Faculty Spotlight - Mark Gondree

Mark Gondree: This is how I teach at SSU

Department: Computer Science

School: Science and Technology

Classes you teach:

One of my favorite courses to teach is intro to programming. The “a-ha” moments from students are the best part. This is also the course where students are figuring out whether or not they like programming. I also like teaching an elective in my area of expertise, computer security. There are many connections to current events and helps students decipher things about cybersecurity in the news.. They are “living out skills” from class in their everyday life.

Tell us about an assignment or project that you are proud of

My students enjoy assignments using graphics and games, generally. I’m especially proud of having published assignments to repositories of teaching materials in my field. One of my activities was recognized with an “Engagement Excellence” award by ACM’s EngageCSEdu. In that assignment, students write an Air Quality Index calculator. It was inspired, of course, by our experiences with low air quality following the fires. I thought it would help my students be more aware of the meaning of AQI alerts and understand the world around them better.

What have you learned from the students? 

What do I learn from students? I learn about them as people. I poll every day and ask about good places to eat or what movies to watch. We have a diverse student population. SSU opened my eyes to the variety of roles that college can play in someone’s life. It’s just a small part—they have lives outside of college. The more they bring themselves into my classroom, the better they can connect what they learn to their lives. 

What are some of the practices you use to create an inclusive learning space? 

I aspire to have classrooms that are more inclusive. I have gone into other people’s classrooms to see how they do it, and how they create more inclusive spaces. I’m still working on it. I want to engage my students on their terms—create on-ramps, such as ways to participate without talking, anonymous discussions, etc., so that everyone can participate at their own comfort level. 

“A student who had graduated from SSU said, ‘This is why I like coming to SSU, I can show up and have people recognize me and know about me!’ There aren’t many places where we get to know our students like this.”

What do you think it means for SSU to be a public liberal arts and sciences institution (the only member of the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges in the state of California)? 

As a COPLAC, I think of small classes and high-touch experience. A student who had graduated from SSU had to do something on campus and came to visit. He just saw my door open, walked in, and we caught up on post-graduation life. He said, “This is why I like coming to SSU, I can show up and have people recognize me and know about me!” There aren’t many places where we get to know our students like this.

I got to live the interdisciplinary life when I co-taught a stacked course between Computer Science and Biology which was digital environmental inquiry at Copeland Creek with Wendy St John (Department of Biology). The students had taken some CS and BIO courses before they came together and worked on a project. Each brought skills that came into play for the project. Teams would capture 3D imagery as fieldwork and then identify things in their 3D photospheres. They had to work together. I was really proud of the CS students. They actually learned how to do some species identification. At SSU, we have an opportunity for high-touch interdisciplinary programs.

Anything else you would like to add? What do you enjoy most about teaching?

In teaching, just when you think you’ve figured something out, you realize it works with one group and not another. It’s a fun little puzzle to solve every semester. I’m just trying to enjoy the challenge of it, and consider it solvable, but still be realistic– it’s just a process. The desire to do better makes it engaging for me.