Bianca Dennis is an instructor at Juni Learning and holds a B.A. in South Asian and African Studies from Columbia University. She has previously been a Teaching Assistant at the New York Code + Design Academy.
How did you get into Computer Science?
I took a roundabout way of getting into Computer Science. I initially thought I was going to be an international correspondent, so I went to school and studied literature, Arabic, and Spanish. I ended up working at social media analytics company that had a very lean engineering team. I wanted to learn more about automating my tasks, so one of the women on the team taught me some basic SQL queries and how to use the Facebook API. I loved it. I started taking classes at the New York Code + Design Academy and later became a TA there as well.
Why do you spend your time teaching with Juni?
Juni is really awesome. I’ve spent a lot of time volunteering previously with Black Girls Code and Coding Made Easy. All of these experiences were great, but they always involved working with larger groups of students at once. Being able to work one-on-one with my students, especially with young women, feels like I’m really empowering them to start their path towards Computer Science. It feels like a very valuable way to spend my time.
How has teaching with Juni impacted you?
Honestly, teaching is also learning. You learn a lot about the quirks of the different languages you’re coding in. You also learn how to think on the fly to explain different concepts in different ways. Some of my students are really advanced, so I have to come up with challenges to keep them engaged. You know that you’re helping your students, but you can also see how you’re helping yourself — it’s really reciprocal in that way.
What’s the impact of Juni’s classes being held online?
The teaching environment is the student’s home. Some students have spaces set up for them to focus. It lets the students be very comfortable where they are, which I think is very important.
What are some of your teaching principles or strategies?
In general, I always try to stay very positive and focused on problem solving. I emphasize that there are many ways to solve a problem. I let students figure it out and try not to be critical. I’ve been in situations where I have one approach in mind, but we actually come up with a better way to solve it. I try very consciously to have us to try different angles and approaches.
Funny moments with students?
I was thinking about a fun project to do with one of my students, and I considered proposing a Harry Potter themed project, but I wasn’t quite sure if that would be so trendy these days. When we started working, she said, “I wonder if I can draw Harry Potter’s glasses!” I was so surprised and responded, “I was going to say we should do something from Harry Potter, but I thought you’d think it was too nerdy!” Then my student stood up, showing me the Harry Potter shirt she was wearing. That was my favorite moment of all time — I felt totally vindicated. :)
What do you do outside of teaching with Juni?
I just moved to Philadelphia a few months ago. I’ve been trying some new things — I recently tried axe throwing, and found that I really had a knack for it! I have no idea why, but it’s very fun. I also recently adopted another cat!