Samina EhsanNow a senior instructor of computer science in the College of Engineering at Oregon State University, Samina Ehsan first became fascinated with computers when she watched her brother play the video game “Need for Speed 2.” When the two of them got their first PC in 1999, they would play video games for hours.

At first, Ehsan thought being a game developer might be her calling. But this was just the beginning. She would later discover other paths would keep her moving at the speed of light – and yet in balance.

When she began her studies, Ehsan followed her passion for computers by getting bachelor’s degree in computer science and engineering from the University of Dhaka in Bangladesh. Having come from a family of teachers, Ehsan opted for a career as a lecturer at Stamford University in Dhaka, teaching computer networking, data structures, object oriented programming, systems analysis, and digital logic design. At the same time, Ehsan also earned a master’s degree.

Though she enjoyed teaching, after three years Ehsan decided to further her education and in 2008 came to Oregon State University to pursue a Ph.D. in computer science. Advised by electrical and computer engineering professor Bechir Hamdaoui, Ehsan conducted research in wireless communication networks for wildlife monitoring.

“I loved doing research. It demands a lot of time and concentration, and you have to give 100 percent of yourself; otherwise there’s no point in doing research,” she said.

Ehsan graduated with her doctoral degree in 2012 and had a baby shortly after. Her husband’s job required him to travel often, so Ehsan was looking for a career in computer science that would offer work-life balance. Going back to teaching, she thought, fit the bill.

Coincidentally, the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science was launching the postbaccalaureate degree in computer science, and Ehsan jumped at the opportunity to join the program.

“It’s the best balanced life,” said Ehsan, who is now the mother of two. “I enjoy teaching and because the job is flexible, I can manage all of my responsibilities while being the mother of two overly active children.”

The Work

She has been teaching discrete structures and data structures classes since the beginning of the program, but that doesn’t mean the job has become monotonous. Ehsan has continually modified or completely redeveloped the courses over the years, changing the content based on her experiences and student feedback.

“I take their feedback very seriously and I learn something new every term,” she said.

Ehsan also enjoys interacting with students, and describes herself as having an almost motherly attitude toward them. She makes it an assignment for students to post introductions about themselves. “I want them to know that I see them, that they’re people who, like me, are juggling multiple responsibilities,” she said.

As a result, Ehsan has empathy for her students, understanding that students can be overwhelmed or frustrated. She encourages students to contact her ahead of time if they have circumstances getting in the way of their coursework so she can work with them.

“Reach out to us early so we can help you,” Ehsan said. “We are here to help.”

The Life

Samina Ehsan on a tripOutside of the classroom, Ehsan has many interests including cooking, going for walks, running, and reading. Most of all she loves going camping with her family.

Her interest in camping began when, as a youngster growing up in Bangladesh, Ehsan read a book series about three young detectives in the U.S. who solved mysteries, often while camping. “The idea of camping fascinated me so much that since moving to the U.S., we have really enjoyed camping,” she said.

Ehsan and her family go camping several times each year, enjoying the scenery, hiking, and the campfires. Her favorite spot is at Cape Lookout on the Oregon Coast.

Her other passion is taking road trips. She and her family will travel anywhere within a 10-12 hour radius from their home near Oregon State University. Some of their destinations have included Jasper, Alberta; as well as Yellowstone, San Diego, Las Vegas, and Idaho.

Always looking for fun, teachable moments, she keeps her young children occupied by teaching them math, singing, and enjoying the scenery. “We plan our road trips along scenic byways, so we don’t get bored,” Ehsan said. “Most importantly, it’s an opportunity for our family to talk and have fun together.”

— By Gale Sumida
May 2021