It was 1984 and a high school in North Bend, Oregon, had just filled a classroom with their exciting new purchase—more than 20 Apple lle computers, an early personal computer. Then, school administrators were struck by a sudden realization: “Who are we going to find to teach students how to use these?”
The person they found was Kimberly Jans, who saw the job posted, decided that North Bend would be a nice place to live, and knew that she had been very good at her computer science courses in college and could teach the subject.
Jans spent the next six years in Oregon, teaching computer science and math to students, while she earned her master’s degree in computer science education. She had chosen a field of study with very few other women. Even with a graduate degree, it wasn’t uncommon for her to face skepticism from students.
“I would have students come into my classroom, see that I was the teacher, and say, ‘Do you really know anything about computer science, or did they just ask you to teach this class?’” she recalls. “I would tell them I actually knew quite a bit, but they still assumed they knew more than I did.”
She moved to an independent school in London, where she taught IB Computer Science, ran the school’s network, and did tech repair, but she still had doubters.
“Students would walk in and see me taking apart a computer and fixing something,” she says, “and they would say, ‘Gosh, can you do that?’”
As a pioneering woman in computer science education for more than 40 years, Jans has proved the skeptics and doubters wrong more than once. As she retires, she can take pride in knowing she has inspired countless students—many of them young women—to try the subject she loves.
“If you think about the last 30 to 40 years in computer science, you can see that I had to learn so many new skills,” she says. “I had to replace my knowledge every couple of years, learning a lot on my own. And that’s the way I approach teaching—you have things to learn from me, and I have things to learn from you.”
Opening doors with a department
When Jans decided to return to her home state of Colorado, she searched for a position in an independent school where her passion for computer science education would be welcomed. At Colorado Academy, she found that school because a woman had paved the way for her—Jan Beattie, who was the technology director who hired Jans.
“Because of the leadership of Jan Beattie, no one doubted my skills as a woman,” says Jans. “Jan was wonderful to work under because she gave me the space to grow a program with my specialty.”
“I have never known anyone who has worked harder to make sure that computer science was accessible to everyone, especially girls,” says Beattie. “Kim has a way of enticing even the most technophobic student to try and then be beguiled by coding.”
Jans started at CA teaching Tech Tools classes to all incoming Ninth Graders, but she had her eye on the future. “There were no computer science classes offered,” she says. “To me that meant we had the opportunity to develop a new Computer Science Department, with a variety of courses added to the curriculum.”
By the end of Jans’s first year, CA started offering introductory courses in C++. AP Computer Science was added to the curriculum the next year. During the 21 years it has existed, the Computer Science Department has thrived, with several faculty members teaching more than nine different categories of electives, including computer science, robotics, data science, algorithmic art, and bioinformatics.
Creating opportunities with a requirement
In the years after Jans first started teaching computer science, she had watched the professional world of computer science become increasingly dominated by men. In her mind, it was not good enough to just have computer science course offerings—she wanted to see more women entering the field, bringing fresh ideas, new perspectives, and excellent problem-solving skills.
She lobbied CA for a new graduation requirement—two trimesters of computer science or engineering and design for all students in Upper School. Once instituted seven years ago, the new requirement proved to be transformational. The number of girls taking computer science classes exploded from almost none to 50 percent of the students in Data Structures and AP Computer Science.
“I knew that if students were exposed to computer science, they would fall in love with it,” Jans says. “I can’t tell you the number of girls who say, ‘Thank you! I never would have taken this if I didn’t have to,’ and now they have found a passion they didn’t know they had.”
Every year, a number of Jans’s students receive awards from the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT). Under her leadership, CA has earned its first College Board AP® Computer Science Female Diversity Award for achieving high female representation in AP Computer Science Principles.
“Kim has had positive impact on both students and adults at CA because of the deep attention she has given to scope and sequence in the program and department she has developed,” says Upper School Principal Max Delgado. “She has set a model for what it means to be a department chair and a leader.”
Saying farewell to students and colleagues
During her long tenure at CA, Jans has served in many roles at one time or another. She has been the chair of the Computer Science Department, CA’s webmaster, the AP exam coordinator, and the Upper School technology support person, helping faculty and students use technology in classrooms. She has been a four-year advisor to five different advisory groups. CA is all in the family for her—her daughters Petra Jans Pederson ’11 and Jasmine Jans ’13, as well as her son-in-law Thomas Pederson ’11, graduated from CA.
Jans launched the Computer Science Festival for students from Kindergarten through Grade 12 as a culminating activity during National Computer Science Week. Students from the advanced computer science classes help run the evening, while parents, students, and teachers from all grades play. They have robot stations, pocket drones, virtual reality experiences, unplugged activities, Hour of Code, Makey Makey, 3D printing, and Soft Circuit activities. “This festival starts building the idea from a very young age that computer science is for all,” Jans says. “Everyone can do it.”
Jans is a Master Teacher who received the Yoeman Fisher Award for Teaching Excellence in 2020 and the Frances Newton Outstanding Faculty Award in 2008. In 2016, she received the Colorado Educator Award from NCWIT.
Given those honors, it is no surprise that when she talks about what she will miss about CA, the students come first.
“The students are caring, passionate about learning, and they are smart,” she says. “I have loved working with them, and my colleagues are like family. And I have loved having the freedom to develop a robust computer science program.”