Lately, we have focused quite a bit on computer science here at Daily Edventures. This is for good reason: Computer science is one of the highest paying college degrees, and computer programming and coding jobs are growing at two times the U.S. average. And according to code.org, less than 2.4 percent of college students graduate with a degree in computer science. If you happen to be a woman or a minority, the news is even worse: while 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees are earned by women, just 12 percent of computer science degrees are awarded to women.
Margaret Burnett is not only working to change this trend, she has lived it. Burnett, a professor of computer science and proud mentor, has been a pioneer of women in computer science since she started her career in 1971. In fact, she was the first woman hired into management at a 13,000-employee complex of Procter & Gamble. Her mentor at that time, Burnett tells us, had to fight “tooth and nail to hire me instead of my competitor, who was a man.”
Today, Burnett continues to be a pioneer, specifically in end-user software engineering. She established the EUSES Consortium, a multi-university collaboration which has earned international recognition. And mentoring is a focal point of her career, working with high school students, undergrads and graduate students alike. Between helping students and serving as co-chair of the National Center for Women & IT Academic Alliance (NCWIT), Burnett is ensuring that women will play an important and growing role in the careers of the future.
Enjoy today’s Daily Edventure with Margaret Burnett.
What drew you to the field of education? Why is it important to you?
It’s tremendously rewarding to lift a good student up to where they can really soar.
Can you tell us about a favorite teacher, or someone who made a difference in your career or life?
Ollie Binford: my first champion. He hired me into my first Software Engineering job right out of college, because he knew I was the most qualified for the position, standing up to tremendous pressure to instead hire a man.
Please describe how your mentoring achievements have advanced education. What has changed as a result of your work?
A lot of the mentoring I do is on research projects. Besides mentoring my graduate students in their research projects, I also regularly mentor a few undergraduates in research projects, and sometimes even one or two high-school students join my research team, too. In that context, I have two answers.
First, I take so much pleasure in the particular students who changed — they began to aspire to goals they had not imagined for themselves before, and to believe in themselves. And then they achieved those goals and beyond.
Second, I’ve contributed some know-how to systematize some of the things I do. The way I did this was to work with a group at the National Center for Women & IT (NCWIT) to create an “REU-in-a-Box”. These in-a-boxes are “kits” that other faculty can freely download and customize, so that they have a sort of plug-in-and-go way to start recruiting and working one-on-one with undergraduates on research projects.
In your view, what is the most exciting innovation happening in college education today?
Active learning and other opportunities that enable students to take more responsibility in the quality of their education.
Is there a 21st century skill (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, or creativity and innovation) that you are most passionate about? Why?
All of the above, but I’m downright religious about the importance of good writing.
If you could give one educational tool to every college student in the world, what would it be? Why?
The book “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser.
How must education change in your country/region to ensure that students are equipped to thrive in the 21st century?
Our country and my state are not prioritizing the support of high-quality college/university education. They do not seem to realize that having the highest quality university system in the world is the key to our national and state economies and, indeed, to the future of our country.
How can educators facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?
Sometimes it takes so little to help someone. Sometimes just a small comment on a test can let someone know they’re graduate student material. Or sometimes they are wonderful students but have less background than the others — in that case, just let them know they need to “build up their brains” in that particular area of expertise through practice, just as in any other skill.
Professor of Computer Science
Oregon State University
Corvallis, Oregon, USA
- Birthplace: Springfield, Illinois, USA
- Current residence: Corvallis, Oregon, USA
- Education: Ph.D. and M.S. Computer Science, University of Kansas; B.A. Mathematics, Miami University, Ohio
- Person who inspires me most: My dad. One of the finest people I’ve ever known.
- Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Seattle (pleasure). Then Gemany and Luxembourg (work).
- When was the last time you laughed? Why? I laugh every day: there’s plenty of humor in everyday life. I laughed 10 minutes ago while joking with a student about how busy he is.
- Favorite book: I really like mysteries. Also, one of my favorite non-fictions is “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser.
- Favorite music: Broadway musical theater.
- What is the best advice you have ever received? Holding a grudge or hate inside causes you a lot more pain than it causes the person you’re hating.
- Your favorite quote or motto: Onward and upward!