Newest CITL Faculty Fellow, Fagen-Ulmschneider Motivated by Accessibility

11/9/2021 8:25:29 AM Aaron Seidlitz, Illinois CS

A personal purpose in computing education, combined with an admiration of educational content at the University of Illinois, pushes Wade Fagen-Ulmschneider to make innovative teaching as accessible as possible.

Written by Aaron Seidlitz, Illinois CS

Wade Fagen-Ulmschneider, a teaching associate professor at Illinois CS focused on systems and data as well as computers and education, finds himself amazed by the educational content that surrounds him at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Wade Fagen-Ulmschneider, Illinois CS teaching associate professor and new CITL Faculty Fellow, remains inspired by making innovative teaching as accessible as possible.
Wade Fagen-Ulmschneider, Illinois CS teaching associate professor and new CITL Faculty Fellow, remains inspired by making innovative teaching as accessible as possible.

He also feels compelled to break down any barriers that might exist – technological or educational – to help other instructors make their work as accessible as possible. That passion led to a new position this month, as a Faculty Fellow within the Center for Innovation in Teaching & Learning (CITL).

“I look at all of the content that faculty throughout Illinois have built build through their courses, and I often equate it to creating amazing, beautiful gardens,” Fagen-Ulmschneider said. “However, we are also building walls up around those gardens, preventing everyone who should be able to see and access what we create from actually doing so.”

Now more than eight years into his time as a faculty member at Illinois CS, his passion for removing barriers to educational materials has only grown stronger.

That’s, in part, because Fagen-Ulmschneider feels personally attached to this purpose.

This dates to the moment he earned a bachelor’s and master’s in computer science at The University of Texas at Dallas. He entered investment baking as a strategist with Morgan Stanley. While pleased with his job performance there, he soon wanted to find something he considered more fulfilling. Even though he hadn’t immediately wanted to stay in school to earn a PhD, his mind soon changed.

Fagen-Ulmschneider decided then that he had to follow his passion.

And that, he thought, meant working with students and exploring everything that computing education had to offer. He wanted to share what he loved so much about computer science, and he wanted to see students grow to understand all they could do in this field.

He then came to Illinois, where he earned a PhD in Computer Science and immediately became a teaching faculty upon graduation. Since then his commitment to the student has been clear.

“We have the most remarkable students here at Illinois CS and throughout the university,” Fagen-Ulmschneider. “I’m amazed at their capabilities and excitement about what we teach.”

With a passion for data, he served as the lead instructor of CS 225 (Data Structures) for several years and recently began working to create two new courses: an introductory course in Data Science, CS/STAT/IS 107: Data Science DISCOVERY, and a new systems course for CS majors, CS 240: Introduction to Computer Systems. In addition, he works with students on data visualizations, which have been used by multiple governors, featured by websites including Popular Mechanics and The Verge, and has been viewed by millions of readers.

He’s also taught courses including CS 241: System Programming; CS 105: Introduction to Computer Science; CS 305: Data Driven Discovery; and CS 498: Accelerated CS Fundamentals.

Fagen-Ulmschneider' students consistently rank him as an excellent instructor over the past eight years. The National Academy of Engineering also named him a Frontiers of Engineering Education scholar in 2016. Additionally, he earned the Collins Award for Innovative Teaching in 2017, the Scott H. Fisher Computer Science Teaching Award in 2019, and the Provost’s Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in 2020.

Considering these accomplishments, he still believes that becoming a CITL Faculty Fellow is one of the highlights of his career thus far.

“This is one of the most meaningful recognitions of my career,” Fagen-Ulmschneider said. “The CITL Faculty Fellow means so much, because it’s about helping to provide new insight to faculty across campus as we work to expand the way we teach with both the student and accessibility to course content in mind.”

As a CITL Faculty Fellow, he will have a stipend of $3,000 that he can use for items such as salary, scholarship, student support, etc. The position also affords him the opportunity to help design new programs and initiatives that could impact hundreds of campus instructors over the coming years, promote communication across the disciplines, and serve as an ambassador for CITL services and resources.

Support for CITL comes from the Provost’s office, and the center’s website makes its mission clear. CITL will "explore and promote innovative teaching to support transformative learning experiences in all modalities.”

Fagen-Ulmschneider also has a predecessor right here from Illinois CS, as teaching professor Lawrence Angrave stepped into this role before.

“I have discussed being a CITL Faculty Fellow with Lawrence before, as he has been a mentor to me,” Fagen-Ulmschneider said. “Lawrence has taught me so much about how best to innovate the educational services we provide. I’m honored to now contribute to this same effort in CITL, where so many great educators have already established an amazing service our campus and community utilizes.”

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This story was published November 9, 2021.