Training the Leaders of Tomorrow: OMSCS Alumnus Ben Schepens’ Path from Grad School to High School

Dec. 7, 2017

Ben Schepens is passionate about computer science education -- and not in the occasional volunteer kind of way. Schepens believes that Georgia high schools need more highly qualified computer science teachers. As a result of this passion, he now counts himself amongst these CS educators. When Schepens is passionate about something, he will do whatever it takes to bring that passion to life -- even if that means “surviving” Georgia Tech twice.

Ben Schepens recently graduated from the College of Computing’s online Master of Science in Computer Science (OMSCS) degree program, but this degree is not his only one from Georgia Tech -- Schepens first graduated from the Institute in 1994 with his bachelor’s in computer engineering.

Schepens has always been passionate about computers and computer science, which naturally led him to a successful career in software development for more than 22 years. However, the passion he felt for computing education was unfulfilled, and Schepens knew it was time for him to take the leap and do something different. He would go back to school and begin the process of becoming a high school teacher.

“I loved going to Georgia Tech as an undergrad,” said Schepens. “It was extremely challenging, and it was great. The campus is just full of extremely talented and creative people. You can’t help but learn, even when you’re just hanging out in a social way. The ‘Nerd Quotient’ was and is awesome. I missed it. I was extremely excited to be accepted back into Georgia Tech for the OMSCS program. My ultimate goal was to be able to teach in the K-12 setting, and earning my M.S. in computer science was the first step in that direction.”

Rewriting his career has not always been the easiest path -- or the most conducive to Schepens’ hobby of rebuilding classic arcade games like Asteroids, Centipede, and Tron. OMSCS placed a huge demand on his time, often requiring Schepens to work on homework and assignments six days out of the week. As much as the program tired and challenged him, he would not change a thing about his experience.

“School was a little different, learning through a virtual experience rather than having the physical presence of students. However, OMSCS still had that feeling of, ‘Wow -- this is a gaggle of really smart people from whom I want to learn.’ I was able to study under some of the very best professors in the world. I learned about real, applicable AI techniques: computer vision, machine learning, and autonomous vehicle robotics. It was incredibly exhausting, challenging, and utterly awesome.”

Thanks to the support of his wife, family, and his community of OMSCS peers, Schepens was able to complete the program while working full-time in software development and taking additional steps towards his dream of becoming a teacher. As of August 2017, that dream has been realized. That’s when Schepens started as a computer science teacher at Georgia’s Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, and Technology, which is consistently ranked among the country’s top high schools.

“It is an amazing, exhausting, and energizing experience opening up the coolest parts of engineering and computer science to my students,” he said. “I have posters of Professor [Sebastian] Thrun, pictures from my computer vision projects, and Georgia Tech flags hanging in my classroom. I have shared with my students videos on seam carving, Boston Dynamics robots, the DARPA Grand Challenge, and classic historical computers and software giants such as the ENIAC and Alan Turing. I love computer engineering and computer science, and I now get to share that every day with my kids.”

Before OMSCS, Schepens likened many of the AI, computer vision, and robotics projects that he completed in the program to “Gandalf-level sorcery”. Since graduating, he said his suspicions were confirmed but now he’s one of the “sorcerers,” able to work his way through the types of projects that he’d always admired but which seemed insurmountable. In taking on the immense challenge of pursuing a completely new career and accomplishing his dream, Schepens is living his dreams and his future.

“I strive to share my love for computer science with the kids in my classes in order to ignite their minds,” he said. “More importantly, I aspire to help them learn how to reflect not just on what they are capable of doing, but rather, what they feel they should be doing with the talents they have."

“I challenge them to actively choose how they want to use the gifts to be awesome in the world. For me, that is the most important thing I can try to do.”