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22 June 2020

An Interview with Stephanie Ludi, Tapia 2020 Technical Panels and Workshops Co-Chair

Stephanie Ludi
Stephanie Ludi

Stephanie Ludi is Professor, Department of Computer Science & Engineering, University of North Texas and the Tapia 2020 Technical Panels and Workshops Co-Chair.  We spoke with Stephanie about her career and what she is looking forward to at Tapia 2020.

Tell me about your background and where you grew up.

I grew up in San Diego, particularly south San Diego.  My mom was a teacher who got her college degree when I was 6 years old, I even got to go to her college graduation, and my dad was a medical technologist, after receiving training in the Navy.  Both impressed upon me the importance of education.  We did not have a computer until I was entering high school, though when I was in middle school I taught myself a bit of BASIC programing with a computer that my mom brought home from work for the summer. It was a challenge because I am legally blind but the original green screen had enough contrast and large enough text so I could see it.

How did you become involved in Computer Science?

I am legally blind and cannot drive.  When I read about computers, I wanted to be involved in designing a car that would drive for me.  So I started my baccalaureate work in Computer Engineering at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.  The first year in the program required Computer Science coursework and after taking the classes I found I enjoyed software more than the hardware side.  Math and Computer Science are challenging when you are visually impaired. I had note takers as it is a challenge to try and learn just by listening.  It became easier as I progressed and progressed and the work in graduate school became more self-directed and discussion rather than lecture. Later in my undergraduate degree I became very interested in Software Engineering, which I focused on through my graduate work.  During my PhD work at Arizona State University, I integrated my interest in HCI with Software Engineering, with the focus on Accessibility where I was a Co-PI on an NSF grant.  My dissertation involved Software Engineering and Computer Science Education. After I graduated from ASU, I went to the Rochester Institute of Technology where I was a faculty member for several years.  In 2016, I moved to the Computer Science and Engineering Department at the University of North Texas.

What are the key projects you are working on today?

I work in computer science education research at all levels, with an emphasis on broadening participation.  In particular, I lead work in creating accessible block-based programming tools and design guidance so that students with visual impairments can use the tools in their classrooms or clubs.  We have keyboard and screen reader support, but mere access to information is not adequate as features need to be design in a manner that is usable and useful.  I have also done projects studying blind programmers in terms of how they do code navigation and how to design features using audio in programming. One project had a student study how blind programmers develop their own strategies and tools, and how they approach and minimize or eliminate the challenges in their jobs.  For many, it is like crowdsourcing their own solutions.

How did you become involved in the Tapia Conference?

I have been coming to Tapia for over 10 years.  I have sent students to Tapia throughout the years, though I have not always been able to attend.  I was delighted when I was approached about serving as Co-Chair this year, as my department has been a proud sponsor of Tapia for the past few years.  We have also been able to secure BRIAD funds which allows us to send students to Tapia.

What do you think some of the highlights of this year’s Tapia Program are?

The career fair is always a great draw, with opportunities for students to network.  I think the conference touches on a diverse set of topics, so there will be something for everyone.  A mix of technical talks/workshops as well as career prep-type panels will be of interest to a variety of students and young professionals.

Going virtual means that there is more planning to enable and facilitate the networking which is a critical part of the conference.  We can also draw people who would otherwise be unable to come to the conference, it could be even more diverse than before.  We are also excited that we can even send more students.  Some students are worried about missing classes, this year they won’t have to miss a class and with recorded sessions they’ll be able to catch up on anything they miss.

I encourage everyone to come and network and connect.  I’m a Girl Scout Leader in my free time and we’ve had to take our programs virtual.  I appreciate the advantage of events being recorded and I know it will take a little extra effort to connect but it will be worth it.