As written by Eileen Porzuczek
“Learn anyway you can, you can always learn more and I advocate for that for anyone in any profession. Pass that knowledge to someone else, there are so many places to do that in the world.”
LaJoi Shelton Robinson doesn’t just speak on the importance of learning and sharing knowledge, but she is constantly doing so herself. She is a wife, a mother, a teacher, a coach, a mentor, a student, and an intern. LaJoi really does it all with determination, motivation, and a radiating attitude of positivity. When she first got out of college, she worked as part of a NASA SEMAA Education program—helping to equip educators and students with concrete tools to familiarize underrepresented students with STEM, along with a concentration in Aeronautic applications. This experience was something she really enjoyed because she had the opportunity to talk to various people from different backgrounds about STEM. To LaJoi, this came easy because she had always been passionate about STEM and helping to engage others with it.
As LaJoi’s journey continued, she began teaching math and facilitating Explosion—a fun outlet space for students to express and empower themselves through dance—at Fishers High School in Fishers, Indiana. In the classroom, she was always looking for ways to engage her students with how the math they were learning could be applied in the real world. This sparked her interest in expanding her own learning to give her students more real-world connections.
“I really have always loved STEM and wanted to be more engaged with tech, this started before I even knew about the CICS master’s program at Ball State University. I always wanted to learn more about programming, AI, and data analytics. As a math teacher, those are real-world places where math can be applied. They can really show how it matters and how doors keep opening up in those fields. We can see the impact that technology is having with us and our society, especially recently with quarantine. So, it really interests me to learn more about tech and navigating to bridge that into the world in a way that I am passionate about.”
Since becoming an online master’s student in the CICS program at Ball State University, she has developed more leadership and confidence as a problem solver. LaJoi finds herself actively seeking solutions with tech, which is the world we are in and gearing towards. She says, “I want to grow into that, to be able to help others and this path is helping me. Every course I take in the program, allows me to grow more and more.” This past year, LaJoi proved this to be true in her 601 course, when her collaborative team worked to solve a real-world problem for The Accenture Challenge and won the competition against their classmates. Together, her team created an application to help the company accomplish their goal, while still providing them with a good return on investment.
“My ICS 601 Foundations Course has definitely been my favorite part of the program so far because we were doing real-world work. Collectively though, the program has given me the tools to be a creative thinker with tech skills. To create solutions, to have a platform and space to take the knowledge and skills you have to creatively build something that can be communicated to solve someone’s problem.”
After having that real-world experience in class LaJoi was hungry for more practical learning experiences, so in addition to an already busy summer, she signed up to complete a course with CICS, the first university program in the country to partner with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and recently became an AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner. Throughout these immersive experiences LaJoi desired more hands on learning and sought out a competitive spot in an exciting summer internship program, “S.O.S. Challenge” with TechPoint in Indianapolis. An internship, which has allowed her to work collaboratively with students from all over and provide real tech solutions for real sectors. She said, “I think having these real-world experiences where I am collaboratively solving problems with technical solutions is extremely important. It allows me to gain a new perspective and important skills if I transition into the industry.”
Al Caroll, University Activation Senior Manager for TechPoint agrees with the importance of LaJoi’s participation in the internship program, but more from the perspective of how valued her involvement was for others.”Diverse perspectives help teams solve tough problems. The TechPoint S.O.S. Challenge is better for having LaJoi’s participation. Her background as an educator, and the tools she’s learning in the graduate level CICS program enriches her contributions. We’re excited to see how this experience will impact her future”.
This fall, LaJoi will be teaching AP Computer Science Principles at Fishers High School, in the Hamilton Southeastern School District where she herself attended growing up. When talking about her experiences with tech in the CICS master’s program at Ball State University and with TechPoint, she said, “All of the experiences I have had in the CICS program and as an intern for TechPoint will help me connect my students from point A to point B with real-world examples. I can give them the big picture of technology and break it down into its principles. I can give them similar class projects to the things I did, rather than some article from a book. I will be able to really show them the larger scene of what people do in this world with tech and computer science, as well as how they can transfer those skills into whatever they want to do.”
The root of what LaJoi is doing is even bigger than that though, she is an active advocate and leader for diverse representation in STEM. Since she was a teen, LaJoi has been a member of the National Society of Black Engineers. She even previously worked as a pre-college initiative chair and math coach for them. While she may not be as involved now, she is still a member and loves seeing the successes of her old students. LaJoi referenced how sometimes people question why she does as much as she does, and she made it clear that the answer is,
“I want to show that there is representation there, and there needs to be more! I would like for there to be more black women in the STEM and tech spaces, and I want to show that black women are capable of being in those spaces just as much as anyone else.”