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Academic Profile: Kimberly Heu

Kimberly Heu, B.A. ICS, B.A. Mathematics (2010), discusses her post-graduation work in Teach For America and how she’s using her computer science and math skills in the classroom. (Interview in April, 2012)

Hi Kim. What are you doing now?

Kim2Hi! I’m currently finishing my commitment with Teach For America; I am a 2010 corps member in their New Mexico region. I work as a Teacher of the Gifted at a middle school in Gallup, NM, which is surrounded by Navajo reservation land. I’m primarily teaching advanced math classes to accelerate students so that they take Geometry in the eighth grade; I also teach a computer literacy elective. In addition, I’m currently finishing the coursework for my Master of Arts in Secondary Education from the University of New Mexico. After this school year is done, I plan on moving to a larger city, but will be continuing to work as a teacher. Eventually I hope to earn a PhD – most likely in education, although I still may be swayed to computer science.

That’s a pretty far removed from computer science! How did you get from a B.A. in ICS to your current occupation?

I’ve actually been interested in working as a teacher since elementary school, so when my senior year at UH came around and I didn’t have any specific plans for after graduation, TFA seemed like a worthwhile organization to explore. I went through the application process in the fall of my senior year, and when I learned I was accepted that January, I decided to join. It was a tough to leave Hawaii for the first time, but I’m glad I made the choice. My degrees in ICS and Mathematics really helped me to get my current job. They had been looking for someone with a very strong math and science background to help to create the curriculum for the advanced math classes I currently teach, and the two degrees made me a strong candidate. I’m hoping to utilize this background once again as I search for a job for next year.

What aspects of your time in ICS have been useful to you in your current work?

When I started teaching, I recognized that my students often failed to realize that math is more than basic computations and that computer science involves more than just creating video games; as a result I’ve brought in many of my undergraduate experiences into my classroom. It’s been extremely helpful to be able to connect the computer, math, and critical thinking skills I used in college to help to motivate my students on the topics that we cover in class. Very often, it’s hard to justify the topics my students learn in Pre-Algebra and Algebra without referencing topics from calculus, discrete math, and beyond. I’ve been able to bring in work I did as an undergraduate to show my students why it’s important to be able to use equations to model various situations, to use the coordinate grid to show location, and to explain reasoning through writing, among other topics.

What advice would you like to give to current ICS students?

Many of the classes are challenging, but they’re manageable if you truly focus and apply yourself. Keep an open mind about all of the opportunities that may present themselves. Make friends with your classmates and help each other get through everything. Some of my favorite memories of the work I did as an undergraduate were staying up late working on projects with friends – talking things through with each other, and attempting to stay up as late as necessary as we watched the clock tick down to deadlines.

Anything else you’d like us to know?

I had a great experience as an undergrad at UH. My degrees in ICS and Mathematics have definitely made me a stronger teacher, and I’m grateful that I chose to pursue those interests in depth before making the decision to go into teaching.