Cover Letter

I am a computer science education scholar with a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology and Educational Technology from Michigan State University, an MBA in Information Technology and Operations Management, and a Bachelor of Engineering degree in Computer Science. As a queer, immigrant, scholar of color, the intersection of my identities frames the critical questions I raise in my research and teaching. In this letter, I summarize how my scholarship, curriculum development experience, teaching, pedagogy-oriented scholarly research, and service experience reflects deep alignment with racial, caste and gender equity issues that are a part of the fabric of the institutions we serve.

Scholarship. Overall, my research objective has been two folds, (a) to broaden the participation and graduation rates of historically disenfranchised students and women at the college and university-level in CS by providing sustainable professional development for CS teachers and faculty using culturally responsive/sustaining pedagogies, and (b) to promote experience-based learning through creative play with technology in science, math, & engineering education in urban K12 settings and with historically disenfranchised college students. I plan to scale up these efforts going forward.

I study culturally responsive ways of teaching technology in CS and STEM disciplines at the K-12 and higher education levels. STEM disciplines for decades have been governed by euro-centric heteronormative approaches of teaching & learning. As a critical scholar of color and teacher educator, I find it my responsibility to counter the dominant narratives in STEM+ C and provide critical lenses that support historically disenfranchised students towards a successful technological career path. My lived experience as a woman of color in CS is central to my work on broadening participation of students of color and women in K-12 and undergraduate computer science programs (Mehta & Yadav, SITE 2020, AERA 2019; RWE Conference 2018), by helping faculty incorporate and practice culturally responsive pedagogies in teaching (Mehta, manuscript, 2021).

In my dissertation, for instance, I explored computer science faculty’s beliefs on using a culturally responsive computing approach and leveraging community-based resources in teaching CS courses at the undergraduate level (Mehta, manuscript 2021). Through a thematic analysis on faculty’s interviews, I found that although faculty were apprehensive towards leveraging culturally responsive community-based resources, they acknowledged that universities and colleges need to act towards supporting them in understanding critical pedagogy and developing connections with the community. A preference to be neutral in designing curriculum and projects resonated through all the participant responses suggesting a mindset that computer science needs to be perceived as a culture-free, nonsocial realm where faculty are concerned about how not to make the dominant group – white students – uncomfortable by choosing to discuss racial issues. My work indicates a need for critically framed self-sustaining faculty professional development in computer science undergraduate and graduate level degrees. Training faculty to check their own biases and how to successfully navigate racial tensions (often a part of group & lab work in CS courses) may help make Black, Hispanic, & Indigenous students feel supported and accepted in a discipline that is dominated by white males. It will also allow to educate White students on why diversity in teams brings value and culturally diverse perspectives to the design and development of programs and algorithms making the coding systems that computer scientists develop less biased (Safiya Umoja Noble, Algorithms of Oppression, 2018). It further suggests that the use of racially neutral language in the curriculum design and classroom discourse conceals unequal power relationships that inform group identities of historically disenfranchised students. For example, how does the word ‘All’ in ‘CS for All’ address the racial inequity and lack of access?

I am currently serving as the computer science equity & diversity advisor on a multi-million dollar California Department of Education, Educator Workforce Investment Grant proposal, that is, a collaboration between multiple colleges of education across California with the lead collaborators being The Sanford College of Education (SCOE) at National University (NU) and the San Diego College of Education (COE), the Workforce Education Solutions (WES) at National University System, and Computer-Using Educators (CUE), a non-profit professional development agency. As the equity & diversity advisor on the grant, I created and wrote the equity framework that is informed by the Culturally Responsive Computing framework (Scott, Sheridan, & Clark, 2015). The Computer Science Strategic Implementation Plan (CSSIP) grant proposal seeks to bridge the gap in the understanding and implementation of CS principles in California K-12 Schools by offering professional development and open educational resources for teachers using multimodal (Online, Face-to-Face [F2F] and hybrid) delivery pathways. The grant also seeks to develop communities of highly qualified CS teachers and coaches who work with culturally and linguistically diverse (rural and urban) communities and build capacity for CS throughout the state and through regional educational and industry consortia partners by offering a Special Projects fund to support local agencies.

In 2019, on an NSF STEM+C grant, I worked with Dr. Ron Eglash at the University of Michigan to create a course incorporating culturally situated design tools (CSDT) that allow students to interconnect African American, Indigenous, and Latinx cultural practices with math and science concepts. As a curriculum developer on the project, I incorporated my experience in computer programming, along with an in-depth understanding of culturally sustaining pedagogy and CSTA & K12 math and science concepts & standards. I collaborated with a high school math/computer science teacher at Albany High School, New York, to design and develop a four-module course that introduced students to using and manipulating coding blocks in CSDT web applications and develop individualized projects. I created coding projects for students using CSnap block-based programming language to design cultural artifacts like quilts and cornrow curves. Given the situation the pandemic created for students, the project sought to create an entirely online worksheet for students and teachers to make it simpler to work with the CSDT tools. The CSDT coding projects allow students to explore the potential of their art, math and coding skills and value its interconnectedness to different cultural practices. Furthermore, connecting computing concepts like functions, conditionals, arrays, strings, and variables to the cultural history of Black, Indigenous and Latinx students can help students to envision themselves as digital innovators who have a right to pursue a technical computer science education. I see a need in computer science education to integrate social justice and equity issues.

In addition, I also collaborated on a study that examined educational technologists’ views on how the politics and values of equity, diversity, and inclusivity are addressed and perceived as part of design and development processes of educational programming software (Lachney, Mehta, Dunbar & Opps, AERA 2021). As a researcher on this project, I collected and analyzed data and engaged in writing of the IRB proposal. A subset of our results suggested that technologists in their design took a neutral stance towards issues of race and gender and towards settling the issue of bias in design. The assumptions that technologies are neutral or ‘colorblind’ hides how racialized assumptions get backed into our devices and techno-social systems (Ruha Benjamin, 2019). We seek to further investigate this assumption of neutrality in the design and development of educational technologies by digging deeper into the interviews with leading educational technologists and software designers.

As a scholar, I care deeply about scientific and culturally sustainable literacy practices among K12 urban educators. With the MSUrban STEM Teaching Fellowship program, I worked as one of the lead researchers with Chicago Public School (CPS) STEM teachers, where we studied experience-based learning and TPACK approach towards promoting a creative and wonder-driven perspective in teaching and learning STEM disciplines at the K12 level (Seals, Mehta, Graves-Wolf & Marcotte, 2017). CPS teachers through this professional development program successfully designed their unique pedagogical approaches to engage their students in science and math content by creatively repurposing technology available and accessible to them (Mehta, Mehta & Seals, 2017). Through a mixed-method research design our work suggested that teacher’s self-efficacy increased significantly over time as part of a creativity and wonder-driven pedagogy (Seals, Mehta, Berzina-Pitcher & Graves-Wolf, 2017).

Teaching Experience. Overall, I have taught 10 teacher education graduate and undergraduate level courses on educational technology, creativity, educational psychology, and research methods at Michigan State University, in face-to-face, online, and hybrid formats. I encourage collaborative and creative play with students using digital technologies and skills like computational thinking and coding to solve problems of practice. I am equally comfortable teaching synchronously and asynchronously. The courses I have taught include:

• 1 graduate-level action research in multicultural classrooms course in online format (1 section) (33 students)
• 1 teacher-credential education psychology course in online format (2 sections) (24-28 students)
• 3 graduate-level technology courses in online and hybrid formats (6 sections) (20-25 students)
• 4 undergraduate-level teacher education and technology courses in face-to-face, online, and hybrid formats (6 sections) (25-30 students)
• 1 graduate-level research methods course in online format (2 sections, 18-20 students per section)

As a critical teacher educator, I draw heavily from my experience in university and college settings in US and India. Prior to moving to the US, I taught SQL and Operations Management to Masters-level students from low-SES backgrounds in India (35-40 students). I am currently working at California State University, Fresno as an Adjunct Lecturer teaching a graduate-level action research methods course to in-service teachers serving culturally and linguistically diverse students in Fresno and the surrounding area. At Fresno State, I also teach a teaching credential education psychology course where we learn about learning theories and critique these theories that represent white scholars who are solely represented in education psychology spaces. Prior to that, I have worked with teachers (in-service and pre-service) and teacher educators serving diverse and disenfranchised student populations located in and around Detroit, Dearborn, Lansing, Ann Arbor and Chicago K-12 settings. Collaborating on creative pedagogical approaches across STEM and social sciences content areas, I encourage community-based practices with my teachers grounded in critical and culturally sustaining pedagogy. My teaching evaluations have been consistently high.

I see clear alignment between my own beliefs and commitments to equity, inclusion, innovation, and research in making computer science equitable for culturally and linguistically diverse student populations. I have attached my curriculum vitae, two relevant publications, an inclusive excellence activities statement, and names and contact of references. You can find more information at my website: about my research, teaching, service, and other interests. Thank you very much for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Dr. Swati Mehta
Adjunct Faculty
Department of Curriculum and Instruction
Kremen School of Education and Human Development
California State University, Fresno

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