Alumni Spotlight – Dr. Debra Chapman

Posted on September 28, 2020 by Keith Lynn
Keith Lynn

“If you are thinking about or pursuing a career in computing, you need to develop a strong sense of what you want to do with your lives and go after it, without letting anything or anyone get in your way.  Women can, and do, succeed at computing.” 


These words of inspiration come from Dr. Debra Chapman, interim Associate Dean, Graduate Director and Associate Professor in USA’s School of Computing. Dr. Chapman’s education and life story exemplifies her philosophy, and we are honored to share her alumni story during Women in Technology month.

Dr. Chapman earned her Bachelor’s degree in secondary education and social studies from the University of Southern Mississippi in 1989.  In the years that followed, she had married her husband, Allen, and was working and starting a family.  It was during her work as a bookkeeper that she had taken over many of the computing responsibilities and had learned a tremendous amount by hanging out and observing the IT professionals that would come work on the network.  “I knew it was something I could do and make more money than I was currently making,” she states.

With her strong determination, fascination with computing and encouragement from Allen, she completed her Master’s degree in Computer and Information Sciences from USA in 1997 as a working mother attending classes at night.  As a student in the Information Systems track, she fondly remembers Dr. William Owen as her favorite instructor and professor of the Human Computer Interface class.  “He always made classes interesting as you never knew what he might do or say.  He was also a very smart man. He was actually a rocket scientist who enjoyed sharing his knowledge with his students.  His class showed the importance of a program not only being syntactically and logically correct but also user friendly,” she shares.

One of Debra’s favorite memories of being a student at South Alabama was attending sporting events, primarily men’s basketball games, with her parents.  “My mom was an alumna of USA, having graduated in 1985.  They began supporting the Jags while she was a student in the Mitchell College of Business.  At that time, the basketball games were held at the Mobile Civic Center.  It was fun to be able to enjoy attending the games with them since I was now a Jaguar myself,” Debra recalls.

Dr. Chapman joined the School of Computing as an instructor in 1998. During her tenure at USA, she has taught classes in the IST department and been responsible for the development and redesign of numerous courses within the curriculum. Currently an Associate Professor, she has published books, abstracts and journal articles as well as presented at annual technology conferences. She has written grants to support the School of Computing and served on various committees within the University.

By 2013, Debra had earned her Ph.D. in Instructional Technology from USM while continuing to teach in the School of Computing. Having initially come from a background in secondary education and with a passion for making learning more accessible, her research interests for her dissertation included multimedia instructional tools, distance learning and flipped classrooms. Never have these concepts been more important than now that the coronavirus pandemic has moved students to remote learning environments, and teachers and instructors are adapting to new teaching methods.

Since 2017, Dr. Chapman has served as Director of Graduate Studies for the School of Computing and has been instrumental in the program’s growth and development.  Having just completed a 5-year review by the Alabama Commission on Higher Education, the School’s Ph.D. program met or exceeded all goals and 80% of graduates have been successful in acquiring related employment after graduation.

Because of her strong commitment to student success, Dr. Chapman was recognized in 2018 by USA’s National Alumni Association as the Beth and Don Davis NAA Excellence in Advising Award recipient. This past year, she was tapped as the School’s very first interim Associate Dean, a vital leadership position given the current growth and direction of the School.

Dr. Chapman serves as faculty advisor to the School’s Jaguar Women in Technology (JWIT) student organization and is a champion for increasing diversity in the field. Since getting her doctorate, her research interests have shifted to focus on STEM education and the recruitment and retention of women in STEM fields, primarily computing.

“There is nothing inherently male or female about computing. There is nothing that makes men any better in computing fields then women. My male students often have more self-confidence and can use that to dominate conversations and class discussions. However, confidence does not always equate to correctness. Some of my best highest achieving students have been women.  Female students need to believe in themselves and their ability to be successful in a traditionally male dominated field,” she affirms.

Reflecting on the many changes she has seen in the technology sector over time, Debra says, “Computing has changed dramatically since I first started. I was young when we got one of the first home computers for Christmas.  It did not come with an operating system - that had to be purchased and installed separately. Computing has evolved to have dramatically faster operating systems, built in memory, and external drives. Programming has changed from assembly languages to modern 4th generation languages that are written using English-like commands.”

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