This is the first in our Take Five series on outstanding VCCS faculty members. Our objective is to shine a light on those who are innovating while educating and in the process, taking classroom instruction and student engagement to a whole new level.
1. How it is you became a college professor? Did you experience a defining event that paved the way for your career or has higher education always been in your blood? Please explain.
I migrated from Ghana (West Africa) to the US at the age of fourteen. As an ESL student, becoming a college professor was not part of my vocabulary. I just wanted to get through high school and get a job that can help support my family. I had big dreams of becoming a professional soccer player, but my aspirations were cut short by multiple injuries. I was fortunate enough to have a father who encouraged me to take education seriously. I graduated from George Mason University with an MS in Telecommunication Networks and BS in Electrical Engineering. I spent the first 12 years of my career as a systems engineer building and testing space hardware applications for nuclear vulnerabilities. Around 2003, my company tasked me to design and build a high-security facility to help process sensitive data. I developed a passion for information technology/cybersecurity after completing the task. Around 2013, I made a career change to IT/Cybersecurity and started teaching for NVCC as an adjunct.
As an adjunct, I quickly discovered that teaching was my calling, but the salary that I was making in the private sector was preventing me from switching to full-time faculty. Then I experienced an event that paved the way for me to respond to my calling. Many of my students approached me several times, asking me to consider full-time teaching so that they could take more classes with me. I had a burning desire to work with students, so it helped me to respond to their requests. I was so attached to my students that my wife will usually make this statement, “Honey, can you please fit me in your schedule like your students? You are too much into your teaching.”
I am glad I made the switch because teaching is my calling, not my profession.
2. What makes you successful in the classroom? What sort of strategies and techniques do you employ to make that all-important connection with your students?
I believe that communication is what brings success to my classroom. I always try my best to make myself available for my students to reach me. I attend a lot of professional conferences and faculty development training. I rehearse before every lecture. I use different instructional strategies for teaching (books, newsletters, articles, online conferences, blogs, forums, visual aids, and gaming). Also, my 20 years of professional experience is a significant advantage in educating my students (it allows me to teach them real-world activities).
3. Since the “new normal” requires that you now deliver your instruction online, what sort of challenges have you encountered? Has not being able to communicate face-to-face with your students prompted any concerns?
I think the biggest challenge for me was technical difficulties and isolation. A couple of my students did not have a reliable computer and internet connection, so they had issues completing specific assignments. I was able to use cloud resources to help resolve their problems (thanks to Amazon and VA cyber range). I also didn’t like the idea of not being able to see their faces because their cameras are always off, and I have no idea if they are listening to me online.
I was able to deliver my lectures and interacted with my students through different discussion forums without any issues. I took advantage of technology to provide visual and practical learning experiences.
4. If one of your students was asked to describe your methodology and style of teaching, what would he or she likely say?
They would say he lectures about 30% (theory) and works with the students on real-world problems (70% practical application). They would also say he asks a lot of questions during his lectures to make it more interactive (open discussion, allows learners to share ideas in the classroom).
5. Please tell us about your interests, hobbies, etc., and how they might relate to your success in the classroom.
Before I became a full-time professor, I was actively engaged in playing capture the flag (CTF) games on the weekends with NOVA IT/Cybersecurity students. I used to spend about 4-6 hours every Saturday, building virtualization/cloud infrastructure environments for fun. The experiences I gained from the CTF and infrastructure developments have a lot to do with my classroom success.
I love playing with electronic gadgets, and I am a big fan of sports (football and basketball).