Brook Osborne Named National Director of Outreach

December 20, 2011

What started as a collaboration between two faculty members to run a workshop focused on new, innovative, and interdisciplinary approaches to computer science has led to a dynamic future for outreach in the Department of Computer Science. Brook Osborne (Duke, '09) combined her experience and expertise with programs led by the faculty, Professor Jeff Forbes and Professor Owen Astrachan, to take on a new role in April 2011: the department's National Director of Outreach.

Osborne helped organize and oversee the workshop run by Forbes and Astrachan. Building on both the superb robotics outreach program she has helped Forbes run since she was a first-year student at Duke and on an initiative to develop a new introductory course for both colleges and high schools led by Astrachan, Osborne has more responsibility for these and other outreach initiatives in her new role.

Brook Osborne (left) and Prof. Jeff Forbes

As Professor Forbes left to begin a leave as a Program Director at the National Science Foundation, he and Professor Astrachan realized that their two programs were both directed at outreach and that Brook's valuable experience and insights developed through the robotics program might serve in a larger capacity. Their discussion led to the decision to make outreach a more pronounced priority for the department. "This is something that computer science departments across the country are concerned about," Osborne said. "If we ever want to see our demographics change, we need to do our part to reach a broader band of students than we're reaching."

In her new role as the National Outreach Director, Osborne continues to oversee the DREEM (Duke Robotics Education, Enrichment, and Mentoring) project she has worked with since being introduced to it as an undergraduate in 2005. She has had many roles in the program. She served as the program's manager after graduating in 2009 with a BS in Economics: handling logistics, developing lesson plans, and directing the middle and high school students in the DREEM after-school program. Now in her new role she helps teach the Duke undergraduates who serve as the mentors teaching in the program. Forbes noted that Osborne is dedicated, driven and able to work well with people. "She is also very good at leading people," he said. "At the time she was a freshman, she was able to stand up in front of people and say, ‘This is what we’re going to do.’"

Osborne is also helping with the national initiative to develop a new, alternative Advanced Placement course --- the CS Principles project for which Duke's Astrachan is the principal investigator. This program is a College Board project funded by the NSF. Osborne coordinates the more than 20 high schools and colleges piloting the new course as well as assisting in developing a version of the course to be taught at Duke in the 2012-2013 academic year. Astrachan notes that Osborne's passion and enthusiasm for computer science are contagious. He adds: "When Brook leads a group learning about computer science, whether it's middle school students, Duke undergraduates, or high school teachers learning new material, the room practically vibrates with the excitement she engenders."

In her new role Osborne also helps Professor Susan Rodger as she expands her program directed at North Carolina middle school teachers to learn about Alice, a story-telling programming environment, to teachers throughout the southeast. "It's another example of a great program from Duke reaching students and teachers in many states", Osborne says. "Every study that I’ve ever read says you can’t just do the same thing over and over again and expect different results," Osborne said. "Doing something exciting for younger students is really important." If you have an idea for outreach, Osborne wants to hear from you. Contact her at rbo@cs.duke.edu or (919) 660-4009.