Sanjana Assudani, Packer’s Lower School Computer Science Teacher and Academic Technology Integrator, has been named the recipient of the 2020-2023 William C. Stutt Endowed Chair of Math, Science and Technology. The Stutt Chair was created in 2005 in honor of former Packer Board Chair Bill Stutt and is awarded on a triennial basis to an outstanding faculty member who has taught math, science, or technology at Packer for five or more years.
“Sanjana is an exemplary educator and colleague who has the deep respect of her divisional colleagues,” said Head of School Dr. Jennifer Weyburn at a virtual meeting this fall in which all staff and faculty and members of Sanjana’s family — her husband, and her brother and sister-in-law in India — were in attendance. “She juggles a demanding ‘specials’ class load while also helping teachers to understand, adapt, and incorporate technology into their teaching practice.”
Since her arrival at Packer in 2013, Sanjana has worked closely with her Lower School colleagues to completely redesign the division’s computing and design curriculum. Through her classes, she teaches young learners about computer hardware and software and how to be digital citizens. In addition, she introduces students to subjects such as coding, virtual environments and augmented reality, robotics, circuits, 3D printing, and digital storytelling.
She took on a leadership role in the creation of the Lower School Innovation Lab, which opened in 2018 and has allowed for even further development of the division’s technology program. When the Covid-19 pandemic forced the school to quickly pivot to remote learning, Sanjana took it upon herself to become familiar with Zoom and Seesaw, the technology Packer would be using for remote-learning, so that she could help Preschool and Lower School teachers learn the tools and shift their teaching online.
“She worked tirelessly developing training sessions, thinking through logistics and providing individual support," said Greg Benedis-Grab, Director of Academic IT and Computer Science Department Head. "She has also been an exemplary model of a growth mindset during these uncertain times.”
While Sanjana is typically humble about her professional accomplishments, she considers receiving the Stutt Chair appointment a noteworthy achievement. “It made me feel proud that I was the first Lower School person [appointed],” she said. “And to be honest, being a woman and a person of color [receiving the appointment] made me proud, also.”
For young girls at Packer, Sanjana is a role model. “Girls have come up to me and they’ve told me they are happy that I’m their computer teacher because they aspire to have a career in computers in the future,” she said. “That is something that has really touched me.”
Sanjana didn’t see women in technology roles when she was growing up, but that didn’t discourage her. “I come from a very [traditional] Indian family where it’s not natural for girls to be in the computer field…but I was encouraged by my parents.”
Sanjana’s family members continue to be her biggest cheerleaders. Her teenage nephew, Aditya Valecha, makes sure she stays on top of the games and software that are popular among young technology enthusiasts. “He challenges me to learn new things,” said Sanjana, who became a Minecraft aficionado under Aditya’s tutelage. “He’s like, ‘You have to know this. You have to be a pro, like a teenager.’ That encourages me.”
Colleagues are impressed by Sanjana’s hard work and commitment to the Lower School and its students. “Sanjana is an exceptionally dedicated and inspirational educator, who consistently provides our Lower School students with excellent learning opportunities...,” said Bill McCarthy, Packer’s Head of Preschool and Lower School. “In addition to her great work in the classroom, Sanjana is a caring and thoughtful colleague who is always willing to offer her support and take on new initiatives and projects that will help advance the work we do in the division. She is the quintessential professional.”