MCCC Computer Science Professor Honored With Teaching Excellence Award

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Image via David DeBalko for MCCC.
Dr. Kendall Martin has been named the recipient of the 2022 Gladys and Raymond Pearlstine Award for Teaching Excellence.
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For over two decades, Dr. Kendall Martin has been introducing her students at Montgomery County Community College to a new superpower you won’t find inside the pages of a comic book. The Computer Science professor has helped them discover the full potential of technology that surrounds them and learn to use it ways they never dreamed possible, changing their lives forever.

In a classic example, one former student told Dr. Martin she believed she was destined to spend her life working as a beautician in a hair salon before taking a Computer Science course.

“Everybody in her family said ‘You’re no good at technology. That’s for your brother. Why don’t you go learn to do hair?’” said Dr. Martin of Lansdale. “And now she’s at Lockheed Martin, working as a computer programmer. So, you can start to see yourself in a different light and see a different future for yourself. Once you see you can be taught how to do these things, then you own it. It’s your superpower and you can use it however you want. That can be a life-changing moment.”

Dr. Martin’s efforts to change the lives of her students for the better is now being celebrated. At this year’s Commencement ceremonies, she was named the recipient of the 2022 Gladys and Raymond Pearlstine Award for Teaching Excellence.

The award recognizes a full-time faculty member whose teaching is intellectually stimulating, accessible for all students, and demonstrates a commitment to the well-being of students both inside and outside of the classroom.

Learning she’d been named the recipient of the award was “thrilling,” she said and felt like she was “walking on air.”

“The reason the award means so much to me is that the legacy of names on that list of past recipients is incredible,” said Dr. Martin. “It’s such an honor to be able to see that group of people and to know how many people have dedicated all of their careers to helping the students in Montgomery County and making the adventure of learning be part of someone’s life. It’s a wonderful thing to have a role in that legacy.”

Martin’s legacy began 23 years ago when she accepted a position at MCCC, following past teaching stints at Ursinus College and Villanova University. She also worked previously at Texas Instruments and Bell Laboratories.

“I started getting into teaching when my kids were born,” she said.

Dr. Martin, who holds a doctoral degree in Engineering, from the University of Pennsylvania, fell in love with Computer Science, not only for its intellectual challenges, but also the range of career pathways it opens for students and its geographic flexibility.  

“It’s just such a great stepping-stone for students coming into the community college to kind of move their life in a direction that gives them a lot of control and challenge,” she said. “A lot of our students come in under resourced in exposure to technology, in experience and confidence in mathematics, and so they shy away from Computer Science. So, I’ve really worked hard to try and draft people and get them into the pipeline. If they get a supported experience, a lot of them find it’s a great match for their interests.”

Over the years, Dr. Martin has come up with unique and creative ways to expose different groups of students to Computer Science outside the classroom, starting at an early age.

In 2018, she and Sound Recording and Music Technology (SRT) Instructor Jen Mitlas, launched a Pennsylvania chapter of Beats by Girlz for students in the Center for Culture, Art, Training and Education (CCATE) in Norristown. The program is a non-traditional, creative way of learning music that was started at the Berklee School of Music by Associate Professor Erin Barra-Jean. She wrote a music curriculum in response to the low numbers of women entering the field and used the Abelton Push, a new electronic instrument, to encourage girls’ interest in music.

Following the success of their program, Dr. Martin and Mitlas then successfully launched Beats by Girlz programs at The Pathway School, a school for students predominantly on the autism spectrum; The Lakeside Girls Academy, which provides informed teaching for girls who’ve suffered traumatic experiences; The Crefeld School, a private high school in Chestnut Hill; and a summer program for girls at the North Wales Area Library and at Abington Senior High School. Dr. Martin and Mitlas then transitioned from teaching the program directly to training faculty and staff at each school to run it themselves.

In 2021, Dr. Martin and Mitlas introduced a new course at the College called “The Language of Digital Media,” which teaches students to use state-of-the-art tools in digital audio and video production. Then as the pandemic continued to rage, the two women began hosting “Montco@Home,” a virtual interview series on electronic music production, featuring artists from around the world. Dr. Martin and Mitlas were awarded an MCCC 2020-2021 Year of Learning Innovation Grant for their efforts.

Most recently, Dr. Martin helped launch Java Bootcamp, a four-week, free online course in coding and computer programming taught by students during summer and winter breaks to give Computer Science students a refresh in material they’d soon be studying in the upcoming semester. The program is run through the Women In Science and Technology (WIST) program, of which Dr. Martin is a member, and funded by the WIST/STEM department. At its start in summer 2021, the program had 10 students in attendance. When it was offered again during winter break, attendance for the class quadrupled.

Outside of her work to promote the Computer Science program, Dr. Martin was also recognized for helping promote other campus wellness center resources that support students, including free online therapy with TimelyMD and online tutoring available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for students.

Dr. Martin saluted the College’s administration for supporting these types of programs and helping bring them to fruition. For years, she said, faculty members would be on the front lines helplessly watching students struggle. Now they can offer hope.

“I’m grateful to the administration for all the work they’ve done to create this set of resources,” she said. “Now we can walk up to students who are struggling and give them some options. If you give them an option, they’ll run with it. I’m happy to see the full picture of a student is seen and supported.”

During Commencement, Dr. Gloria Oikelome, Vice President of Academic Affairs, read quotes from some of Dr. Martin’s students, who praised her super heroic ability to get them as excited as she is about Computer Science and for her never-ending battle to see them all succeed.

“She is so passionate about computer science and teaching to students!” wrote one student. “She wants to see her students succeed. I love it when she gets excited with us when we figure out how to do something.”

“She constantly told us about all of the different resources students at Montco have,” said another student. “Even though it wasn’t directly related to coding, she still made sure everyone knew about the mental health resources available, and it helped me greatly.”

“Dr. Martin has worked over the past summer and winter breaks to organize and run an online Java Bootcamp that is open to all programming students,” said one student.

Another student shared that “Dr. Kendall Martin is an exceptional professor and mentor. She is always pushing me to do better and acknowledging my hard work.”

With the Pearlstine award now in hand, Dr. Kendall Martin said she’s planning a sabbatical to expand upon the relationships she’s made in Norristown and continuing to promote the electronic music program at the College. She’s also excited for the launch of the Challenger Learning Center at Pottstown Campus this fall and already has ideas for her students to create interactive museum pieces for the space. Lastly, she plans to continue tutoring students on the autistic spectrum in electronic music to expand their capabilities in technology and unlock their creativity.

“I’m excited about how many things could happen over the next 10 years,” she said. “I’m looking forward to the next decade.”

For more than 57 years, Montgomery County Community College has grown with the community to meet the evolving educational needs of Montgomery County. The College’s comprehensive curriculum includes more than 100 associate degree and certificate programs, as well as customized workforce training and certifications. Students enjoy the flexibility of learning at the College’s thriving campuses in Blue Bell and Pottstown, at the Culinary Arts Institute in Lansdale, and online.  

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