Thanks to Her Mom, Colleen van Lent Was Inspired to Help Others Through MOOCs

Colleen van Lent, Lecturer IV in Information, School of Information

Last March I wrote a blog post about my thoughts on how to encourage more women to go into Computer Science. The underlying theme was the need for a robust support system that can encourage people at a young age. What I didn’t clearly articulate though was who can make up that support system. In that post, a lot of the emphasis was on my father. He is a lifelong academic who has been able to provide a great deal of guidance and mentorship. However, I want to make sure my mom gets her proper recognition too!!

I don’t know if it is because she was a nurse, an affect of her Southern upbringing, or just her natural disposition, but Mom is and has always been helping someone. My siblings and I learned from her example that there are a lot of different people in the world and they all have something to offer. She was constantly talking to strangers; which became increasingly embarrassing to me as a teen. Luckily, my embarrassment (and that of my brothers and sisters) was not going to change Mom. Now, I embarrass my children by talking to strangers, and thanks to the Internet I have been able to take it up a notch!!

I share my Mom’s spirit for helping others by teaching learners from all over the world through MOOCs. As an instructor, I see that it takes a community of people to help others succeed. I provide that same type of academic experience my dad shared with me, but I am only part of a community of people. The community is comprised of learners and teachers from various backgrounds, and no matter their profession, age, education or background, everyone has something to add. By creating a welcoming space for learning and mentoring individual growth, we can create a community committed to lifelong and personalized learning. The common thread is that this community shares my mom’s spirit for helping others and are committed to building an open and welcoming space for learning.

So, in honor of my mom on this Mother’s Day I would like to give a big shout out to everyone who has ever posted on an online forum to support someone else, done a few extra peer-graded assignments, or just had a nice word for someone. These mentors and peers  are on the front lines supporting learners every single day. And why are they doing it? Because that is just what they do.   

Colleen van Lent





Colleen van Lent
Lecturer IV in Information
School of Information
University of Michigan

screencap of Sean Swider using ViewPoint tool