Suzanne da Câmara

What do you hope to change in STEM?

I’m really interested in STEM education, and it upsets me when people think they can’t do something. Women often are discouraged from going into STEM and that drives me bananas! I honestly believe that anybody can learn anything. Maybe it won’t be your specialty and you won’t be a rocket scientist in it, but you can always collect a working knowledge about a concept. It’s really, really interesting to me to learn how to teach computer science. To me, everybody, I mean everybody, should have a programming class. It’s important today to be able to talk with people who make these programs. Let’s say you have a start-up and need an app for your business or a way to interact with your employees—you don’t have to be able to code it yourself, but to be able to talk to a programmer and understand what they’re saying with realistic expectations is important.

How does programming excite you?

Even if you never program again in your life after learning about it, it’ll influence how you make decisions throughout life. I was a TA for the Intro to Java course, and it’s very, very visual. People who aren’t technical and those who are very artistic can get really excited about what they’re creating, and they’ll spend hours to get the picture on the screen how they want it. They get really engaged in what they’re making, and that’s the purpose of programming—it’s not just about crunching numbers.

Tell us a little about your research.

I’m in human-computer reaction in Katherine Isbister’s SET Lab and my research focuses on fidgeting. I did a year-long project where I interviewed, observed, and interacted with children to find out what material qualities they look for when they fidget. What kind of things do they gravitate toward, and what kind of mindset they’re in when they do. Whether they like to squeeze or tap things or maybe they like soft or hard objects, and if there’s any tie between what they’re feeling and how they fidget.

What about Santa Cruz intrigued you?

It’s the cooperative spirit of the place—we’re just all here learning and have the opportunity to enjoy that peace. This is a special time in your life when you’re in school, and our community here has that kind of positive personality. Even before I came up here, the programs were building and growing just as they are now. Other schools are ranked based on past glory, but here at UC Santa Cruz, we’re built on the idea of new innovation and our current moment.

Who has helped you get where you are now?

I was fortunate that my father feels so strongly about my education. Anytime that I had a bad teacher, I would call my dad and tell him I couldn’t understand what was going on. Even though my father worked tough hours and usually didn’t come home until we were going to go to bed, if he found out I was having trouble in school, he would just come home. He realizes that if you let that kind of thing go unchecked, then it’s much harder to catch up later, because especially in math, everything builds off of everything. He would never let that happen, and it was a special time for us.

Department: 
Computer Science and Engineering
Degree Program: 
PhD, Computer Science
Place of Birth: 
Roswell, New Mexico
Undergraduate Institution: 
Vanderbilt University
Advisor: 
Katherine Isbister