CEOHP Practice Interview:
Wanda Dann on changes during education

Wanda Dann

Interview with Wanda Dann, Ithaca College
on June 26, 2005 in Lisbon, Portugal
Interviewed by Nell Dale, The University of Texas at Austin
File: dannByND-20050626-path.mp3
[5.9 Mb, about 6 minutes, opens in new window]

N: Today is June the 26th, 2005, Lisbon, Portugal. I'm Nell Dale, interviewing Wanda Dann of Ithaca College, Ithaca, New York.

Wanda, why don't we start by your telling me a little bit about your early childhood and your family?

W: I grew up in the suburbs of Charleston, West Virginia, a coal mining area. My father was a worker in a factory. My mother was a nurse and we had very little, financially. In fact, growing up I had always thought that I had lived in poverty. {part omitted}

N: Did you start out majoring in science and mathematics?

W: Yes, I began as what was called a medical technology major and I had a scholarship. And I worked in the hospital three days one week and four days the next week and took a full-time load. And that helped pay my tuition. Whatever I earned at the hospital was matched by the college. So the good thing about that was that I was able to go to college because my parents couldn't afford to pay for it. The bad part about that was that, in working in the hospital, I realized that being a medical technology major was not what I wanted to do. Perhaps that was a good thing, on reflection.

I changed to a chemistry major and took a position as a TA in the lab. And then realized with the TA position that I very much enjoyed the teaching side and so changed my major to secondary education with a dual teaching emphasis -- chemistry and mathematics.

N: At what point did you decide to go on to graduate school?

W: Well, I got a teaching certificate. We moved to New York. And I got a teaching certificate in New York and in New York state it was a temporary teaching certificate because you needed to have 30 credit hours graduate level or you needed to have a Master's degree. Returned to grad school to maintain that certificate, to get permanent certification.

N: Were you doing it in chemistry?

W: I was doing it in chemistry, yes. And so I went to Colgate. Of course, then I had two children. And over several years' time, I had two children, I taught high school. I taught high school chemistry, I became science department chair. I gradually managed to get my degree in chemistry, and a Master's degree in teaching.

N: What then led you into computing?

W: In the process of doing my Master's degree at Colgate I needed to analyze data that I was collecting for my Master's thesis and my advisor sent me to the computer lab to work with a statistics package on a VAX. So that was my introduction to computing. I essentially took my data and learned how to use data entry methods to enter my data. [I] discovered that the program was not working the way it should work and in terms of some discussions with the people who were the programmers and the managers of the IT system there (although it wasn't called IT then) discovered that I had insights as to how the program should be written that they didn't know and they suggested that I might be interested in taking a couple of courses in computing.

So after I finished my Master's degree (I waited a couple of years until my family situation had stabilized and my children were in school), I took a few extra hours now and then and went to take computing courses. My first course was in BASIC.

N: And you became hooked on it or ...?

W: I did. I enjoyed it so much. It was obviously my thing. I felt the connection to the technology, the problem solving that was there. I thought perhaps I could write programs that would be used for helping me to teach high school students and I did. And then I began taking additional courses. One of the courses I took very quickly was in FORTRAN. And then I took Pascal and that opened a whole world for me and the school that I went to gave me an opportunity to just build on the degrees I already had to get a Master's degree in computer science. A couple of years into working on a Master's degree in computer science, a nearby college called me and asked me if I would be willing to come in to their campus. They essentially hired me right from high school, "Come and teach at our college, we want you to do curriculum development, a new computing curriculum for our college."

N: So you made the transition from high school to college because someone came to you ...?

W: Yes.

N: ... not ...