Sheri Aldridge is from Atlanta but is currently living in Chattanooga, Tennessee and has primarily worked in IT support for over 15 years. Sheri completed their bachelor’s degree in computer science from Western Governors University in 2021 and enrolled in OMSCS in 2022. Sheri just completed their first term in May and is currently working as a learning experience (LX) and curriculum designer at an ed tech startup.
"Experiences with in-person education were mostly not great. I enjoyed the classes, but there were so many barriers to access."
Sheri is legally blind from birth and as Sheri explained the “experiences with in-person education were mostly not great. I enjoyed the classes, but there were so many barriers to access. I couldn't see things on a board or overhead projector. Books on tape had to be ordered months in advance and would not necessarily arrive on time. Print books in the library were difficult to access. I was also managing a full-time job, and a commute on MARTA that ranged from 4 to 6 hours per day. I frequently faced harassment on MARTA, and occasionally faced the threat of assault. Additionally, I was a first-generation student. My parents could not give me any advice about college, and neither could anyone that we knew. I continually encountered problems with registration, financial aid, etc.”
With so many barriers to access, discriminatory experiences, and inequity, Sheri contends that they “had given up on ever going to college when I heard of WGU. Their program sounded perfect for me. Online education was a game-changer. There were still some barriers, but they were fewer and easier to overcome. When I heard of the OMSCS, the chance to earn an online degree from Georgia Tech was just too good to pass up. I had always dreamed of going to either Emory or Tech.”
"When I heard of the OMSCS, the chance to earn an online degree from Georgia Tech was just too good to pass up."
Besides the accessibility, another aspect of OMSCS that Sheri loves is the connections, friendships, and fascinating research and projects that their peers and faculty are doing.
An interesting fact about Sheri is that they almost did not graduate from high school. Even though they received excellent grades and were in both the gifted program and Advanced Placement classes, they were failing Algebra 2 because “low vision teachers are not trained to teach math, and math teachers are not trained to teach blind students.” Sheri previously had an amazing low vision teacher, Elizabeth Phipps, who had always taught Sheri the math that Sheri missed in their mainstream math classes. However, this incredible teacher retired at the end of Sheri's junior year, “so I was on my own for senior year.” In fact, Sheri states that the only reason they have a high school diploma is because Sheri asked the teacher that retired for her home phone number. Sheri recounts that “in senior year, I called her, sobbing, to tell her that I wasn't going to graduate. That's when I found out her husband, Gary, was a math instructor at Georgia Perimeter College. Mrs. Phipps was my low vision teacher, and her husband was a math professor. He taught her enough math to teach her students. She had to learn the math first before she could teach us, but Mrs. Phipps was always going above and beyond. They both came to my apartment and taught me enough Algebra to scrape a pass on my final and graduate. Gary and Elizabeth Phipps were heroes who changed the direction of my adult life.”
"I'd really like to study math. I have no natural talent for it, but that's why I like it. It's kind of like lifting weights – having to do the work to learn math transforms the way that you think, and in doing so, transforms you as a person."
After graduation, Sheri took a test that showed that they were on a level of math that was between a 7th and 8th grade level. Sheri then went to the public library and rented math books and acquired low-vision equipment at home in order to use those books. In just two months, Sheri tested into college-level algebra, which made them realize that they “had never been unable to learn math. It was only the lack of access that was the problem.” In fact, besides computer science, another discipline Sheri is interested in is math: “I'd really like to study math. I have no natural talent for it, but that's why I like it. It's kind of like lifting weights – having to do the work to learn math transforms the way that you think, and in doing so, transforms you as a person. I seriously contemplated the OMS in Analytics, but I thought that I would have more options with the CS degree.”
Sheri further explains their passion for computer science: “I'm not a digital native. When I was in school back in ye olde 1980s and '90s, books were in printed text on paper. To find a book, you needed to use the card catalog, then look for the book number. To learn about new ideas, you generally needed to be either able to take a class or read print. Until recently, shopping meant needing to be able to travel to a store and visually identify items. Something as simple as picking up a few things from the grocery store could involve hours of frustration. I first fell in love with information technology when I got my hands on a PC with a scanner and Kurzweil 3000 back in 1998 and realized that I could theoretically read any book in the library. This is what CS means to me – it's a way to build tools to extend human capability. It's a way to remove barriers and limits.”
"This is what CS means to me – it's a way to build tools to extend human capability. It's a way to remove barriers and limits."
As for what is Sheri’s favorite class thus far: “I loved HCI, but I don't think it's fair for me to answer this question yet. I've only taken two classes. That said, HCI sparked an interest in accessible design that led to my current job. Prior to taking HCI, I had assumed that most of the interesting problems in digital accessibility had already been solved. It was through learning about UI/UX that I learned how much work remains to be done. Through working on sonification in HCI, I really became interested in Ed Tech. It was right around that time that I happened to speak to one of the founders of an Ed Tech startup specializing in e-learning for blind people.” In terms of research, Sheri would love to develop “a series of high-quality online math courses for blind students, covering everything from pre-algebra through calculus 2, as well as statistics and probability, discrete math, and linear algebra. I'd also like to use ML to tailor the learning experience to each user.” What about after graduation? Well, Sheri contends that “I… don't know. When I enrolled in the OMSCS, I planned to become a machine learning engineer. Then I fell in love with accessibility, HCI, and eventually, Instructional Design and LX. I'm now working as a LX and curriculum designer at a startup. I had never considered that as an option before, and now, it's a mission. I want to use Ed Tech to improve access to education for blind and visually impaired learners. So many unimagined changes occurred in just my first term at Georgia Tech that I don’t dare speculate about what will happen between now and graduation.”
As for if Sheri could collaborate with any person, in the past it would be Richard Feynman because Sheri would “like to see how he would tackle this math course project”, and present would be Randy Palisoc, whose TED Talk is titled "Math Isn't Hard, It's a Language".
So how does Sheri relax after day of accomplishing such great work? Well, they like to listen to Audiobooks and is currently reading "Children of Time" and "The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth".