Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Take Five: Zack Garbow (Southern Minnesota)

Most of the people that we know are able to 'talk the talk'. Only a handful of folks are able to 'walk the walk'. Zack Garbow is a young man who has walked the walk for many years as the technical coordinator and HSCC instructor with BDPA Southern Minnesota chapter.

The students that he trained have won the national High School Computer Competition (HSCC) championship in five of the past six years ... and they won the silver medal in that other year! His students have matriculated with over $50,000 in Jesse Bemley Scholarships to educational institutions like Howard University, Johns Hopkins University, Marist College, Rice University, University of Minnesota and Washington University in St. Louis. Zack is truly a remarkable BDPA volunteer who has made a difference in the lives of dozens of our student members.

We asked Zack to share some of his thoughts on BDPA in our Take Five interview series.

  1. How did you get involved with BDPA? - When I graduated college and started working at IBM, I wanted to get involved in the community and give back. One of my IBM mentors, Voke Sanomi Fleming, was involved in BDPA and invited me to observe a class. I was hooked. I began by helping support the classroom learning and eventually took over as technical coordinator for our chapter.
  2. What is the most rewarding aspect of working with BDPA? - Seeing the students succeed is the most rewarding aspect, without a doubt. And by "succeed", I mean different things for different students. For some students, succeeding has meant getting full ride scholarships into prestigious colleges. For other students, succeeding has been gaining self esteem and discovering a passion in technology. The great thing about BDPA is it's an equal opportunity environment - students participate in the class regardless of race, experience, or GPA.
  3. Do you have a favorite student that you've worked with in BDPA? - Why?  No - it's like asking a parent if they have a favorite child! I enjoy teaching the basics of HTML to a student who has never programmed before as much as I enjoy teaching advanced javascript to a member of our competition team.

    In fact, it may come as a surprise, but I prohibit discussion of the National Competition until our general training session is complete in the early summer. Until that time, the sole focus of our youth computer training program is to collectively teach the entire class - from the top student to the bottom. There are no favorites, and every student starts at 0 points, with an equal chance at earning their way onto our competition team.
  4. What would future evolution or change would you like to see in BDPA's STEM-based training? - In my mind it needs to be much more collaborative. Today, each chapter operates on an island. Even though we are teaching the same techniques and technologies, every chapter develops their own curriculum, training material, assignments, etc. It's a colossal waste of time and resources! Instead of everyone re-inventing the wheel, we ought to be sharing best practices and best resources. If someone develops a killer HTML tutorial or an engaging PHP assignment, it ought to be available for other chapters to utilize.

    My goal is to create a universal repository of technology resources, shared among all BDPA chapters. That way every chapter can browse the materials and assignments by keyword or topic, and with a single click, pick and choose resources to add to their custom online curriculum. This will allow each chapter to focus more of their time and attention on helping students rather than re-developing material that already exists elsewhere (often in better form).

    The challenge is that many folks are reluctant to share their material, and that is understandable. However, I have 5 years of materials I've developed for our class that I will use to seed the repository and prove its value.

    I will be developing and releasing this online repository this summer, so I'd be happy to get feedback and ideas for the project from other chapters until then and during the National Conference.
  5. Any advice for people considering a donation to BETF? - My advice is simple: if you want to see the impact the donation would make, simply observe a class session and speak to a few students. I have no doubt you will be hooked, just as I was and continue to be.

Zack is a visionary. I hope that BDPA leaders around the country take heed of the thoughts that Zack shared with us above.

In the meantime, I hope that there is a chapter out there who will give BDPA Southern Minnesota a run for their money at the 2011 national HSCC championship to be held in Chicago later this year. BETF hopes that we can hand out more Bemley Scholarships this year ... you can help!

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