By Anne Hierholzer
As the mom of four children going to school in Lafayette County, Mississippi, Shelly Hollis noticed that, with some updates, the local school district’s website could be improved to keep parents better informed. Hollis called to volunteer her expertise in computer science to keep the website updated, but she received a big surprise when the district offered her a job in their technology department. This experience, which exemplifies Hollis’s commitment to using technology to solve problems, also kicked off her career in education.
Now a project manager on the RCU’s assessment team, Hollis works with technology on a daily basis. Since joining the RCU in November 2014, Hollis has worked on a range of initiatives, including maintaining the RCU’s database of assessment outcomes and supporting end users when they encounter technical difficulties with online testing. One important aspect of her job is providing end users, including teachers and testing coordinators, with clear, easy-to-understand testing reports.
“One of the most satisfying things I’ve accomplished since coming to the RCU is creating two assessment reports that test coordinators really enjoy using,” Hollis said. “It might sound like a little thing, but it’s so satisfying to have people tell you that something you created for them makes their lives easier.”
With much of her work centered on assessments, Hollis keeps her focus on the benefits of assessment and making the process easier and more efficient for teachers. For Hollis, testing is a way to provide teachers and students alike with important information to guide teaching and learning.
“Here at the RCU, our assessment work is focused on helping students and teachers measure their progress,” said Hollis. “Tests are a way to evaluate how a student or a class is doing. It allows students and teachers to determine their areas of strength and weakness.”
Hollis, who holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science, is passionate about technology, which is why her role as co-leader of a project to create a K-12 computer science curriculum for Mississippi excites her. Like most states, Mississippi doesn’t currently have a formal computer science curriculum available for K-12 students. Hollis hopes to change this through her work on the computer science curriculum steering committee with the Mississippi Department of Education.
“In today’s world, knowledge of computers is needed for basic cultural literacy, just like reading or math,” said Hollis. “Since we’re constantly surrounded by technology, we need to have some degree of understanding about how it all works. Not everyone has to be a computer programmer, but a basic level of computer literacy is a must.”
Hollis notes that the lack of a computer science focus in K-12 classrooms has national implications.
“By 2020, nationally, there will be over 1 million computer science jobs and only an estimated 400,000 computer science students to fill them,” said Hollis. “And not all of those jobs are in a technology-related industry. Many are in fields like health care, banking, or entertainment.”
Hollis believes increased knowledge of computer science among Mississippi’s youth in particular could hold important economic benefits for the state.
“By 2020, Mississippi has a 24% predicted growth rate for STEM-related jobs,” said Hollis. “We need to be training out students for jobs in Mississippi instead of relying on recruiting qualified people from out of state. That’s why it’s so important to help Mississippi’s students become aware of this promising career path.”
Her work on the computer science curriculum illustrates what Hollis loves best about working at the RCU: the sense that anything is possible. She appreciates the spirit of enthusiasm and curiosity that is shared by her RCU co-workers.
“Working at the RCU is like working at a big think tank,” said Hollis. “It’s never boring. The environment is really open, and everyone is excited about what they do and eager to learn and share. You never know what kinds of interesting projects might come your way.”
Prior to her family’s move to Mississippi, Hollis spent 12 years living in southern California, where she ran her own independent computer consulting company while homeschooling her four children. During this time, she and a partner developed a student management database built specifically for preschools, the first of its kind.
“There really wasn’t anything like it on the market at the time,” Hollis said. “All the existing systems were really expensive, and they were geared more toward K-12. My colleague and I saw an opening and jumped in to provide a solution. I’m really proud of that accomplishment.”
From creating new products to fill a market niche to persistently pushing to get a district website updated, Hollis’s career demonstrates her tenacious belief in the power of smart technology to solve problems. As part of the RCU’s assessment team, Hollis continues her quest for efficiency, as she uses her technological know-how to craft unique solutions to the problems faced by educators.
“I enjoy working with technology because I enjoy the challenge of finding a solution to help others work smarter and faster,” said Hollis. “It’s all about making our education system the best it can be.”
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