When the student becomes the teacher: Heather Guarnera’s graduate degrees pave the way to success
Heather Guarnera is an assistant professor of computer science at The College of Wooster. Prior to that, she taught classes at Kent State University and also worked as a software engineer. She is originally from Cuyahoga Falls.
“I always liked playing video games as a kid. I played Fallout a lot,” says Heather. “This led to my interest in developing software, and I heard about the strong reputation of Akron’s computer science program, so it was an easy decision.”
After receiving her Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science from The University of Akron in 2013, she realized she wasn’t ready to stop learning – at least, in a classroom setting. When a company Heather was working for part-time expressed interest in her continued education and how those new skills could benefit the company, she applied to the graduate program. One class caught her eye in particular – Software Engineering Methodologies – which covered topics like theoretical basis, analyses, artifacts, and processes of software engineering, all areas she was eager to learn more about.
“Jobs in IT and computer science are booming, but I wanted to be selective. The graduate degree makes you a competitive job candidate as it provides additional experience applicable to any area,” says Heather.
The graduate program took Heather two years to complete and she went to school full-time while working part-time at BGI, LLC. She studied under Dr. Michael Collard and her graduate thesis explored the history of Git repositories. This paper, titled “Recovering Commit Branch of Origin,” ended up being her most cited work, which is ironic to Heather now given how the focus of her research has changed so dramatically.
“I pivoted from software engineering to algorithms and graph theory, a completely different side of computer science,” she says.
After graduating with her M.S. in Computer Science, Heather continued her education at Kent State University and received her Ph.D. This allowed her to pursue her dream job in higher education teaching computer science.
As a member of faculty at The College of Wooster, Heather teaches classes on graph theory, combinatorics, and programming languages. She also works closely with senior students to advise them on a year-long independent study research project. In addition to graph theory and algorithms, her research focuses on the broad category of hyperbolic graphs.
For students interested in going back to school but are nervous about complicated subjects, she encourages them to take that next step and lean on professors for support, especially if the subject is especially challenging.
“They are interested in your success,” she continues. “My professors were exceptional. I was very fortunate to have my academic advisor, Dr. Michael Collard, who was a strong source of encouragement, guidance, and support. It's amazing how much of my career trajectory was developed at UA through advising discussions.”
Heather’s biggest career lesson to date?
“Listen and adapt,” she says. “As a professor, I spend a lot of time talking to students, giving lectures, and sharing information. I have learned that the best thing to do is to stop talking and listen. Learn what people – in my case – students - are struggling with the most. Being able to adapt during the pandemic is a skill that will benefit you throughout your career.”
Heather Guarnera received her M.S. in Computer Science from The University of Akron in 2015.