Bridging the Digital Divide Through Counseling

November 21, 2019

Penn GSE alumna Angela Cleveland, GED’01, is helping school counselors broaden student participation in computer science. We spoke with her to learn more about her journey and her dedication to bridging the digital divide.

When thinking about your career in education, what accomplishment are you most proud of and why?

I am most proud of helping school counselors to broaden student participation in computing. During my fifteen years as a school counselor, my district adopted an educational model where all students received Chromebooks and teachers were trained in strategies for incorporating educational technology into their pedagogy. While I saw the positive impact our teachers were having with students, I wondered how many other students in neighboring communities didn’t have access to these technologies and worried that we as a society were creating a digital divide.

While investigating how to use technology to enhance my professional practice as a counselor, I repeatedly heard from young women studying computer science that the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), a national nonprofit organization, gave them the community of support they needed to explore computer science education and career pathways. When the opportunity arose for me to join the team as program director of NCWIT Counselors for Computing, I gratefully accepted. Counselors for Computing is an NCWIT program that provides school counselors with professional development and resources to broaden participation in computing.

What led you to pursue a degree from Penn GSE?

I grew up in foster care, and I wasn’t sure if I would even go to college because I would have to figure out how to pay for tuition and housing. Fortunately, I received a full scholarship, including housing, for my undergraduate education. During my senior year of college, I started to look at graduate school. I wanted to work with students and was considering school counseling. The Penn GSE master’s program in psychological services appealed to me because of the variety of courses, the versatility of career options, and the emphasis on building a supportive cohort of students. I felt like I had found my community, like-minded peers, and a home.

Share an experience, person, or class from your time at Penn GSE that helped shape your views on education.

Dr. Jeanne Stanley challenged me to step outside of my comfort zone, independent study, to collaborate with peers and trust the cohort learning process. She taught me the value of building learning partnerships. Through study groups, I learned to trust others, see beyond the walls of the classroom, and develop lifelong friendships! I was professionally and personally transformed by her mentorship. Today, I use that framework of collaborative learning and relationship building in my professional role.

How did your time at Penn GSE prepare you for your profession?

When I reflect on my experience at Penn GSE, three themes stand out: collaboration, community, and confidence. From day one, an emphasis was placed on collaboration with students and professors. The expectation was set that we would support each other’s learning processes and growth. At the same time, we were connected to our surrounding community in West Philadelphia. And the program built our confidence so that we could demonstrate resilience in the face of obstacles and take professional risks to advocate for communities in need. Graduating from Penn GSE comes with a call to action; we learned that our power to effect real change in our world is amplified when we work together to increase students’ access to opportunities on an individual and systemic level.

How would you describe the impact of Penn GSE students and alumni like you on the future of education? 

Penn GSE gives its graduates not only a pathway to a job, but also an opportunity and responsibility to light the way for others. Similarly, at NCWIT Counselors for Computing, I work to provide leadership training and turnkey opportunities for counselors to share what they learned in our program. It is my honor to advocate for and empower others. Penn GSE students and alumni understand and accept that they are part of a community, a group of collaborators who share the responsibility to light the pathway of progress.

Angela Cleveland, GED’01, is program director of NCWIT’s Counselors for Computing. She has fifteen years of experience as a school counselor and received the 2017 New Jersey School Counselor of the Year award. She is also an executive board member and webmaster for the New Jersey School Counselor Association.