Making a difference with Oracle Academy
The spotlight is on Dee Piziak, Senior Instructional Specialist, School of Information Studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, U.S.
The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM), with a main campus just blocks from Lake Michigan, offers 205 academic programs through 15 schools and colleges. Over 25,000 students are enrolled at six campuses where 1,600 faculty teach major programs such as architecture, freshwater sciences, public health, filmmaking, information studies, business, and engineering.
Dee Piziak is a Senior Instructional Specialist in the School of Information Studies, teaching an array of subjects including systems analysis, application development, database design, programming, and software engineering. In addition to teaching, Piziak has held technical, sales and management roles at large technology and financial services companies.
She has a Bachelor’s degree in Computer and Information Science from the University of Florida and a Master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She also is a mentor and coach to women pursuing STEM degrees and careers. At UWM, she uses the Oracle Academy database curriculum for her database design and programming classes, emphasizing hands-on study.
Oracle Academy: How did you get involved with the database curriculum?
Dee Piziak: When I joined UWM and looked at the current database class, I found that students had to install their own database or use MySQL or another open source platform. It was a curriculum without any industry-based structure or set of learning materials.
When I learned about Oracle Academy, I took the training myself to get the feel of what the students would experience. I passed the exams and approached the Dean to see how we could adopt the program. We wrote a syllabus, made a proposal, and sent it to the Faculty Committee. They approved it and we put Oracle Academy database curriculum on the schedule as a class with a cap of thirty students. We’ve been using it for the last seven years, and there’s not one semester when the class has not filled.
Oracle Academy: What is it about the database curriculum that supports your teaching?
Dee Piziak: It’s so turnkey, so thorough, so industry leading edge. Students can jump right into hands-on very quickly, without having to worry about technical implementation or setup details. I believe that in technology courses, there should be a hands-on component to get the experience, and to be able to talk about it credibly in an interview or use it on a resume or portfolio. I try to make the class rich and practical. I make videos with my own voice-over for walking through the slides and I show them how to use Oracle Application Express (APEX). To make them comfortable, my videos give them solutions to the even number problems. Then I assign them the odd problems at the end of each section.
The materials available are first-rate and the projects in each module are real-life business examples. We do them all. It’s a fabulous program.
Oracle Academy: How do the students enjoy Oracle APEX?
Dee Piziak: Oracle APEX is brilliant. I teach database design during the first third of the semester and database programming for the remaining two thirds. I use Oracle APEX from the moment we start database programming with SQL. It’s a bullet proof working environment and there’s never been any technical issues. The problems written for Oracle APEX are really good and we use 100 percent of the materials.
We go through all the modules, and all the try it-solve it problems at the end of each section – it’s a real work out! To be good at programming languages – just like when you learn foreign languages - you have to practice. My students learn how to enter queries, execute them, use the object browsers to look at the schemas. When I do walk-throughs with them during lecture, I deliberately enter incorrect queries which generate error messages so that we can all troubleshoot together. That is part of the learning process too.
Students are amazed at how quickly they can get an Oracle APEX user ID and password and start learning database development in a half hour. Gone are the days of downloading software, finding a server to install it on, keeping up with the patching…etc. All that was taking away from the learning experience. But with Oracle APEX it’s all done for you, and you quickly can get to the heart of the matter and start learning the language. They love it!
Oracle Academy: What is your experience with the Oracle Academy Member Hub?
Dee Piziak: I’ve come to really like it, it’s really fast. I watched the videos and immediately got the hang of setting up the class with channels, enrolling the students, and assigning curriculum. You can just add stuff to the channel and everybody gets it, which we didn’t have in the old system. The Oracle Academy Member Hub also offers additional resources, such as Oracle Academy Education Bytes, parts of which I fold into my classes.
Oracle Academy: Do you keep track of your students once they graduate?
Dee Piziak: I’m in touch through social media and through students directly emailing me asking me to look at their CVs or quizzing me for recommendations. But anecdotally I know they are doing well. Our program is very strong, very practical, and students get a lot of good skills. They tend to land really good jobs, such as Database Administrator, Data Administrator, Data Analyst, and now they are getting into positions in Data Science and Business Intelligence.
And it goes back to the whole introduction to data and the SQL language, knowing how to manipulate data, take that raw data and bring it back with SQL. What they learn here is such a powerful and fundamental tool for students to have when launching their careers in data.
Oracle Academy: Do you encourage Oracle professional certification?
Dee Piziak: I do encourage the students to take the Oracle Foundations Associate Certifications, although only a few have taken the certification exam. Those who did passed the first time. I did it myself and scored in the high 90’s just from the materials available through Oracle Academy. It’s fabulous to have a program that connects the learning with certification.
Oracle Academy: We hear you are actively promoting women in IT?
Dee Piziak: Yes, I am very involved. I do women in technology presentations and videos, talking about why to choose IT. By the time women get to my class they are pretty committed to the degree and want to stay. But the challenge then comes to get them to finish, get the best grade that they can, and then get the best jobs.
I tell them: the major that you choose determines your career opportunities. Those opportunities determine your economic outlook and professional positioning and ceiling. I tell them not to be intimidated by the IT field, not everyone is a deep-dive programmer. There are many rewarding roles in our field.
I explain in videos how IT is a series of pillars or domains: the data domain, infrastructure, security, apps development, help desk – many, many domains and every one of them with wonderful opportunities that allow you to grow. I work with women to make them understand that this is a field and profession with a long-term future.
Oracle Academy: What is the gender split?
Dee Piziak: In Information Studies we have about 25-30% women and the rest are men. Our program is so flexible and so accessible, we tend to attract a lot of women and they stay. Many are first time college graduates in their families and may not have initially known about the IT profession. But as they start taking more and more classes, and have a good experience in the first few classes, then they’re all in. Those first set of classes and experiences really boosts them up.
Oracle Academy: Do you have any plans to move to cloud?
Dee Piziak: I am talking to the school about doing a cloud class. To propose a new class, you have to come up with the concept, find the materials, develop a detailed syllabus, including the weekly exercises and homework, build the evaluation and grading rubric, then take it to faculty committee, and get feedback. There are usually a few reiterations. It’s a lot of work proposing it. But I know cloud will be new and different.
Oracle Academy: Lastly, what interests you outside of the classroom?
Dee Piziak: Apart from teaching, I constantly keep up with my technical skills, certifications, and professional networking. I can’t completely leave the classes on the campus. I keep up with technology every minute of the day, that’s my day job and my life job!
I also stay up with business trends and events, nationwide and worldwide. You could say I’m an information junkie. I feel that if you’re an informed person, you can make good decisions and run your life as smoothly as possible. Other than that, I am constantly connecting with my two daughters – both of whom majored in STEM degrees I am very proud to say. I’m also a voracious fiction reader. I am the kind of person who will pay the full hardcover price for the latest John Grisham, David Baldacci, etc. book the day it comes out!
Thank you, Dee Piziak, for your passion for Oracle Academy and for preparing your students to make a positive impact.