Insights in STEM: Former Department Chair and Professor of Computer Science Margie Bleichman

In this Insights in STEM, STS Editorial Board Member Susan Woods chats with Margie Bleichman, Professor and former Department Chair of Computer Science at Middlesex Community College. Professor Bleichman, recently retired from her Department Chair role, continues to teach as faculty in the Computer Science Program. Below are tips for faculty (student support) and students (insight into the college classroom and the outlook of college educators) based on Professor Bleichman’s teaching and administrative experiences. Thank you, Professor Bleichman!

For Faculty

What are your insights into supporting autistic students in the classroom?

On accommodations: most often the accommodations provided to students in Bleichman’s classes are test taking (distraction reduced test environment and extended time) and copies of class notes.

Ask questions and seek to understand the accommodations process to help dispel misconceptions about unfair advantages for students receiving accommodations.

Learn about the test proctoring process and how exam integrity is maintained for students with accommodations.

Collaborate with peers and support services staff for inevitable challenges, such as accommodating a pop quiz, for example.

Seek out professional development on disability accommodations, the eligibility process, and partnerships.

Get to know the staff who will support both you and students in the accommodations process—Professor Bleichman’s relationship with staff in Student Support and the Disability Support Office (DSO) positively impacts her ability to support students with accommodation needs.

Provide students with an outlet for sharing knowledge, including areas of special interest. She accomplishes this through one-to-one meeting times, open lab times, opportunities to showcase projects, and allowing time (and supporting tolerance) for students who may have communication challenges.

Collaborate with students on solutions. For example, when students require more time to ask questions or process information, schedule a conversation to create an agreed upon “work around” that meets the student’s needs.

Seek opportunities to praise students and provide flexibility in terms of how students participate and demonstrate knowledge.

For Students

What is college like? What can I expect from my professor?

You are not alone! Professor Bleichman’s estimation is that up to 15% of students in her classes may be eligible to receive disability accommodations, although specific disability information is not provided to her as faculty and not all eligible students seek or activate accommodations.

When appropriate, she provides general information to students about the services and potential support available to them from the DSO. She will also make connections between the DSO staff and students, if students request such contact. (This does not mean she asks about specific disabilities, diagnoses, or personal information related to the student.)

It’s okay, and actually quite common, to face challenges from time to time. Her recommendations, when appropriate and requested by the student, are that there be frequent and ongoing dialogue with student, professor, and DSO staff all playing a role. Throughout the semester, this collaborative team might address some of the executive functioning challenges, anxiety, and effective study strategies, for example, that a student might be having.

STEM is a pretty welcoming place: Bleichman notes that STEM/Computer science students tend to be tolerant to diversity and overall accepting of “otherness,” through connecting in areas of special interests and respect for curricular knowledge.

Bleichman ended our conversation with a great comment about the value of exploring the career direction of computer science majors by highlighting the hands on/kinesthetic nature of the work. There’s a lot of value in a computer science career for students who enjoy and have success in problem solving and puzzles. If you are a computer science major and don’t find it at least just a little bit fun, you may want to rethink it as a career…sage advice!

Thanks to Professor Bleichman for her insight, expertise, time and continued collaboration. Let us know if you have questions in the comment section below.

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Susan Woods, M. Ed, recently retired as Associate Dean of Student Support Services at Middlesex Community College after 27 years. Susan managed the college’s Disability Support Services, supporting 1000 students with documented disabilities, as well as alternative and grant funded support programs. Susan has regularly provided training and workshops to faculty and staff on creating welcoming and inclusive environments and universal design for instruction. Her work now focuses on professional development and training to high school personnel and families to help support the successful transition to college for students with disabilities. Her professional development website is www.susanbwoods.com.

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