Dr Rita Garcia is a Senior Software Engineer at Unity Technologies and an Adjunct Researcher at Victoria University of Wellington. She has 15 years of software development experience in the Visual Effects (VFX) industry. She previously worked at Pixar Animation Studio, Weta Digital, and Marvel Studios. Her movie credits include “The Incredibles”, “The Hobbit Trilogy”, and “Thor: Ragnarok”. She has also taught Computer Science and Software Engineering courses at the University of Adelaide. She was awarded the Advance Higher Education (AdvanceHE) Fellowship in 2022, a professional recognition demonstrating her commitment to learning and teaching in higher education. While earning her Master’s Degree at the University of California, Santa Cruz, she taught at various community colleges in the San Francisco Bay area, giving her the opportunity to work with a diverse cohort, which included a blend of traditional first-year undergraduates and adult learners from different ethnic and socioeconomic groups.
While working at Marvel, she earned her PhD at the University of Adelaide, focusing on Computer Science Education to support students’ understanding, question-asking, and problem-solving of programming problems. Her PhD entitled “Codification Pedagogy for Introductory Procedural Programming Courses” developed a codification pedagogy for Online Learning Environments (OLEs) that promotes the deconstruction of programming requirements for designing a solution before implementation. Her research scaffolded the programming assignment using Parsons problems, an assessment that helps first-year students learn programming by arranging code fragments to form a working program. Within the pedagogy, instead of presenting code fragments, the intervention offers design plans related to the programming problem, helping students organise an approach to solving the problem. Her pedagogy work with Parsons problems won her Best Demonstration at SIGCSE 2018.
As a Hispanic female software professional, she has first-hand experience with the challenges women and ethnic minority groups face studying and working in computing. Her recent research is motivated to help students develop skills to promote a more inclusive and collaborative work environment. She examines collaborative learning through the lens of gender, helping to make group activities more inclusive to encourage the retention of female students. She has also been invited to talk about her work in inclusive and equitable collaboration, presenting strategies for educators and students to apply in the learning environment.
In her free time, she participates in Ironman triathlons (3.8k Swim, 112k Bike, 42.2K Run) and is preparing for her 20th race in 2024.
If you are an active software engineering researcher based in New Zealand and would like to join or know more about SI^NZ, please contact our Treasurer and Membership Officer, Valerio Terragni or the local executive member at your university.