Thursday, April 14, 2016

A Mish-mash of thoughts

So, it is now April. In the past, I have attempted to do the BEDA (Blog Every Day in April) challenge, and I have failed miserably. This year, I thought - yeah, I want to do that! And it is now April 14th, and guess who had not blogged at all until today? Yep. Me.

Not that I have not been thinking about blogging, or making list of topics, just that I have not fleshed them out into full posts. And if I wait, I don't think they'll ever make it off of my list into your hands, which is not what I want. So, here is the list, with a few lines after each one in the list to get the idea of what a full, longer post would be about, but without the stories and self-editing that usually goes with one of my "longer" posts (most of my posts are still quite short, comparatively).

1) Teaching Computational Thinking

I tend to hear "we should teach every student how to code". And I almost always agree. But recently, I had the great pleasure to hear Dr. Kimberly Scott (look her up, folks, that woman is making changes in the world!) speak at APL, and I got to talk to her personally (I seriously love my workplace) and one of the things she asked was about the importance of coding. And around the table, those of us from APL agreed that it wasn't strictly "coding" - not a language, not how to write code - but the process of understanding how a computer program works, the logic required to break everything down into smaller pieces, to think about the algorithms - in short, computational thinking. I believe in the power of computational thinking, and I believe that everyone - even those of you who like to pretend you're too stupid to understand what I do for a job - is capable of computational thinking, and that their lives could be greatly improved if the understood it. In a world of increasing technology, it should be a requirement to understand computers a little better (so that we don't feel the need to fear/loathe them, they're great tools) and computational thinking will help get us there. It will also level the playing field as far as women in technical fields goes, something I think is excellent. So all around, teaching computational thinking as a requirement in our schools is a win. And at present, the easiest way to teach that is to learn to code. If you want an easy way to teach it, try this fun little Frozen themed coding game -

2) The Concept of Community

At work, I'm a part of a lean in circle - a community of peer females who get together for accountability, to learn together, and to just be social. Sound familiar? That's because it is - it's a lot like the Bible Studies I was a part of in college. And I find myself facing a lot of the same questions I faced as a Bible Study leader in my lean in circle - like how do we add new members mid-semester without breaking trust, when is a circle too big and needs to be two circles, etc., etc. Growing up in the church, the importance of community is highlighted a lot. But I think sometimes the real thing that sets the church and Christians apart gets lost in the focus on community. Community is not a new concept, and it's not a uniquely Christian concept - it's where I first experienced community, and I think that is a good thing, don't get me wrong - but it's not the thing that makes us different. I remember being in high school and visiting a mosque with some other kids from youth group. On the way home, our leader (who officiated my wedding later, because he rocks and we're still connected almost ten years after that mosque visit) anyways, he and I discussed this very question, because the mosque had so many things I identified with church - a nursery, an offering plate, a "sermon" - but yet it wasn't church. And we had a great conversation about how and why the gospel sets Christians apart - not community.

3) Security vs. Adventure - a false paradox

In the daily question and answer book my sister gave me for Christmas, I got asked "are you seeking security or adventure?" and about a month later "are you seeking contentment, or excitement?". And I got annoyed. I think society has this false assumption that "If you're not taking risks, you're not living" and that "taking risks means throwing plans into the wind and just going where the world takes you". Movies all support this (Eat, Pray, Love or Hector and the Search for Happiness or Whiskey Tango Foxtrot - all movies Ryan and I have watched and enjoyed recently, by the way). Many of my dear friends have taken some of those risks (moving to Texas hoping she'd find a job there (she did) or choosing to stay overseas even when her job fell through (she managed to stay for over a year travelling). And I have not done those "risky" things (I have always been a planner), I think it is a false paradox to assume that staying in one place is the content, secure choice, and not an exciting adventure. Yes, I have security and I am content, but I also find my life an exciting adventure. It's exciting, being a young married couple, contentedly enjoying life together. It's an adventure, working at a company that's been around for almost 75 years (job security) while trying to see how I can make my mark there. For me, there is no conflict between the two.

4) The Girl I Mean to Be

Last November, after Thanksgiving, my sister and I got to see the Secret Garden at Center Stage in Baltimore (seriously great place - you have to go, especially since they're renovating). And one of the songs (The Girl I mean to be) from that show really stuck with me. Here are some of the lyrics:

(verse 1 omitted)
I need a place where I can hide, 
Where no one sees my life inside,
Where I can make my plans, and write them down
So I can read them.
(verse 3 omitted)
I need a place to spend the day, 
Where no one says to go or stay,
Where I can take my pen and draw
The girl I mean to be.

And I realize, I'm definitely too old to be calling myself a girl, but I like the lyrics above, because that is one of the things I like to do - I like to make plans for the woman I mean to be. And to think on them, and try to write them out. I started to write my list here, but this post is getting pretty long and pretty personal with that list of things, so I'll just leave you with the lyrics to think about the person YOU mean to be, and how you are getting there.

Thoughts on Encouragement and UMBC

The other day at work, I was having a particularly tough day, where I felt like I was just not cut out for the job that I have, and that I was going to end up disappointing someone.

Then, I got an email from my honors college adviser and one of the professors I learned a lot from in college.  (A long aside about this particular professor: while she and I did not always see eye-to-eye, I really enjoyed all of her classes as it taught me, the computer science problem solver, some of the more complex sides of social justice and made me really examine the things I believe in. Her classes made me more articulate, more nuanced, and more careful when considering the other side of an argument, both politically and personally. She made me think, and isn't that one of the things you're supposed to get from college?)

That tough day, I got an email from her after a VERY brief update I had just sent her about my post-graduation life. I won't share all of it as some is personal, but here are some of the little encouragements from that note that really shined for me that day, and almost made me cry on my tough day.

Regarding my challenges at work while still enjoying my job:

"I'm so proud that you have found a niche that continues to challenge you and that you are also finding a way to make your mark and a difference for gender dynamics in STEM. You always make me smile but that made me smile HUGE!"

Regarding my relatively new marriage:

"Be patient and kind with each other and remember that your love is why you're together and facing life's challenges together."

And her final line:
"Emily, I'm so proud of the woman you've become and are becoming. Go you!!!"

And that note is PRECISELY why I chose to go to UMBC. Because I knew, after much dragging of my heels, that at UMBC, through my beloved CWIT and the amazing Honors College, that I would get that personal touch, that connection to my teachers, that would make their encouragement something I valued post-graduation, and that staying in touch with me would be important to them.

And THAT is my UMBC story. That is why, despite what experience others may have, despite the fact that UMBC is not without it's flaws, that is why I love my UMBC. Because I care about the people there, and they care about me.

My Asian Eyes

Editor's Note: I wrote this post a few weeks ago (March 22), and it never made it to the blog until today.  

I have “Asian eyes”: narrow, almond shaped, “slanty” – whatever you want to call them.

And I know the feeling I’m about to describe isn’t all that different from the experience of many others with Asian-American heritage, but I’m going to throw my voice in the pool anyways. My “Asian eyes” have always seemed to be a source of weirdness. When I smile big, my eyes disappear completely – they’re still open, but because of my rounder cheeks and narrower eyes, you can’t always tell that. So in photos, I either intentionally widen my eyes – making my smile look really fake – or I have a natural smile, and my eyes look like they’re shut. Consequently, on my badge photos for work, on one, my eyes look closed, and on the other, I'm not smiling (so that you can see my eyes).

In 7th grade, a kid in my class called me out on my Asian shaped eyes during recess (he wanted to call me almond and the African American girl in our class “brownie” – almond brownies – so much wrong with that). In 9th grade, my art teacher docked me points off of my assignment to practice drawing parts of my face because “I made the eyes too skinny”. In my freshman/sophomore year of college, my roommate’s boyfriend commented on how, in photos of the two of us together (my roommate was Filipina) you could see that we were both Asian because it always looked like the sun was in our faces. "Asian eyes" were always different, always something people felt the need to point out to me - "hey, it looks like your eyes are shut!"  

As a result, I don't usually like the photos where it appears my eyes are closed (even when they're not). I take pride in other things associated with being Asian (chinese new year, not wearing shoes in my house, folding plastic bags into little footballs, etc.), so why do I dislike my Asian eyes so much? Because it's the thing people point out, it's the thing that seems weird to them. They say "wow, you look super Asian like that" - what's wrong with looking super Asian? I am, after all, a half-Asian woman! So I made a recent photograph of me and my husband my Facebook profile, and even though my eyes look closed, I kind of love it. The end. There's no big resolution or meaning to this post, just me telling myself that "Asian eyes" are just a part of what makes me.