Engineering to Exponents!

A recount of Sebek’s journey to teaching at UPA

Math and computer science teacher Nicole Sebek grew up struggling to read. During her senior year of high school, Sebek had an argument with her father over her near inability to read. This argument prompted Sebek to get tested by a professional who then diagnosed her with dyslexia. 

“I was a little ashamed, but also a little relieved because lots of the problems that I found, I felt like they were being able to be explained,” Sebek said. 

Sebek’s dyslexia causes her to misread and miswrite frequently. This has had a significant impact on her development as a student and as a teacher.

Nicole Sebek smiles for a picture in a Wicked Witch of the West costume during Halloween. (Photo courtesy of Nicole Sebek.)

When typing very important documents, Sebek has the math department share it around with one another to look for any errors. If students or another teacher has found an error, they usually mention it to Sebek. Spell check also greatly assists Sebek in catching errors in documents.

Accompanying her dyslexia from a young age was her motivation to learn about what she ate. By the age of eight, she became a vegetarian. After reading about factory farming during her senior year of high school, she made the decision to go completely vegan.

“As I was doing more research, by the time I got to senior high school, I decided I needed to be more diligent about not harming animals,” Sebek said. “So I had read a whole bunch about factory farming, and how animals are treated when they take eggs or milk from them. And I thought that wasn’t very nice. So I decided to see if I could eat without interfering with the animals at all.”

Sebek, a San Jose native, spent her high school years at Prospect High School. Sebek participated in gymnastics, cross country, wrestling and played the viola. She also volunteered at a retirement community across the street from her school.

Nicole Sebek is crowned the victor of a wrestling match at a tournament. (Photo courtesy of Nicole Sebek.)

Sebek received her undergraduate degree in computer science from UC Santa Cruz (UCSC) and received her master’s in Electrical and Computer Engineering from San Jose State University (SJSU). 

While at UCSC, Sebek was a member of the engineering club. She was entrusted with the key to the basement since she was the head of an engineering organization named IEEE. In the engineering club, she served one year as a secretary and two years as the president. The engineering club organized different organizations to speak at UCSC, hosted hackathons and offered food, computers and other resources to students so that they could have a place to study and work with people in their department and major.

Sebek spent 10 years as an electrical engineer building computer chips for IBM. After work, Sebek would work as a math tutor for people who had not finished their high school diploma. She tutored math for about seven or eight years. Gradually, she went from tutoring one day a week to six days a week. People asked if she could tutor their children, and that was when Sebek decided to fully transition her career from an engineer to a tutor.

Nicole Sebek poses with a friend at her high school graduation in 1996 from Prospect High. (Photo courtesy of Nicole Sebek.)

Sebek later made the decision to pursue her teaching credential in single subject—math—at SJSU. It is through her professors that she landed a job at a middle school in Fremont.

Sebek had finished all of her classes except one until she was notified by one of her teachers that their principal was willing to interview her even though she was not done with her classwork. She then had to attend school and teach to receive that job. She had not received any interview requests prior, so she jumped at the opportunity.

Sebek joined UPA in 2014 through a referral from one of her professors at SJSU.

At UPA, Sebek teaches Integrated Math 3+ and both Introduction to Computer Science and AP Computer Science. Additionally, she helps behind the scenes alongside Director of Curriculum and Instruction Matt Daugherty, Registrar Arica Clement and the counselors.

Sebek works on the databases which store students’ grades. She also aids teachers in dealing with Schoology and PowerSchool, UPA’s learning management systems. 

When she is not teaching or working on the technical side of the school, Sebek is often exercising, watching Korean shows, spending time with friends and family or learning new educational strategies and reading racial injustice books, such as “Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County,” “Grading For Equity” and “Automating Inequality.” Sebek is currently learning how to differentiate instruction.

Nicole Sebek running at a track meet at Alum Rock Park. (Photo courtesy of Nicole Sebek.)

Sebek defines differentiating instruction as “teaching students the same concepts but in multiple different ways so that they hear it multiple times.” Differentiating instruction is when a teacher observes and understands the difference among students and uses this information to plan instruction. 

“I feel like this world talks a lot about one way and has a pathway set up for one group of people to succeed,” Sebek said. “And then there’s a lot of things you have to overcome if you’re not of the preferred group or on the pathway that has been set up.”