Teaching via Zoom has had some unexpected benefits, college professor says, though robotics class is still a challenge. Her real passion is inspiring young women and girls to go into computer science.
TechRepublic’s Karen Roby spoke with Dr. Pauline Mosley, assistant chair of Information Technology at the Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems at Pace University, about getting girls interested in STEM careers and the challenges associated with teaching robotics via Zoom. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Pauline Mosley: Transitioning from face-to-face modality into a virtual modality has been challenging. However, it has been very, very rewarding. For example, this past semester, I taught a course called Web Design for Nonprofit Organizations, which was comprised of students from China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. It was amazing how we were able to, through Zoom, still get the work done. It actually brought another dimension to the course because students now had to really see how to work in international modality, with different time zones. So, it became more real-world, that we normally wouldn’t have gotten that experience in a regular traditional face-to-face modality. That was an unexpected richness that actually happened to the course that I’m thrilled [with]. It’s a lifetime experience that the students actually encountered, being able to work with students, meet with other cultures all over the world, and work with a community partner, and at the end, produce a product that was viable and had some sort of functionality for the community partner.
Karen Roby: With the work you do there, utilizing robotics to teach problem solving and computing and cybersecurity concepts, that’s really important work right now. Talk a little bit about the courses that you’re teaching and how you’re bringing robotics into the classroom.
Pauline Mosley: Right now, I’m teaching Introduction to Cybersecurity on the master’s program. This is a course that is a first-level entry course for our master’s students. Because this is a new program right now, I cannot really bring the robotics into this, because of the virtual modality that we’re teaching in. However, this course, what I am most passionate about is the young women that are in this program and trying to mentor them. Because as we know, women in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and particularly the cybersecurity fields, are very, very low, statistics are less than 2%.
Another major component of what I do is, I run a GenCyber camp, which has been in existence for three years. This year, we were funded again by the National Science Foundation and the National Security Agency. But unfortunately, due to COVID-19, we had to table that until next year. This camp is targeted toward high school students, and it also works with the university students. The Pace University students are counselors and mentors, and they actually help run and facilitate the camp, which is open to high school students throughout the metropolitan area. The intent of this camp is to do a few things: one, to raise awareness of cybersecurity; two, to engage students in cybersecurity; and three, it’s also to lessen the gap in cybersecurity for women and minorities. This is a camp, it’s a one-week camp, that’s housed on the Pleasantville (NY) campus. We’re hoping to run this camp next year, virtually, until COVID is abated, and then we can resume back to face-to-face modality.
Now, the other robotic courses that I teach, I love robotics because robotics, the land, air and sea, in addition to them being very cool, they’re also very intriguing and very engaging, and they pique students’ interest. I utilize these robotic tools as really methodologies to promote critical thinking and problem solving within the classroom. That’s one of the things that I’m wrestling with right now, because my Problem Solving Using Lego Robotics course, which I normally would teach in a face-to-face modality, and the students would have drones and the students would have Spheros and water robotics, and learn how these devices interconnect into what we call a piconet, and talk about the security of how these devices can communicate from one to the other, and the layer of security that is needed in order to make these communications secure, we cannot do at this time. I am in the process of brainstorming, because that’s what we do in Seidenberg. We’re problem solvers, so I’m brainstorming with my team to find out how we can still immerse the students in this really kinesthetic learning experience environment, and still run this in a remote virtual setting.
I look at this as a great opportunity to expand the modalities and the pedagogy of how we normally teach programming, combined with robotics, and say, “How can we now deliver this content in a remote virtual setting?” We’re toying with some ideas right now as to how we’re going to do this. Very exciting, too, we have a couple of pilots we’ll be running early next year to see how this really works. Can we still engage, equip, and inspire, and engage students in a remote setting, still with robotics, remotely? That’s on the horizon for us, and this is cutting-edge because we’ve never, at least I’ve never, done remote training with robotics from afar.
This is in alignment with where our industry is going now, with remote medicine and telecare and telemedicine, is that doctors are able to take robotics in remote places, in rural places that doctors or physicians couldn’t go, and remotely, through robotics, instruct that very complicated surgery. I find this most intriguing and most innovative and challenging, being able to be pushed. This pandemic is pushing us and pushing us into another sphere of technology, and causing us to think and become innovative and come up with a way, a methodology, on how to deliver training remotely with robotics. I think if we can do this, which I’m sure we will, I’m very confident that we will be able to deliver this, this has real-world implications for other emerging technologies and other emerging disciplines. I’m very excited to see what we can do in this paradigm shift. Because this really is a paradigm shift, from face-to-face modality into a remote learning modality, and still being able to encourage and inspire students abroad, but as well as young women, into the STEM fields.
Karen Roby: You’re very passionate about inspiring young women to follow in your footsteps and blaze their own trails when it comes to cybersecurity and in IT, because there just aren’t enough girls and minorities in the field. Talk about your passion, a little bit. How did you get into it, and what drives you to want to drive others to follow?
Pauline Mosley: The way I got into cybersecurity, I got into cybersecurity I would say maybe five years ago. But in the field of IT, I always like to pull things apart, and figure out how they work and problem solve. I was always in the field of IT. I worked as a programmer at IBM for a couple of years, and then I segued into the academy, because I felt I could be more impactful in front of a classroom. In an IBM setting and programming setting, I noticed I was one only woman and woman of color in that field. I said, “OK, I need to do something to change this.” I went into the Academy and said, “Maybe if I was an instructor, I could then empower more young women to go and pursue this field of study.” Then five years, as time went on, the cybersecurity discipline really became very hot. And really, that was very, very intriguing, how hackers were hacking in and sabotaging systems. Again, it was like a puzzle, problem solving, how can we, out-think the hacker, and how can we make things safe? That became very, very intriguing to me.
Then when I wrote this grant, the GenCyber grant, which Dr. Li-Chiou Chen, my chair at the time, recommended that I explore a grant for GenCyber and I submitted it, and I was shocked that I won the grant. That just spurred me on since then, in this field of cybersecurity and working with high school students in trying to realize that at the college level, there’s so few young women in at the college level that come in that really think and have self-efficacy that they really can do computer science. Many of them come already with preset notions that computer science is very difficult. It’s very hard. They don’t have the math background. They’ve been told that this is not a viable path for them.
I started saying, “Well, I need to move. I need to go further down the pipeline or go back up in the pipeline, shall we say, to the high school level. Let me deal with high school students before they’ve made these decisions. Before precursor to college, let me talk to these young women and see if I can make them more aware, and I can equip them with more knowledge, and I can encourage them, and I can inspire them and engage them to possibly consider pursuing cybersecurity and computer science as viable careers.”
Since then, my shift, although I’m a college professor, but my shift is really working with high school students and also middle school students, trying to capture these young women before they make these decisions, to engage them that this is a really viable field, and you can do quite well in this field, and you have the skillsets to thrive and survive in a cybersecurity setting and in a computer science discipline.
Karen Roby: It’s so important, of course, to start talking to them at such a young age. Because it doesn’t take long for thoughts to get embedded in our heads and ways of thinking what we could, should, shouldn’t be, and making decisions that really impact us for the rest of our lives. I think it’s great that you’re starting to have these conversations with them young and inspire them.
Dr. Moseley, when you look, say five years down the road from now? What is your hope, what do you want to see in this field?
Pauline Mosley: What I hope to see in this field is more women. I hope to see more women in the cybersecurity field, at the administrative level, and even higher on a CIO level, making decisions and bringing their thoughts and their passion into the field. Because cybersecurity is a very large market.
I’m hoping five years down the road that there’ll be more women in seats or positions of authority, that can make decisions and policies on how we conduct technology and how technologies interchange and exchange, and what those security measures are. I think women bring a very viable skillset and knowledge and perception that is currently lacking, because we are not there at the table. We need to have a voice and we need to … women, we are consumers of this. We have children. We’re caregivers. We use technology just much as our male counterparts. So, we need to have a voice on how these technologies are going to be utilized and how they’re going to be protected and how they’re going to be disseminated.
I think in five years down the road, I’m very hopeful and confident that that is going to change and the opinions and the perceptions and perspectives that women bring will be valued and will be appreciated and will be integrated into the current cyber systems, security systems that we have in place, and management will value what they say when they say it in the boardroom. That’s one of my passions.
One of the things that we cultivate in my cybersecurity camp is, I have a mixed camp, a heterogeneous camp of young girls and young boys. When these young women and young men are in the camp and the teams are formed, all of the teams are usually headed up by a young woman. That is to encourage them, to give them the self-efficacy and the confidence that, and to promote and cultivate leadership and decision-making skills, and so that when they speak, that they’re understood, they’re valued, they’re respected not just by their counterparts, but also by their male counterparts. It’s also an education device for the young men, as well. Some of them have never really subjected themselves to women in authority. So, it’s a camp that teaches many, many skill sets on many, many levels, and it’s a precursor to what I do in university classes, as well.
Karen Roby: Dr. Pauline Mosley, thank you so much for being here with us today. You were certainly a wealth of knowledge. I’m sure we could talk forever about it. But your passion is certainly infectious, and I think that’s so important.
Pauline Mosley: Yes, it is. I love what I do. I love to do the three Es, which is to equip, empower, and encourage women. I encourage all my students, but I have a special place in my heart for women. You know, this is a field that it’s not … there’s not a lot of women in it. We need to change that, and that’s something that I’m passionate about, to encourage them, that they can do it. Math is not difficult. It requires discipline and study. With study and hard work and a lot of encouragement, there’s really nothing you cannot do. That’s my mantra, and that’s what I tell all my students in the discipline. You have to work harder at it. As long as you work hard and you’re disciplined, you can make it and fulfill your goals.