Darlene Bowman is the founder of AusomeTech.com and an experienced teacher of students and young adults with autism and other cognitive learning differences. Darlene began her career in the early 2000s as a New York City Teaching Fellow, and she went on to work in the NYC Department of Education’s District 75, which provides specialized instructional support for students with autism, cognitive delays, and multiple disabilities. In 2015, Darlene secured a CS4All technology grant that enabled her school to launch a software engineering program—the first such program at a self-contained District 75 high school.

Before and during the pandemic, Darlene taught CS to hundreds of students with disabilities, as well as to their teachers. Now retired, she is the president of CSTA Staten Island and an adjunct writing professor at the CUNY College of Staten Island. Through AusomeTech.com, she volunteers her time teaching CS to autistic students of all ages, focusing on alumni of her high school who no longer have access to meaningful CS education.

Throughout her career, Darlene has been a tireless advocate for students with learning differences. She says, “Students with autism and other disabilities should receive access to the same educational opportunities and academic resources as their peers across New York City.” Darlene’s successful CS4All grant established a STEMLab at her school, supplying students with equipment that included MacBook Pros, Arduinos, and Lego Mindstorms robotics kits. As another feature of the grant, Darlene and her partner teacher received over three years of instructional training and support. She was then able to share her new knowledge with interested teachers, paraprofessionals, and members of the administration at her school.

Darlene Bowman Equity Fellow Poster

Knowledge-sharing with her fellow educators has been crucial to Darlene’s advocacy for autistic and other disabled students. During the pandemic, she worked with CS4All and Mouse to teach computer science to hundreds of teachers across New York City, an initiative that expanded the city schools’ capacity to share CS with a wider range of students. Darlene says proudly, “I went from being the single voice representing students with autism at CSTA meetups to becoming the president of the Staten Island chapter.” This role allows her to reach even more teachers and administrators in her area to support CS instruction.

Before Darlene’s successful CS4All grant, computer science instruction at her high school was minimal, with students using outdated programs like Mavis Beacon and surfing YouTube videos in their ample downtime. She was determined to find strategies within and beyond the grant to make computing instruction relevant and engaging for her students. In the years that followed, Darlene’s students participated in CS showcases, STEM Fairs, and even games-related conferences at CUNY. She says, “At all of these events, my students were usually the only attendees with autism, and they were very proud to show their peers what they were capable of creating.”

During her initial CS training for the grant, Darlene remembers sharing classes with a CS teacher from her daughter’s high school. She says, “I was filled with so much joy knowing that my students were getting the same content that general education students were receiving.” Eager to build on that alignment, she invited the other high school to partner with her for a hackathon. The event was a tremendous success, and the CS4All program sent a team to film a documentary short to highlight the program and the talent and enthusiasm of its student and teacher participants.

Retirement hasn’t slowed Darlene down when it comes to sharing computer science with autistic learners. She currently hosts a weekly CS learning program at Wagner College, specifically targeted to autistic students and young adults. Wagner students also participate in the program, providing Darlene’s students with an opportunity for social engagement with peers who share their interest in technology and computing. Darlene says, “So many of my alternate assessment students want to go to college, but are unable to attend—until now!”

As a CSTA Equity Fellow, Darlene hopes to learn as much as she can from her cohort. She has always found her online CSTA meetings to be hugely beneficial for thinking and learning in community, and she’s excited to work with the other Equity Fellows to build on the work all of them are doing to promote equity in computer science. “I am trying to do my part locally,” she says, “but I would like to create change on a much broader scale.”

Coming from Staten Island and District 75 schools, Darlene is eager to learn more about the needs and inequities in other geographic regions and educational settings, and to discover how CS teachers are addressing those disparities. She wants to know how other educators are getting kids excited about computer science, particularly girls, students of color, and members of other groups underrepresented in the field. Knowing firsthand how important it is to expose principals to computer science in order to get their buy-in, she particularly hopes to pursue outreach and advocacy projects with school administrators.

Darlene can’t wait to get started. She says, “Participating in the fellowship will allow me to learn what others are doing and to make improvements to equity here at home. This is one of the most important things I can do, as a lifelong learner, to effect change.”