From Social Work to Computer Work

2022 Ball State Outstanding Faculty Award winner Dave Largent looks to instruct both college level and K-12 students on the importance of computer science

Dave Largent poses for a portrait in his office Sept. 26. Amber Pietz, DN
Dave Largent poses for a portrait in his office Sept. 26. Amber Pietz, DN

Dave Largent, Ball State associate lecturer of Computer Science, believes his senior year at Willowbrook High School (Villa Park, Illinois) in 1974-75 was the first year a computer programming course had ever been offered in his school. Though he said he enjoyed this course, Largent attended Manchester University where he eventually graduated in 1979 with a Bachelor of Science in social work. 

However, Largent also graduated with an Associate of Arts in computer applications. Looking for work, he moved to Muncie and found a job as a computer programmer at N.G. Gilbert Corporation, later merging with Townsend Tree Service.

Largent spent 28 years there, eventually becoming Information Services Manager. That all changed in 2008 when the position he held was eliminated and suddenly, after almost 30 years, Largent was without work.

“I enjoyed those nearly three decades getting a computer to do what the company needed,” Largent said via email. “After a few months of job/soul searching, I decided to go back to school.” 

He didn’t go back to Manchester. Instead, he decided to pursue a Master’s Degree in Computer Science at Ball State University at the age of 50. In spring 2010, just prior to his graduation, Largent was offered a “non-tenure line teaching position” in the Computer Science department. 

Thirteen years later, Largent has been awarded the 2022 Ball State Outstanding Faculty Award. 

“I see it as an acknowledgement of the good I’ve been doing at Ball State and a recognition of my efforts,” Largent said via email. “I also have a strong appreciation for many others who encouraged me along the way and recognized my efforts and were willing to nominate me and support the nomination. There are lots of deserving faculty—more so than I am—that need to be nominated and recognized.”

Dr. Jennifer Coy, Ball State department chair of the Department of Computer Science and associate professor of Computer Science, is in her second year of the position, only having known Largent for just over a year. She already has great respect for Largent, as she said he is one of the most innovative people in their department.

“He is very distinctive in the amount of different areas that he contributes,” Coy said. “To the department’s college and university mission, he's always looking for more ways to work with students and to assist students in their success. He works with the Office of Disability Services as a student advocate … he's done so many different things, it's hard to list them.” 

Students Joe Schmidt, Gwyn Hultquist, and Brian Walker play a board game while professor Dave Largent watches September 16th, 2019. Largent created the immersive learning class CS4MS+ to teach computer science to K-12 minority students. Robbie Mehling, Photo Provided

Largent serves on a variety of department, college and university committees, such as being the chapter advisor for the Golden Key International Honour Society and a member of the university’s diversity equity inclusion taskforce. He also plays a role in ensuring the youth of Muncie are educated on computer science.

In fall 2016, Largent began working with Muncie Central High School (MCHS), helping teach an immersive learning course focusing on science, education and diversity. Then, he began to work with Northside Middle School to try to introduce more Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) courses into the school’s curriculum. 

In 2017, Largent began to teach another fall course, Computer Science for Middle Schoolers (CS4MS) at Northside, and he eventually expanded it into MCHS and Burris Laboratory School. In 2020, Largent introduced Computer Science for Muncie schools and surrounding schools (CS4MS+) to all three schools.

Largent said while not everyone needs to be a computer programmer, he does think everyone should have an understanding about technology due to the increasing reliance on it. He believes introducing these ideas to those who are still in grade school is the best way to do so.

“If you think back to your middle school, my guess is you had science, you had math, you had English, you had gym, [but] you probably didn't have computer science,” Largent said. “So, even if you ended up being someone that would have excelled at computer science, if you never even knew it was a possibility, you're not likely to choose it.” 

The Indiana Department of Education now requires each public school corporation in the state to include computer science in their curriculum for students K-12, as made official in 2021. 

MCHS Principal Chris Walker said Largent’s classes work on “instructional strategies and resources” that better incorporate computer science into Muncie schools. Though Largent and his students have been working with MCHS since 2016, Walker said the goals each side have for their partnership remains the same: have Largent’s students be mentors to MCHS students. 

Walker said the partnership between Ball State, and more specifically, Largent, has grown over the years. He said going from offering one course to offering multiple sections of the same course, along with Advanced Placement (AP) courses, and partnerships like Project Lead the Way, is a credit to the work and resources Ball State has put into ensuring MCHS’s growth. 

“I think the willingness from Dave to engage with our students and our faculty and to utilize his students and his expertise as a resource for us, it's just been very welcoming,” Walker said. 

As educating these young students about computer science is important to Largent, equally important is creating diversity in the field, he said. Largent said that about 90 percent of the computer science industry is dominated by white and Asian males. 

He said he believes the way to change that is to make sure everyone knows that computer science is a profession and available to all. Coy and Walker each recognize how important this aspect of Largent’s job is to him, and they each said it shows in his work. 

“I think knowing that when we did an initial look at where we're at with what we had to offer to our students, we saw a need to obviously expand what we were doing, and then with the demographics and celebrating the diversity of our student body, it was something we could expose our students to that maybe they had not been exposed to before at all,” Walker said. 

Coy said she believes Largent’s emphasis on diversity creates a lasting impact. 

“By educating the next generation of educators (and future parents) about the importance of inclusion and diversity and directly impacting current students in the surrounding K-12 school districts, he is affecting change on a basis broader than just the university itself,” Coy said via email. 

Coy said Largent has a great understanding of the student, whether that be a K-12 or a Ball State student. She said this allows him to excel more in what he does and allows the students to be more successful. 

“When we're working on improving the curriculum or making changes to different departmental policies, he's always viewing it from the side of the student and helping us see some of the student perspective that is not always obvious,” Coy said. “So, he's always trying to make sure that barriers for the students are knocked down. It's easier for them to reach their goals.”

Largent said these three values highlight who he is as a teacher, and could be used to better understand how he is able to connect with students. 

“1. I am willing to explore and try different teaching methods

2. I try to understand what it’s like to be a learner in the course

3. I support the learners, especially those that are trying but struggling,” Largent said. 

Whether he’s teaching sixth graders or college students, Largent is still passionate 47 years after taking his first computer science class. Now, he is focused on instilling that same passion in the next generation. 

From working 28 years for one company, to being without consistent work for two years at the age of 50 to being awarded with the top faculty award at Ball State, Largent has run the gambit. 

Contact Kyle Smedley with comments via email at kyle.smedley@bsu.edu or on Twitter @smedley1932.

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