mudd, Colleen completed her B.S. in electrical engineering and computer science (EECS) at the University of California, Berkeley. After that she worked in industry for a few years before returning to Berkeley to complete a MS in computer science and a Ph.D. in science and mathematics education. Colleen researches how people learn computer science and how people feel about learning computer science.

Colleen had the opportunity to learn computer programming as a required subject in her public school from second through ninth grade. Despite this privilege, she had a difficult time in the EECS major at Berkeley and frequently questioned her abilities and whether she belonged in CS. In college, people frequently advised Colleen that she “wouldn’t like CS.”

They were wrong, but as a woman, an extrovert, an activist, a morning person, and not a “computer person,” she didn’t fit people’s stereotype of a successful computer scientist. With the support of family and friends, Colleen made it through her B.S. and really enjoyed herself. Having nearly failed a computer science class in college, Colleen tries to frame learning for her students as a process naturally filled with starts, stops, and a slow process toward understanding what you do not understand *yet*.

This practice came out of her research understanding how students evaluate their ability within computer science and whether or not they “fit” in CS. In 2011, Colleen also co-founded a summer bridge program, CS KickStart, for first-year women interested in computer science at Berkeley. The program was designed to respond to a pattern of higher rates of attrition Colleen documented among women in the introductory computer science course at Berkeley.

Colleen’s overarching goal is to understand and remove both structural and cultural barriers to people pursuing computer science. For example, Colleen identified in her research how the undergraduate computer science course sequence at Berkeley disadvantages students who have not learned Java before college. Students most frequently learn Java within an Advanced Placement Computer Science A course, but access to these courses is limited and only small percentages of test takers identify themselves as Native American, African American, Black, Latina, and/or female.

To support more students having pre-college access to computer science, Colleen has created an online course on EdX to help teachers teach computer science using the programming language Scratch. Colleen views improving computer science teaching as central to the goal of broadening participation in computer science. Colleen has a National Science Foundation grant to document tips for teaching computer science which are posted online at CSTeachingTips.org and on Twitter at @CSTeachingTips. These tips seek to disseminate strategies for broadening participation such as those arising from Colleen͛s other research to identify effective teaching practices for creating equitable learning spaces where all students have the opportunity to learn.

While Colleen has dedicated herself to broadening participation in computer science, she’s excited to help others find creative and sustainable ways to contribute to this important goal. For example, in her computer science classes Colleen teaches students about unconscious bias, microaggressions, stereotype threat, and other structural and cultural barriers so that they can be conscious of these mechanisms within their classes, communities, and eventual workplaces. At UC Berkeley, Colleen completed a Ph.D. in science and mathematics education, a MS in computer science and BS in electrical engineering and computer science. Her research seeks to identify effective teaching practices for creating equitable learning spaces where all students have the opportunity to learn. Colleen curates CSTeachingTips.org, a NSF-sponsored project for disseminating effective computer science teaching practices.

Read our interview with Colleen here.

Meet Colleen at Booth #2800 (Harvey Mudd College and CSTeaching tips.org) during the Expo.

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