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UW Dream Project

May 9, 2017

Catching Up with a Dream Project Alum

By Rob Thompson

I was mostly involved in Dream Project (DP) from Winter 2007 through some time in 2010 or 2011. I joined when the class was only a year old. The founding members were all still undergraduates back then, including Alula [Asfaw] and we only had about 30 people in the class. After a while, I was made the high school lead for Odyssey, which I did for almost a full year. When that cohort was wrapping up, the founding members were getting ready to move on and I was picked, along with a handful of other students, to succeed them on the steering committee. On the committee, I handled some of the more administrative stuff. I was an instructor for the course for several quarters; I took attendance; I ran the website; I ran the “think tank,” which was an open discussion section we had every week to cultivate new leadership, and I was responsible for events a few times. I was the first and only person to write a course description for the class for about four years. As an undergrad, every quarter without fail I’d get a few emails addressed to “Dr. Thompson” asking about add codes or something like that, which I always got a kick out of.

Rob Thompson

Dream Project alum Rob Thompson

I came into DP already at least somewhat interested in education. I’ve always been fairly liberal, so social justice was a topic I was already aware of but didn’t have a lot of experience in. I’d say DP reinforced and gave some needed context to the beliefs I already had. Unlike a lot of the people involved in DP, I was studying science and had a tough time connecting DP activities to anything I was studying in school. I’d say that was for the best though. I got to know a lot of liberal arts people I never would have met otherwise, and exercised some skills I never would have needed in a physics or programming class. Even at this point I’m not sure about my future career path but I’d say DP has left its mark there. I wasn’t originally planning to study education and DP had a part in shifting my focus, even if I still ended up in the same major.

I still volunteer with DP for several reasons. Some of my best memories of college were working in DP and it was where I made many friends and solidified my passion for education. I’m in my 6th year of a PhD in the University of Washington Allen School for Computer Science, studying educational technology, so volunteering is a nice break from the grind of grad student life that’s still relevant to my interests. I’d say DP also instilled a general appreciation for volunteering in me, so it’s only natural I’d want to help if asked.

Right now, I’m studying how dyslexia and other learning disabilities affect children learning to program, but I’ve also worked on educational technology to teach reading and writing, educational games, and general problem solving systems. I’ve got about a year left on my degree so I’m still avoiding making a decision about what I do next. I think I’d like to work with educational technology. It can be tough to find a company that is doing that sort of work for the right reasons, however. There are some projects in the big tech companies that are education/social justice focused that might work, and every year there are dozens of new tech startups so I’m optimistic I’ll be able to find something that’s a good fit.