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Brown CS Alum Victoria Chávez ‘18 Makes An Impact On The Rhode Island Community

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“I had a choice to take a high-paying job in Silicon Valley,” laughs Brown CS alum Victoria Chávez ‘18, “but I chose to follow my passions and make a difference.” Making a difference seems to be the hallmark of so many Brown students, and Victoria is no different. Currently working as part-time faculty for the University of Rhode Island computer science department and serving as a consultant for the Computer Science for Rhode Island (CS4RI) education initiative, she’s devoted her career to helping others, and her impacts can be felt far beyond beyond campus.

Victoria discovered her love for computer science very early on. “I took computer science in high school,” she remembers, “and I fell in love.” This love for problem solving and tinkering, combined with her passion for making an impact, naturally led her to Brown. But at Brown, she decided to take a bit of an unconventional path. “I was super involved as a TA,” she explains, “and I wanted to help students from a similar background to mine.” Growing up in a single-parent household in the West Side of Chicago, Victoria knew the struggles and challenges often faced by those from disadvantaged backgrounds, and wanted to help those students. 

“Low-income students end up having much less preparation for college, and are much more likely to leave STEM fields,” describes Victoria. So with this realization in mind, Victoria chose to follow a path that diverged from the typical high-paying Bay Area development job that so many CS students decide to pursue. “I couldn’t find a Master of Arts in teaching computer science,” she laughs, “so I went for a Master’s in Urban Education Policy.” Now armed with a background in both STEM and Urban Policy, Victoria took on a role as a researcher with CS4RI. CS4RI is one of the most comprehensive computer science initiatives in the country, with the main goal of ensuring that CS opportunities and access are available to all Rhode Island students in the years ahead. Specializing in providing access to students with learning disabilities, Victoria immersed herself in the program. 

It was during her time at the program that one of her colleagues brought up a suggestion. There was an open teaching position in the URI computer science department, and Victoria seemed like the perfect fit. Naturally, she jumped at the opportunity to get involved in a grass-roots movement to improve computer science access. 

Why has she chosen this route? “I don’t want to spend my life debugging code,” laughs Victoria. “I like big-picture solutions. I don’t really care about producing products for a corporation, I would much rather work on making education more equitable, on helping low-income students succeed.” Victoria has brought this philosophy to URI, where she currently teaches Web Design and Programming, a course for students with all levels of programming experience. “I want to create an environment where everyone can prosper,” she remarks, “an environment where I can really get to know my students and there’s an emphasis on learning and not just grades.” 

When asked what prepared her the most for her eventual career, Victoria has an immediate answer: the UTA program. “I felt like working as a TA really prepared me for the work,” she explains. “It shaped my view of computer science and helped me understand what I believe to be true about computer science education.” As an HTA for an introductory CS class, one of the developers of CS 17’s workshops, and a founding member of Mosaic+ –a program to increase the participation and retention of CS students of underrepresented backgrounds– Victoria has clearly made the most of her time at Brown to make an impact on the Rhode Island community. 

For more information, click the link that follows to contact Brown CS Communications Outreach Specialist Jesse Polhemus.