NJIT, Kean co-host inaugural computer science education awards ceremony

UNION, NJ — There’s no shortage of accolades in Hollywood, with the Oscars, Tonys, Grammys and Emmys.
“But what about the teachers?” asked James Geller, a computer science professor and associate dean of research at New Jersey Institute of Technology’s Ying Wu College of Computing Sciences.
Geller decided to organize an award ceremony to celebrate the contributions and commitment to teaching college-level computer science, according to a recent press release. It was a joint venture between NJIT and Patricia Morreale, chairwoman of the computer science department at Kean University, where the ceremony took place Aug. 17 in conjunction with the third annual Computer Science Chairs Conference.
“I like movies but I don’t think Leonardo DiCaprio has really improved the life of anybody who’s watching him in a movie,” Geller quipped. “I think it’s teachers who are improving the lives of people, and they should be awarded for that.”
Honorees included Princeton University computer science professor and author Brian Kernighan winning the Outstanding Impact on the Profession of Computer Science Education award, NJIT university lecturer Junilda Spirollari winning the Outstanding Performance in Computer Science Education at a Ph.D.-Granting New Jersey Institution award, and Deborah Knox, associate professor of computer science at The College of New Jersey, winning the Outstanding Performance in Computer Science Education at an Undergraduate and M.S.-Granting New Jersey Institution award.
After accepting his award, Kernighan gave a presentation on teaching digital humanities in computer science by exploring an early social network.
Also on hand were Kean University Provost Jeffrey Toney, who welcomed the audience of computer scientists, and New Jersey Deputy Secretary of Higher Education Gregg Edwards, who touched on his team’s efforts to enhance the best practices in computer science education.
“New Jersey is part of a national effort to promote STEM learning through various mechanisms — higher education is one of them, K through 12 is another,” Edwards said. “But we’re also trying to identify what else is happening in defined communities to promote STEM learning.”
Another big effort, Edwards said, is making sure more New Jersey students graduate from high school ready for college. “We’re developing new learning standards and tools to measure how well we’re doing to reach those standards.”
The recipients shared highlights of the experiences in their lives that guided them toward excellence in teaching. Spirollari said that 20 years ago, she would have “never imagined this day, coming from such an impoverished, small country in the Mediterranean where women were not meant for computer science.”
For Knox, excellence in teaching may be measured in many ways, but to a student, a professor’s excellence isn’t necessarily about teaching theory or creating an application — or even the grade earned. “A student may measure our excellence when we make a connection in order to share our own joy of learning and our own fulfillment in guiding the student to success,” she said.
Although it took three years to get off the ground, Geller is thrilled with the turnout and warm reception of the award ceremony.
“No, New Jersey will never be Hollywood, but New Jersey could be the education state. New Jersey could be the software state. And let’s remember,” Geller said, “everything that makes technology tick was invented in New Jersey.”