Marie desJardins, new AAAI fellow, advocates for computer science education in K–12 schools

By: Megan Hanks Mastrola
Mar 1, 2018

Marie desJardins. (Photo by Marlayna Demond '11 for UMBC.)

Marie desJardins, associate dean of the College of Engineering and Information Technology and professor of computer science, recently wrote a piece for The Baltimore Sun about the importance of computer science education in K12 schools. She is a leader in the artificial intelligence field and has been nationally recognized for her commitment to mentoring, work increasing diversity in computing, and success expanding computer science education in K12 schools.

In the op-ed, desJardins writes about why it is important to expose K12 students to computer science, for both their benefit (in terms of expanded career options) and the benefit of fields that rely on STEM talent. “The need for computer science and computational thinking skills is becoming pervasive not just in the world of software engineers, but in fields as varied as science, design, marketing, and public policy,” she writes.

desJardins describes in the Sun her work with “CS Matters in Maryland,” an initiative that seeks to ensure all students across the state have access to computer science education as part of their regular curriculum. “Our ‘CS Matters in Maryland’ project has trained high school teachers in all of the state’s school systems, emphasizing equity and inclusion for all student demographics and all school systems,” she says.

While this particular project focuses on the state of Maryland, desJardins has been honored across the U.S. for her work in the field. In the past month alone, she has received the Distinguished Alumni Award in Computer Science from UC Berkeley, her alma mater and was formally recognized as a fellow of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence.

“I was absolutely overwhelmed when I learned that I had been named one of UC Berkeley’s two Outstanding Alumni in Computer Science for 2018, joining a group of computer scientists for which I have immense respect and admiration,” desJardins said. “It is hard to put into words how much it meant to me to have received this award in the same week that I was inducted as a Fellow of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, a recognition that only a handful of AI scientists receive each year. It is especially meaningful to me that the citations on both awards refer equally to my research and to my mentoring, teaching, and diversity efforts.”

A recent interview with Iridescent brings together desJardins’s research on “intelligent learning” — how robots can learn to solve complicated tasks in complex settings — with her work with students from diverse backgrounds, across all majors. In describing UMBC’s Grand Challenge Scholars Program, she highlights how technology matters, but can’t stand alone — how combining the perspectives of people from all backgrounds and all fields is essential to solving the world’s problems.

“Getting these students together from really different perspectives and having them talk about some of these hard problems is initially really exciting and also very hard,” she explains. “Then, it gets easier. The initial barrier is often just one of language and perspective.”

desJardins continues to work to bridge those divides through her teaching, advocacy, and research, and is now recognized by both Forbes and TechRepublic as a top artificial intelligence expert to follow online.

Read the entire piece in The Baltimore Sun, “All Kids Should Have a Computer Science Education.

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