Behrend graduate uses digital skills to create K-12 teaching tools

A portrait of Penn State Behrend alumna Mia Borgia

Mia Borgia creates data visualizations for Larson Texts and Big Ideas Learning. The Erie-based company publishes textbooks and K-12 curriculum products for schools across the country.

Credit: Photo provided

ERIE, Pa. — For Mia Borgia, a 2022 graduate, Penn State Behrend’s DIGIT program — a unique curriculum in digital media, arts and technology — was an opportunity to immerse herself in digital art and design.

“It was the perfect blend of things I enjoy: digital art, animation and graphic design,” she said.

One project introduced her to computer programming languages. Another required a deep dive into an archive of blues music. Borgia helped digitize the lyrics.

The blues project recently earned her an honorable mention from the Emerging Open Scholarship Awards, which are sponsored by the Canadian Social Knowledge Institute.

Today, Borgia creates data visualizations for Larson Texts and Big Ideas Learning. The company creates textbooks and K-12 curriculum products for schools across the country. Borgia develops and refines teaching tools that explain math concepts in new ways.

As a junior software engineer in the research and innovation department, Borgia’s days range from writing code to developing vivid graphics to telling stories with data.

“At the end of the day, the goal is to create the best tools we can in order to help teachers help students learn and grow to their full potential,” she said.

She had professors at Behrend who did the same for her, she said.

“There are so many things that I learned through my time in DIGIT that help me in my work,” she said. “A major part of that preparation was working on class projects in teams, learning to be unafraid to make mistakes and learn from them, and collaborating with peers to identify and solve problems in creative ways.”

Elisa Beshero-Bondar, a professor of digital humanities and chair of the DIGIT program, said Borgia was persistent and eager to learn.

“When Mia would work on a project, she would never just do the minimum,” Beshero-Bondar said. “She would always push that project into an edgy space where we’d all be learning something new or trying something a little off the beaten track.”

Borgia honed her communication and teamwork skills on projects such as the blues music analysis, which involved processing and storing massive amounts of data. Other projects taught her web development and computer programming languages. The DIGIT Works student project showcase prepared her for the hundreds of times she has had to present her work.

“Being able to effectively showcase your code, explain how it works and demonstrate the problems you’re attempting to solve with your code’s logic is an essential part of my job,” she said.

The work is coding-heavy, but she keeps her digital art skills fresh.

“The artist in Mia is also, I think, what makes her unusually brilliant at software development,” Beshero-Bondar said.

Borgia said she feels lucky to work as a software engineer, but DIGIT gave her a solid foundation and made her ready when the opportunity came.

“I feel extremely honored to know that the work I am doing is making a future impact in classrooms all over the country every day,” she said.