Posted by Stacy Jeziorowski on Dec 14, 2021
Headshot of Anita Debarlaben
CSTA Equity Fellow Anita Debarlaben believes that some students need to “see one to be one.”

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Photo of Anita F. Debarlaben, High school CS teacher and engineer from Chicago, IL. The text above the image reads, "Anita encourages youth to use CS to help others... Computer science helps prepare YOU for the digital age." Her image sits in front of a white background with gray vector computer graphics.CSTA Equity Fellow Anita Debarlaben believes that some students need to “see one to be one.” So, she transitioned from a career as a Software Engineer to a high school computer science teacher. Currently, at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, she’s determined to reach, teach, and encourage as many students as possible to enter STEM careers. 
Much of this encouragement comes from her “see one to be one” motto. To help encourage equity in her computer science classroom, Debarlaben displays posters of people of color demonstrating and discussing computer science. Additionally, she ensures the classroom speakers she invites include people of color and women. “I believe most speakers can provide students with a valuable message, but I want my marginalized students to see professionals that look like them,” shared Debarlaben. 
In her teaching, Debarlaben points out excellent problem-solving approaches so students can understand that the way you approach the problem is just as important as the final solution. “It also allows me to have more ways to give praise,” explained Debarlaben. “I try to give praise from multiple perspectives, such as the most artistic solution, the most engaging solution, or the biggest risk-takers. Finding ways to give praise from different perspectives allows me to demonstrate equity by having a way to engage more students and helping them to understand their efforts are valued and recognized regardless of their grade.” 
Debarlaben works to disrupt inequities for females in computer science. She became the moderator for the Women in STEAM club, whose motto is to explore, participate, and educate others about STEAM careers. To explore, they visited Bank of America, where two female engineers discussed Computer Science and Cybersecurity careers and then engaged the students in an Escape Room activity featuring famous women in technology.  
To participate, her Women in STEAM club went on field trips to the Apple Stores to take workshops. In 2019, they took a workshop to learn how to program robots using SWIFT.  In 2020, they learned how to make videos using augmented reality.  To educate, her Women in STEAM club organized a Girl Scout STEM patch workshop to help young Girl Scouts get exposure to the STEM fields and learn about coding while providing them with high school mentors. They also ran a workshop for the school community, where they introduced attendees to important female figures in technology and then led them in an introduction to programming activity.  
In addition, Debarlaben works to disrupt the inequities for African American and Hispanic students. “To make a difference, you must understand the problem and create ways to address the issues,” said Debarlaben. “I read the report written by Google entitled ‘Diversity Gaps in Computer Science: Exploring the underrepresentation of Girls, Blacks and Hispanics, 2016’. The main point I got from the report was that ‘these groups are underrepresented due to a lack of role models in CS, a lack of opportunity to learn CS, a lack of exposure to CS and a lack of encouragement from others to learn CS.'”
Debarlaben first addressed the lack of exposure to computer science for African American and Hispanic students through existing youth groups. She held after-school workshops for both groups to give them exposure and a chance to explore programming in a fun, no-risk, engaging environment. She then increased the diversity of their speaker pool. 
The result of this hard work? Over the last four years, Debarlaben has seen an increase amongst the female enrollment in her computer science classes of over 300%. Five of the young women in her classes earned the National Council of Women in Technology award for 2021. Debarlaben also earned the NCWIT Aspirations in Computing Educator award for my efforts in increasing female enrollment.
In addition, she earned the AP Computer Science Principles Female Diversity Award.  Schools receiving the AP Computer Science Female Diversity Award have achieved either 50% or higher female exam taker representation in one of or both AP computer science courses.
Debarlaben applied to become a CSTA Equity Fellow to grow and develop as a moderator and facilitator for the equity discussion. “There is a lot to learn about recognizing the inequities that are present in policies and decisions that affect marginalized groups,” she shared. “This fellowship can provide me with an opportunity to continue to develop my confidence and motivation for increasing my knowledge of the issues our students are facing each day.” 
This school year, Debarlaben is focused on teaching students how to recognize and address their biases. She teaches an AI/Machine Learning class that focuses on the biases in AI algorithms. “I want to use this fellowship to collaborate with other teachers and continue to learn how to identify and address these biases, especially in AI algorithms,” she explained. “One of the most important ways to address the biases is to have a diverse voice, including women and other marginalized students, when AI algorithms are developed.” 
Learn more about the CSTA Equity Fellowship and this year’s cohort here.