Imagining A Brighter Future

Suneeta Ramaswami, professor of computer science in the College of Arts and Sciences, has had had a passion for math and science since she was young, but computer science grabbed her attention and imagination almost immediately. Since joining Rutgers–Camden in 1997, she has focused much of her career on computational geometry. Her research and scholarship encompass the mathematical study of geometric problems that occur across the various fields of computer science. In the real world, areas like computer-aided design, game programming, and computational statistics require the understanding and manipulation of two- and three-dimensional objects. Computational geometry bridges the gap.

Suneeta Ramaswami, professor of computer science in the College of Arts and Sciences

Suneeta Ramaswami, professor of computer science in the College of Arts and Sciences

 “I’ve been hooked on computer science ever since I first had an opportunity to do some simple programming as a high school student in India, even though computer science was still a very nascent field there,” Ramaswami said.

Ramaswami’s passion for computer science led her not only to pursue it as a profession but to also proactively reach out to underserved and underrepresented students at every educational level to encourage them to become more engaged in STEM subjects. She is an active member of National Center for Women & Information Technology’s Aspirations in Computing program, which engages girls and young women in grades K-12 through educational programs, networking opportunities, and annual awards for excellence in computing.

“Encouraging women to explore their computing-related interests at every point of entry, whether high school or college, and simultaneously providing a community of like-minded peers with similar interests, is absolutely crucial to prevent the sense of isolation that can result from being a minority in a STEM field,” said Ramaswami. “It is well-documented that women and other underserved minorities can feel unwelcome in technical spaces, and they are more prone to experience impostor syndrome—the tendency to doubt their abilities and feel like a fraud.

Ramaswami emphasized the importance of raising awareness around the societal and cultural biases that can prevent underserved groups from participating in STEM fields. She also supports creating intentional programs designed to increase diversity in STEM fields at every stage. “The STEM fields are in urgent need of all the untapped talent that is out there among the young women and other underserved minorities that are interested in entering these fields,” Ramaswami said. “It is vitally important for STEM fields to address the issues of diversity and inclusion, because the sense of isolation for women and underserved groups is real and causes talented individuals to leave the sciences or not even consider them.”

Instead, Ramaswami hopes students are intrigued by the research her team is doing, which currently involves the modeling of objects and their surfaces by subdividing them into simple geometric shapes. Among the practical applications of this work is the improvement of medical imaging procedures like CT scans.

Ramaswami encourages female students to find a network of like-minded peers and advisors who can provide guidance and support.  

“Find others who will be on your team and cheer you on during your academic journey,” Ramaswami said. “It is exciting and rewarding to pursue a career in STEM, and any student with an interest and a drive to succeed can do well.”

STEM Versus STEAM: Why Every Student Should Want an “A”

“Calculus is often the first college-level math course that a math major or other STEM major will take,” said Sara Leshen, assistant teaching professor and undergraduate coordinator at Rutgers University in Camden. "A negative experience in calculus can inform a student's feelings about math, STEM, and even their future careers.”

Sara Leshen, assistant teaching professor and undergraduate coordinator

Sara Leshen, assistant teaching professor and undergraduate coordinator

Preventing a negative experience is one of the drivers behind the shift from STEM to STEAM in education. Although often used interchangeably, STEM and STEAM are different when it comes to pedagogy or teaching methods. STEM focuses on a traditional approach, concentrating explicitly on scientific, technological, engineering, or mathematical skills. STEAM looks to teach those same concepts while leveraging what is commonly referred to as “soft skills” more often included as part of an arts curriculum, including collaboration, cooperation, and creativity.

Leshen has developed a new course sequence called Active Calculus, which will begin in the fall of 2023 as an alternative to traditional calculus courses. This new sequence will cover the same topics as the standard courses but will emphasize participation, group work, and developing theory.

Additionally, an alternative grading technique known as mastery-based grading will be used to offer students increased support and the opportunity to understand calculus successfully.

“Mastery-based grading allows students to have multiple opportunities to demonstrate understanding of course topics without penalty,” said Leshen. Leveraging teaching techniques to fuel a deeper understanding and appreciation of a subject is at the heart of the STEAM approach and hopefully leads to more students embracing and succeeding in STEM.

March is Women's History Month. This year's storytelling campaign, “Full STEAM Ahead,” spotlights the contributions of women in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics, introducing our community to some of the many women on campus who excel as researchers and scholars.

For centuries, women were denied full participation in the intellectual pursuits that have transformed human knowledge and culture. Although much has been done to increase equality, women and girls can still face bias and other roadblocks when attempting to make their mark in male-dominated disciplines. Each story in this monthlong campaign will tell the story of a woman who has persevered in the face of gender inequality, producing work that stands alongside the best in her field.

Creative Design: Beatris Santos
Photography by: Ron Downes Jr.

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