July 24, 2023
Assistant Professor of Computer Science
After earning her Ph.D. in Robotics at the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University this summer, Victoria Dean joins the Olin faculty as an assistant professor of computer science.
Originally from California, Dean earned her undergraduate degree from MIT, where she majored in computer science. When it came time for graduate school, she decided to pursue machine learning and robotics: an area with “lots of unsolved questions, from workflows to methods, as we learn more about how robots can interact with the physical world.”
“I’ve always liked math and science and building things, and working on a FIRST Robotics team in high school was really exciting,” says Dean. “It’s an interdisciplinary area where software and hardware work together as a team, and you’re part of a big-picture effort as well as working on the low-level tangible aspects of robotics.”
Dean developed her interest in teaching at MIT; she co-developed and taught Code for Good, a course for students to develop software for nonprofits, as well as #HelloWorld, an MIT Society for Women Engineers effort to teach web development to middle school girls. However, it wasn’t until graduate school that she fully identified her career path as an educator.
“During my second year at Carnegie Mellon, I took a computer science pedagogy course, and I learned about all the kinds of faculty roles at different kinds of institutions,” says Dean. “I got really excited about the idea of teaching undergraduates because of the opportunities to get to know students and help them craft their future paths.”
She continued teaching throughout graduate school, including co-designing and teaching an “Ethics and Robotics” course with a professor in her department. “I really enjoy the creative aspects of teaching and finding the best ways to convey content through engaging class activities and assignments,” says Dean.
After Dean met Olin faculty member Steve Matsumoto at a computer science conference last year, she began learning more about the college and how well her philosophy fit into Olin’s, from project-based learning to inclusivity in engineering education.
“I’m super excited about the Engineering for Everyone strategic plan,” says Dean. “It has so many connections to my work, including democratization of robotics research, the community relationships Olin fosters with local organizations and institutions, and inclusive teaching practices.”
This fall, Dean will co-teach a course called “Artificial Intelligence and Society” with Paul Ruvolo, associate professor of computer science, which looks at the ethical implications of artificial intelligence in computer science—a hot topic in recent years thanks to developments like ChatGPT. In the spring, she’ll be teaching “Software Design” and looks forward to further teaching at the intersection of computer science, machine learning, and robotics.
In addition to her teaching, Dean will continue her research on improving robot learning for real-world practicality through efficient training and shared evaluation.
Outside of the classroom and laboratory, Dean also likes to experiment in the kitchen as a baker—a hobby she enjoys sharing with her colleagues and friends. She is also an avid knitter, a pastime she picked up during the pandemic and looks forward to continuing as part of the Olin community.