The idea of moving from one field of study to another can be puzzling. But for her, it was the task of putting together a puzzle that gave her the idea to change gears. She saw that task as the similarity between music and computer programming. And as a result, she is now a lecturer in the department of Computer Science at the University of West Georgia (UWG).
Christine Rolka made the connection after she graduated from Georgia State University (GSU), where she earned her Bachelor’s Degree (1996) and Master’s Degree (2000) in Music Theory. She remained involved in music after moving to Tucson, Arizona, in 2000. But six years later, she came back to Georgia with a change of heart. Rolka then attended UWG and, in 2008, received her Master’s Degree in Applied Computer Science.
Rolka developed an interest in computer programming within the year following her graduation from GSU.
“Music Theory was a language, and programming, networking, all of the structures fit together somehow,” says Rolka. “And in order to find out how those structures fit together, in order to understand how everything fits together, you have to understand the underlying structure. And so that in itself was what drew me to computer science.”
Her interest in music, though, began with the piano during her senior year in high school. She first enrolled at GSU in the fall of 1990, but she didn’t jump into the university’s music courses at first.
Once she realized that there was nothing else that peaked her interest, Rolka declared Music Theory as her major in 1993.
“I picked it because, first of all, I had to declare something, and that was something I was interested in at the time,” says Rolka. “And it always kind of alluded me how all of these musical pieces fit together. It was another language, I suppose, and I really enjoyed learning languages. So I guess that’s why Music Theory was my draw.”
After receiving her degrees in Music Theory, Rolka served as an Adjunct Instructor of Music Theory at GSU for the summer semester 2000. She then traveled to Arizona and took the same position at Pima Community College (PCC) in Tucson for three semesters (fall semester 2000 – summer semester 2001).
Rolka says that she felt detached during her time at PCC.
“I wasn’t very engaged in the campus,” says Rolka. “I wasn’t engaged with really much of anything. As an [Adjunct Instructor], you don’t interact with faculty. You just really come in, teach your class, and go. It was really a very unimpressionable period. I barely remember it.”
She says that it was also a financial struggle at the time, as she was the only one supporting both her boyfriend and herself. Because she was making just $1700 per course, she took on a second job in January 2001, as a secretary at a technical training school called DRA Software Training.
It was during her spare time at DRA when Rolka began to develop an interest in computer science.
“I went and hung out with the computer technicians, because they were responsible for setting up the classrooms,” says Rolka. “And since I spent so much time with them, I started picking up and doing what they were working on. Because I was just so bored, I couldn’t sit still. So that’s how I got into networking.”
Rolka would go on to fulfill a variety of roles at DRA, including Query/Report Writer, Web Developer’s Assistant, Classroom Administrator and Student Services Coordinator.
After leaving DRA in July 2002, Rolka spent the next four years performing database-programming responsibilities for the Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona, a Native-American tribe based in Tucson. She then left Arizona in July 2006, as her husband’s work relocated them to Carrollton, Ga.
Upon her return to Georgia, Rolka enrolled at UWG in the spring semester 2007.
“There’s a Master’s program here, and I did that,” says Rolka. “Because after I transitioned into Computer Science, I had always wanted to go back and get some type of education in Computer Science, specifically.”
Rolka spent two full years as a student at UWG, during which time she was named 2007 Outstanding Graduate Research Assistant of the Year. After graduating in the fall semester 2008 with her Master’s Degree in Applied Computer Science, she joined UWG’s Department of Computer Science in the spring semester 2009 as a Limited-Term Instructor.
Rolka says that that first semester came with challenges.
“It took a lot because I had no idea what it was that I was supposed to teach,” says Rolka. “I mean, I knew all of the content. But, the patterning, the steps that you take – so step one has to be learned before step two – that I wasn’t quite sure about. Because when I learned it, I taught it to myself all at the same time. So the hardest thing was just the sequencing of events.”
But she says that things started getting easier in the following year, after her position had already changed from Limited-Term Instructor to Lecturer.
“I started feeling much more comfortable with the sequencing and things like that,” says Rolka. “It really started coming together last year, last springtime. And this being my last semester, it feels like it’s my best semester.”
Rolka will be leaving UWG after the Spring Semester 2014. She intends to pursue a Ph.D. Program at Georgia Tech in Human-Centered Computing, with a focus in Computer Science Education.
Rolka says that despite her transition into Computer Science, she can find satisfaction in putting together any kind of puzzle.
“I think I would just be happy doing anything, as long as I was busy figuring something out,” says Rolka. “Whether it be Music Theory, whether it be how to put together a program, how to put together a website or figuring out how to better teach people, I think the main thing that I really like to do is just figure things out. And so as long as I’m doing that, I’ll be happy.”