Making a difference with Oracle Academy
The spotlight is on Soraya Abad-Mota, Computer Science Lecturer, University of New Mexico, United States.
The University of New Mexico (UNM) is a research university offering hundreds of degree programs in subjects grouped within 10 schools and colleges. It is a Hispanic-serving institution occupying nearly 800 acres in the heart of Albuquerque, a metropolitan area of more than 500,000 people.
Among the university's outstanding research units are the Center for Advanced Research Computing, Cancer Center, New Mexico Engineering Research Institute, Center for High Technology Materials, Design Planning Assistance Center, the Innovation Academy and the Mind Research Network. The Department of Computer Science, part of the School of Engineering, offers a four-year Bachelor of Science degree program.
Dr. Soraya Abad-Mota leads computer programming and systems courses, along with elective courses on databases, for undergraduate and graduate students at UNM. She has a master’s degree in Computer Science from Rutgers University as well as a PhD from the University of New Mexico in the same discipline. She has published a number of articles at computer science conferences in the past few years. She has combined teaching with consulting for many years, including during her time at UNM.
Oracle Academy: How did you come to learn about Oracle Academy?
Soraya Abad-Mota: My teaching with Oracle began at Universidad Simón Bolívar in Venezuela, where I worked with Oracle to get database resources for the university. It was there that I was introduced to Oracle Academy. When I moved to the USA with my family, I was keen to use Oracle Academy at the University of New Mexico.
Oracle Academy: And was the University of New Mexico also using Oracle Academy when you joined?
Soraya Abad-Mota: The Computer Science Department was not using the Oracle Academy curriculum, but our business school, the Anderson School of Management, was and still is teaching Database Design and Programming with SQL and Programming with PL/SQL in its Management Information Systems course.
I started as an adjunct professor in the Computer Science Department teaching networks and systems and became a full-time lecturer in 2018. I still teach computer organization and networks, but databases are my focal point.
Oracle Academy: What parts of the Oracle Academy curriculum do you use?
Soraya Abad-Mota: I have combined some of the Oracle Academy database courses with my introductory classes in database management. The classes follow my own design, but I use Oracle Academy for the practical part.
I give students the foundations of database development and database administration, because it’s not possible to teach all the available tools, not even in a specific programming language. The students are used to learning on their own and applying the foundations and concepts to specific tools, such as SQL Developer, which they are now learning through Oracle Cloud.
Oracle Academy: In what way do you use the cloud resources?
Soraya Abad-Mota: All of my database classes now take place through the Oracle Cloud Free Tier, provided by the Oracle Academy Cloud Program. It was fortuitous that the year in which Oracle introduced the cloud was the year we began Oracle Academy in the department. And so, when the pandemic halted classroom work in 2020, my students had already spent one year working with Oracle tools in the cloud. That was a lifesaver because we couldn’t be there in person.
We interface through a browser with SQL Developer and do our exercises in the cloud, which was offered to us in a very timely manner since we have scarce IT resources for running all the needed software on the university servers. It has been very, very convenient having the cloud and students being able to run their projects there.
Oracle Academy: What kind of practical projects do you assign?
Soraya Abad-Mota: We pick real-life scenarios and discover what is required for building databases, and then build them. In the last couple of years, we have created a national parks database and a museum and research center database. For the Semantic Web component of the museum project, my students were able to work with the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe and interact with their Curator of Digital Experience.
What I talk to my students about is the advantage of data and the algorithms to process it together in a structured database; how that leverages the running of the algorithms compared to the cleaning and preparation of data when it’s unstructured.
The students learn to design schemas based on real input on the needs, and I invite people from those institutions to share their experience of what’s worked in the past and what’s not working, and the students come up with alternative prototypes. They love it! For me this industry contact is enriching.
Oracle Academy: What types of careers do your graduates land?
Soraya Abad-Mota: Companies are after graduates who know how to handle data because that is the basis of any enterprise. All organizations, private and public, when dealing with business or scientific data seek those with data management skills.
I’m working on getting students exposed to data management earlier on, developing a 200-level class, so we can cover more advanced topics in the higher level elective. The idea is to incorporate the Oracle Academy Database Design and Programming with SQL course way ahead of graduation so students know how to analyze complex business scenarios and create data models.
Oracle Academy: Terrific. And now turning to the gender balance, we hear your faculty has quite a large presence of women?
Soraya Abad-Mota: Yes, out of 19 in the Computer Science Department, eight of us are women, which is 42%, an impressive representation compared to other computer science departments. I believe that our department is an outstanding exception and also distinguishes itself for success in research projects, for which we have won several million dollars in grants.
I was used to seeing a significant presence of women in IT in Venezuela, and it was a lot of fun to meet up with them at local computer industry events. One of my female students became Managing Director at Oracle Venezuela and held the position for 10 years.
The same occurs in New Mexico, where young women go on to strong roles in technology. What’s more, female students find it very encouraging when they have women as their professors. We serve as role models and examples for what they could accomplish. I’m often told how happy they feel to have a female lecturer, and one student even changed her major from another engineering department to ours for that reason.
Oracle Academy: Do you have any plans to expand the use of Oracle Academy resources?
Soraya Abad-Mota: There are a number of areas where I see lots of potential for us; there are the Java classes, then machine learning, and there is the Oracle Academy Member Hub.
I have not yet used the Oracle Academy Member Hub as a platform for teaching but it looks like a wonderful tool. My aim is to set up learning paths within the Member Hub for my students to learn new skills and technology.
Oracle Academy: And what sort of activities do you enjoy outside of teaching and mentoring?
Soraya Abad-Mota: My husband and I settled in New Mexico with our two daughters because it has strong Hispanic roots and we felt at home. No longer being able to return to Venezuela, we are well integrated now.
New Mexico offers a lot in terms of geography and culture―but what it does not have is a beach, which I miss, and so we go to Puerto Rico for that!
I also love to dance and love music, whether salsa or concert-going, and I’m also an avid reader. We get to travel because one daughter is living in Pittsburgh doing undergraduate economics, taking after her father, and the other is working on a PhD in computer science at Georgia Tech. She graduated from UNM, surprised?
Thank you, Dr. Soraya Abad-Mota, for your passion for Oracle Academy and for preparing your students to make a positive impact.