People of SU / Science / Technology and Health

A Year as an Amazon Scholar

January 6, 2020

Roshanak Roshandel

Image credit: Yosef Chaim Kalinko

Computer Science Department Chair and Associate Professor Roshanak Roshandel, PhD, spent a year-long sabbatical as an Amazon Scholar. The benefits of her experience— both professionally and for her students—are many.

"A sabbatical is designed to remove a professor's obligations so they can think beyond their day-to-day academic responsibilities and look farther down the road," says Roshandel, associate professor and chair of the Department of Computer Science.

Last September she returned from a yearlong sabbatical, which she spent as an Amazon Scholar. The benefits of this experience—both for her own professional growth and for computer science students—are manifold.

"When I teach, I approach the material from the perspective of an expert," she explains. "But, as an Amazon Scholar, I was pushed out of my comfort zone by exploring new and emerging areas of research and practice. The experience has been very rewarding."

She said she developed a new appreciation for what her students will face as they start their careers in the tech industry.

"The culture in our Computer Science department is supportive and collaborative and our students are not competing with each other," she says. "The tech industry culture is different. They will be expected to show up, learn, collaborate, adapt, contribute and take responsibility in ways they have not done before."

This insight will have an immediate effect on her teaching. "When teaching a senior-level elective, I will treat my students differently," she says. "I have firsthand knowledge of what they’ll need to be successful."

The connections Roshandel made during her sabbatical will enhance the student experience while strengthening the Amazon-Seattle U relationship that will benefit the newly launched data science specialization in the Master of Science in Computer Science program.

"It’s all about building bridges between the two institutions," she says. "We need to do the same with other tech companies. As academics, we don’t necessarily know how to present our strengths to the industry in ways that are relevant and useful to them. I now have more confidence in my interactions with tech companies on behalf of the department. I know what they are interested in—I can speak their language."

Roshandel said she now has a more concrete understanding of what someone with that expertise does and how Seattle U can best prepare students for those positions. In addition, she made contacts that will be important for research and future computer science capstone projects.

"During the past year, I have attended conferences and interacted with people I never would have met in my academic life, from software security experts to highly successful entrepreneurs who focus on building humanity into technology and making the world a better place," she says.

"The Amazon Scholar program has given me the opportunity to be both an academic and an industry professional. This dual perspective is a real privilege."

A version of this story first appeared in the winter 2019 issue of REACH magazine published by the Seattle U College of Science and Engineering.