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One of my sets of three sisters (#1202)

Topics/tags: Autobiographical

At both the opening Scholars’ Convocation of the year and the opening Community Friday, Dean Montgomery talked about the Three Sisters described by Indigenous Americans and then asked us to consider what our own three sisters might be.

As I understand it—and my understanding has filtered through Dean Montgomery’s description and my interpretation—squash, corn, and climbing beans provide a mutually supportive community when cultivated together. Climbing beans work with bacteria in the soil to fix nitrogen, which serves as a nutrient for the squash and corn. The squash, which is low to the ground, shades the soil, keeping it moist and reducing the growth of weeds. The tall cornstalks provide supports for the climbing beans. The climbing beans also reinforce the cornstalk in times of high wind.

It seems to me that the cornstalk gets the best of the deal. It receives a benefit from the squash and two kinds of benefits from the beans; in exchange, it only has to benefit the beans. But I guess it works all right for everyone involved, particularly for the people who farm in this way.

In any case, Dean Montgomery asked us to consider our own three sisters. Perhaps she asked us to consider the three sisters in our professional lives. For example, they might be the traditional triumvirate of teaching, service, and scholarship [1].

I’ve been thinking about the question ever since. It strikes me that I have multiple sets of three sisters, each for a different aspect of my life. Perhaps those aspects form their own sisterhood. For this musing, I’ve chosen to focus on my preliminary identification of my set of professional sisters. No, that’s not people who make being my sister their profession; rather, it’s the three interrelated things at the core of my work.

It should not surprise anyone who knows me that broadening participation in computing is one of the three. It’s my professional responsibility to ensure that many voices contribute to the technology that changes the world. In some ways, BPC also serves as the fertilizer [2], giving me the energy to do my work.

The acronym for another sister also starts with B and ends with C: BJC, or the Beauty and Joy of Computing. The fun that comes with building programs and algorithms should be available to all, not just a select few. And the joy can motivate folks to study CS.

The third sister doesn’t have an acronym; at least, I don’t know of one. It’s Computer Science Education, which I’ll abbreviate as CSEd. I am a computer science educator. I teach CS. I try to develop new ways of teaching CS. I study the teaching of CS. Is CS Education more the soil than one of the three plants? Perhaps. But it seems most natural to phrase it as such. I frequently approach the beauty and joy of computing by teaching them or teaching with them. I teach, in no small part, to broaden participation. It all goes together.

Should this one be CSG-Ed rather than CSEd? That is, should my focus be computing for social good? Perhaps. I know that CSG-Ed is a successful way to approach BPC issues. However, I also know that, as much as I appreciate CSG, it’s not the only focus of my work; computing for the arts and the Digital Humanities play greater roles in my approaches [3].

I guess that’s it.

Sam, who are your three sisters?

I’m an only child.

Let me try again. Who are your three sisters in the sense of the three mutually supportive aspects of who you are?

Wow. That’s a lot to consider. Michelle, the boys, and me. I assume you want more than that. Can I say family, friends, and work? Of course, there’s more to my life than that. Can I get back to you?

How about we just focus on your profession?

Oh. That’s better. I’ve thought about that question. My three professional sisters are broadening participation in computing, the beauty and joy of computing, and computer science education.

At least that’s my answer for today.

[1] I find it equally amusing and frustrating that Grinnell’s merit system forces us to classify each of our activities as one of the three, rather than embracing mutually supportive activities.

[2] In a good way.

[3] Grammarly says that I should write more significant roles, but I don’t think I can judge the significance of each yet, not without careful experimentation.

Version 1.0 of 2022-09-01.