Mr. Svetlik, Your Deli Meat is Ready!
By Alicja Ramotowski
Mr. Steven Svetlik, computer science department chair, is one of many new faculty faces at Northside this year. He is still getting used to Northside and said that every time he hears the office paging his classroom, it reminds him of the beeps in Mariano’s saying “your deli meat is ready!”.
Mr. Svetlik grew up in nearby Norwood Park and Mount Prospect. Despite his current occupation, he was not always interested in computers. During his childhood, he liked playing with Legos, outdoor activities, and playing video games. He was also a huge fan of “The Cosby Show” and enjoyed watching professional wrestling.
The first sign of his interest in computers came during a freshman year honors advanced algebra class. Mr. Svetlik, enduring class to the best of his ability, was bored with the material. Looking for something other than algebra to occupy himself with, he turned to his calculator, the original TI-81. Unlike today, the T-81 did not have to ability to download programs onto its memory, so he decided to program it on his own. He designed his own battleship game, but did not think much of it. After taking an uninspiring programming class in high school, Mr. Svetlik was far from considering computer science a future career path.
Mr. Svetlik originally wanted to major in meteorology in college, but he couldn’t afford to go to Valparaiso, the closest school with the program. After a semester of communications classes at UIC he decided that it was not the path for him and switched to a math major. During his time in college, Mr. Svetlik took a structured programming class soon after Java was released. He fell in love with the course, in part because the instructor encouraged the students to play around with the program and discover new things. Mr. Svetlik had such a passion for CS that it carried over to other aspects of his learning. In his other classes, instead of using math to solve complex problems, he would make programs to solve them. Still, a career in computer science was not on his mind.
After graduating, Mr. Svetlik went on to become a math teacher, and later the math department chair at Deerfield High School. During his third year of teaching, he wondered why a school that had the funds for a computer science program did not have one. He asked his supervisor why that was, and together they made it happen. Within a few years, the computer science program went from not existing to having seven classes, including AP Computer Science. Mr. Svetlik says he loves computer science because, “it is about creativity, but also about empowering people to go from being consumers to creators. Wouldn’t it be cool to have people besides myself or people who look like me, you know, rich white guys, creating? Think of the variety of perspectives that would come with it.”
Mr. Svetlik’s favorite part about computer science is its creative flexibility and being able to empower high school students, especially those not represented in the field, like women or black or Hispanic students. He thinks there is huge potential in the computer science industry to help people grow and to give them jobs. According to Mr. Svetlik, there are 22,000 unfilled jobs in computer science, which pay an average salary of 89,000 dollars per year. He hopes those jobs will soon be filled by people who attended K-12 schools in Illinois. This is also what brought him to Northside after Mr. Don Yanek, former computer science chair, reached out to him about the open position. He was excited to teach at an academically high-achieving school with students who are passionate about computer science. In fact, after his interview, Mr. Svetlik was asked to teach a lesson. At the end of the class, the students applauded him. Northside students were interested, and “indescribably grateful, which made me have a really happy feeling coming out of school,” said Mr. Svetlik.
Mr. Svetlik stays involved in computer science outside of school. He is the founder and president of the Chicago Suburban Chapter of Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA); a professional organization of computer science teachers. The organization’s current national executive director is Mr. Jake Baskin, Northside class of 2006. Mr. Svetlik is also the founder and president of CS4IL, which takes what Chicago has accomplished in the field of computer science and scales it to the remaining 850 school districts in Illinois. Apart from being widely involved in the computer science community both in and outside of school, Mr. Svetlik enjoys jumping on the trampoline with his three year old daughter and two year old son and causing trouble. He rides a Harley, has traveled around the country three times, “painfully jogged five marathons,” trains new computer science teachers, and continues to learn both real and programming languages.
The HoofBeat also asked Mr. Svetlik about the world’s most pressing issues. When asked “cats, dogs, or lizards,” Mr. Svetlik enthusiastically replied dogs, especially pugs. His best bowling score is 300 and his favorite Netflix show is “Breaking Bad.” He uses a VPN, and although he does not play Fortnite, he might have a level 53 dragoon in Final Fantasy XI. Mr. Svetlik’s favorite ice cream flavor is Twinkie, and the skill he would like to master is multitasking. He has two dogs, and his daughter has a betta fish named “Fishie Fishie.” Mr. Svetlik said if he could stay one age forever it would be three years old. While watching his kids he remembers that everything at that age is a discovery, everything is so simple, and “learning and playing and life are all one and the same.” He thinks school should be more about play and creativity and curiosity than what it is now: SAT scores and rec letters. As a kid, Mr. Svetlik liked math, but was not a fan of the schooling system and only started to truly enjoy and appreciate learning in college. If it were an Olympic sport, Mr. Svetlik would win the gold in being a social chameleon, since he loves interacting with large networks of people who are different from him and learning from them.
Mr. Svetlik also sports an earring which holds a special connection to him. Mr. Svetlik grew up in a strict household with a father who did not accept things like men wearing earrings. When he was 22, Mr. Svetlik volunteered in a Big Brother organization. His little brother was a guy named Justin. One day they got to talking, and Justin encouraged Mr. Svetlik to stand up for himself and not let his father tell him what to do. Mr. Svetlik decided to go to Claire’s and get a little sparkly stud. Later, Justin gave Mr. Svetlik his current earring as a birthday present. Although he was the little brother that was supposed to be the one learning, Justin (just 14 years old) taught Mr. Svetlik a lot about life, and for that reason the earring, “stays in there forever.”