Hello everyone! We're back with another installment of Macademics. This month I am interviewing Stephanie Vaughn. Stephanie is a Detroit native but spent 10 years in Chicago before heading back home in 2015.This move led her make a career change into Tech in the fall of 2016. Her formal training was at a Front-End Web Development bootcamp, however, last fall she participated in a Software Engineering fellowship for people who have non-traditional backgrounds in Tech. From here this led her to teach at an after school STEM+ entrepreneurship program as well as joining the Detroit Chapter of Black Girls Code on their Core Team. Curious about her career path? Read on to find out.
What made you want to become a Computer Science Teacher?
Teaching is something that I fell into unintentionally, believe it or not. Nobody told me that coding bootcamps send you out into the world with huge knowledge gaps that only become glaringly apparent once you start applying for jobs and interviewing. I wasn’t finding work like I was promised and I didn’t have the network that I have now, so it was very challenging during that first year after bootcamp. A classmate of mine ended up connecting me with a start-up that specialized in tech education that were looking for instructors to teach an after-school STEM + entrepreneurship program. I won’t say I took the job out of desperation, but my job search had hit another wall and since I’ve worked with kids in the past, so I figured I’d give it a try. Nearly 2 years later, I really feel like I’ve found my calling which I would have never imagined when I started on this new career journey.
What is your favorite part about teaching?
Watching my students thrive is easily the best part about teaching, without question. Seeing a student who is struggling finally catch on to the material and how their whole outlook changes. I love seeing the boost in their confidence and how proud they are of their newfound capabilities.
What's the hardest part of teaching?
Dealing with students who aren’t engaged because they’re intimidated and they are afraid to be challenged in any way. Sometimes getting through to them is harder than the material itself.
In a city like Detroit where only 13% of residents have a college degree but you have tech companies like Google, Twitter, Microsoft, etc. taking up residence and bringing countless transplants with them, it’s blatantly clear where their priorities lie.
As a Black Woman teaching a STEM course, do you face any obstacles trying to reach your students? If so, how do you overcome them?
In a city like Detroit where only 13% of residents have a college degree but you have tech companies like Google, Twitter, Microsoft, etc. taking up residence and bringing countless transplants with them, it’s blatantly clear where their priorities lie. So if there are any obstacles, they’re all directly related to the digital divide that exists here in Detroit: 40% of households do not have fixed broadband Internet access, and 70% of school age children are among them. 1-in-5 American adults uses a smartphone as a sole access point to the Internet, and that is strongly reflected in the 57% of Detroit residents who rely on a smartphone to get online. So, very often I am working with students who have never used a computer, or have had limited access through school but aren’t fully functional on it. So before I can teach them about computer logic and programming syntax, I have to make sure they know how to use the Shift key to a semi-colon, what a browser is, how to create a folder and save files under the proper naming conventions, etc.
Do you feel that you've inspired your students to pursue a career in STEM, if so, how?
I would like to think so! I know how important visibility is, and representation really does matter! I don’t expect everyone who takes a class I teach to become a developer or an engineer, but I at least want them to know that it’s something they’re fully capable of doing, and that someone who looks like them is already doing it. But it’s also 100% fine if they end up discovering that STEM is just not their ministry. It’s better that they figure it out early on, before they start college and are paying tuition for something they don’t even want to do.
Do you have any advice for those who want to teach?
Be passionate about the subject you’re teaching! You don’t have to be Ms. Frizzle from
The Magic School Bus, but think of ways that you can bring your love of the subject to the classroom outside of just daily lectures and curriculum benchmarks. If you’re not excited about it, how can you expect your students to be?