By Tracy Miller Geary
As the Khoury College associate dean and faculty lead at Northeastern University’s newly announced Vancouver site, Bethany Edmunds hopes to use the campus “as a way to really change the tech industry with diversity in the classroom and how we build the culture.”
Edmunds, with a background in software development, artificial intelligence, and educational innovation, was named one of British Columbia’s Most Influential Women in STEM by BC Business Magazine and Business in Vancouver’s Forty Under 40, both in 2018. In May, she was honored by the Vancouver YWCA in its 36th Annual Women of Distinction Award. There were 62 individual and four company nominees across 11 categories related to the well-being and future of the community; Edmunds received the highest honor in the Education, Training and Development category.
The YWCA event, held in May, was awards-show style, where the winners did not know they had won until announced at the show. Winning was “thrilling,” says Edmunds, who sat at a Northeastern table. As part of “so many worthy nominees of amazing women,” she says she didn’t expect to win. To Edmunds, the award has special meaning: “My efforts in advancing education have been well received in the industry and the community, and the efforts that the whole team has put together are really worthwhile.”
Experience in collaboration-focused curriculum
Her commitment to breaking ground in tech education began early. While earning her Ph.D. in machine learning at Rutgers University (CS ’09), Edmunds was the co-organizer for the second international Women in Machine Learning Workshop. She continues to actively encourage women and girls to pursue careers in tech, speaking regularly at women in technology events, most recently at an event for the Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology. She was the first female Associate Dean of Computing at British Columbia Institute of Technology.
It was at BCIT that Edmunds developed the TEC (Technology Education and Collaboration) Hub alongside Steve Eccles, who now serves as Regional Dean and CEO of Northeastern University, Vancouver. At the time, she and Eccles did research into different learning models and collected data from students and faculty to re-design TEC from scratch.
“Through weekend workshops,” she explains, “faculty were trained in more experiential learning styles and worked through the curriculum to make sure that all of the learning outcomes were reached. We then took that into the classroom space and enabled student-driven education to support the new flipped and collaboration-focused curriculum.”
Dr. Edmunds considers Steve Eccles to be a fantastic role model of a true leader. “He recognizes that, while we work together, all of us are so much more than what we do in the office. Through acknowledging that his employees are complete and complex people, he is able to encourage them to embrace their whole selves in a way that makes them not only more invested in the organization, but also only more fulfilled in the work that they do.”
Technology, education, and an equitable world
In March 2019, Edmunds raised her own ideas about technology, education, and diversity with Stewart McNish as part of Conversations that Matter with Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Dialogue. As she explained to McNish, “Technology helps the disenfranchised of the world.” Edmunds acknowledges that “It’s an aspirational goal, but in order for technology to be able to help all people and bring us to a shared prosperity, we need to include people from all walks of life in the development process.”
About Edmunds’s appointment, Dean Carla Brodley remarks, “Bethany is a skilled leader in computer science education and an advocate for countless women in computer science as both an educator and a mentor.” The dean has confidence in the associate dean’s leadership of the program: “When she agreed to join Khoury College in Vancouver, I knew we would be in good hands.”
Even in her short time at Khoury, Edmunds has already “seen the novel approach to computer science that Khoury takes compared to other universities. The inclusion of ethics and improv in the undergraduate curriculum and the creation of the Align program are perfect examples of this focus.” She plans “to take the fantastic work that has been done across the network and push it even further. We’re going to take these programs, combine them with what I have learned, and work with Northeastern’s Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning Through Research (CATLR) to make a truly student-focused learning environment.”
At this time, the MS in CS program is the feature program in Vancouver, with the Align MS in CS program to be available in the Fall ’20 semester. Read more about Northeastern in Vancouver.
This article was written with additional information by Ben Hosking.