Woman of faith and science – Mary Keller

Mary Kenneth Keller (1914–1985) USA

American nun who was the first woman to earn a PhD in Computer Science in the US.]. In June 1965 she, along with Irving Tang became the first in America to earn a PhD in Computer Science. She earned her degree from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

She took her vows with the Sisters of Charity in 1940. Later she earned a B.S. in Mathematics and a M.S. in Mathematics and Physics from DePaul University. She also worked in the computer science centre at Dartmouth College, a men-only institution at the time, where she joined John G. Kemeny and Thomas E. Kurtz to create the BASIC programming language.[4]

Keller believed in the potential for computers to increase access to information and promote education.[5] In 1965, after earning her PhD, Keller founded the computer science department at Clarke College in Iowa, which she directed for twenty years.Clarke College named the Keller Computer Center and Information Services after her , which provides computing and telecommunication support to Clarke College students, faculty members, and staff.[7] The college has also established the Mary Kenneth Keller Computer Science Scholarship in her honor.[8]

Keller wrote four books about computer science. In her words, ‘We’re having an information explosion, among others, and it’s certainly obvious that information is of no use unless it’s available.’ Keller’s vision extended beyond education and reached toward artificial intelligence. ‘For the first time, we can now mechanically simulate the cognitive process. We can make studies in artificial intelligence. Beyond that, this mechanism [the computer] can be used to assist humans in learning. As we are going to have more mature students in greater numbers as time goes on, this type of teaching will probably be increasingly important.’


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