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Why I Give: ‘I Am Extremely Grateful that Others Who Came Before Me Gave Back and I Want to Do the Same for Future Generations,’ Says Doctoral Student Jennifer Houchins ‘21PHD

Jennifer Houchins

This is part of a monthly “Why I Give” series in which NC State College of Education alumni, students, faculty and staff share why they support the college.

When Jennifer Houchins ‘21PHD graduated with her master’s degree, she landed a job as a software engineer in Raleigh, North Carolina. After about six years in that role, she lost her job when the company closed its office. Losing that job became one of the best things to ever happen to her. 

Houchins says if it hadn’t happened, she may have never ended up at Shodor Education Foundation, an educational nonprofit. It was there where she began teaching computer-based STEM workshops for students, leading professional development workshops where she helped educators incorporate computationally-rich activities into their own instruction, and developing dynamic curriculum for teaching STEM concepts. There, she found her passion for education.

“It was my time at Shodor that made me realize that education was truly my home. I’m happy to see my students thrive and learn to love science as much as I do,” she said. “My work with students and educators inspired me to pursue my current studies.”

Houchins is pursuing a Ph.D. in teacher education and learning sciences in the learning design and technology program area of study. She serves as a research assistant on the InfuseCS and PRISM Robotics projects, where she develops innovative curriculum to teach computational thinking and computer science concepts within other content areas and provides professional development for teachers who want to incorporate those materials into their classroom practices.

Being able to pursue her doctoral studies and gain experience in research would not have been possible for Houchins without financial support. As a first-generation college student and a student with a chronic medical condition, Houchins says private support and scholarships have made it possible for her to pursue her doctorate degree. 

“Private scholarships made a huge impact on my educational experiences. Without such support, I don’t think pursuing advanced studies such as my doctoral program would have ever been possible,” she said.

When she isn’t studying, Houchins enjoys making things. Her grandmother taught her to crochet when she was a child, and as an adult, she has added knitting to her skill set. And she enjoys sharing those skills with her 12-year-old niece. When she’s not crafting, Houchins enjoys mountain biking and kayaking around the beautiful parks in North Carolina. 

In the Q&A below, she talks about why she chose the NC State College of Education to pursue her doctorate, why she supports the college and how financial support and scholarships have impacted her experience. The following is edited for length and clarity.

Why did you choose to attend the NC State College of Education for your doctorate?

The learning design and technology program was a huge draw for me. The interdisciplinary nature of the curriculum and the research being conducted by its faculty just seemed to be the perfect fit for my own research and career goals. Beyond that, the college’s collaborative atmosphere was extremely important to me. Just like a wolf pack, I believe that researchers and educators are stronger together.

Tell me about one of your fondest memories at NC State.

One of my fondest memories at NC State is when we took our makerspace students on a field trip to the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C. At some point during the day, a group of students who were with another teacher chaperone came running excitedly up to me. They had visited a booth at the festival that was giving away stickers and they had picked one especially for me that said, “Don’t mess with science, we have lasers!”

What are your research interests and what inspired those interests?

My current research examines students’ use of computational thinking and the effective use of instructional technology to deepen conceptual understanding in both formal and informal K-12 learning environments. I’m also interested in using learning analytics and machine learning techniques to improve learning outcomes. These research interests were inspired by my work at Shodor Education Foundation. It was there where I could see how innovative, instructional technology helped students visualize and understand complex scientific concepts and ignited their interest in pursuing STEM college and career paths.

Why do you give to the NC State College of Education?

The NC State College of Education provides incredible support to its students. Regular funding streams such as federal funding can only stretch so far. Giving to the college helps to ensure that other students can be extended the same level of support that I have received during my time here.

What do you hope to see happen as a result of your gift?

I hope that my gift will help the college to continue providing scholarships and innovative, equitable educational opportunities for future educators. In particular, I hope that the funds provide support to first-generation college students who hope to inspire their own students in the future.

How has private financial support or scholarships impacted your experience?

I am both a first-generation college student and a student with a chronic medical condition that comes with high cost of care. Private scholarships made a huge impact on my educational experiences. Without such support, I don’t think pursuing advanced studies such as my doctoral program would have ever been possible. I am extremely grateful that others who came before me gave back and I want to do the same for future generations.