In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting a small handful of the women who have impacted STEM fields far and wide. Whether they contributed to the development of early computer science, made strides in mathematics, or expanded the study of space exploration, we honor the women of yesterday and today for their work in paving the way for the STEM superheroes of tomorrow.
Ada Lovelace: The first female computer programmer
Though she lived and worked back in the 1840s, when computer programming was in its infancy and women in science were frowned upon, Ada, a talented mathematician and daughter of poet Lord Byron, was responsible for writing the world’s first algorithm for an early computing machine. Nearly 150 years later, the U.S. Department of Defense honored her contributions to computer science by naming a newly developed computer language "Ada," after her.
Angelica Ross: Transgender rights advocate and founder of TransTech
Like many who've experienced a gender nonconforming childhood, Angelica Ross knows what it’s like to feel out of place. That changed when she discovered the breadth of possibilities within STEM. Now, Ross wants to help others find that same sense of belonging. As a self-taught coder, transgender rights advocate, and the founder and CEO of TransTech Social Enterprises, her goal is to help those facing barriers in education and in the workplace, with a special focus on trans and gender nonconforming people, to find employment in STEM fields through hands-on training, career development, peer coaching, and more.
Sister Mary Kenneth Keller: The first American woman to earn a Ph.D. in Computer Science
Sister Mary Kenneth Keller, a Catholic nun, was a pioneer of higher education, studying at a number of colleges and universities in the 1960s, including Dartmouth. There, she contributed to the development of the BASIC computer language, which allowed anyone who could learn the language to develop custom software. In 1965, she became the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in Computer Science in the United States. She later went on to found the computer science department at Clarke College in Iowa, a position she held for twenty years.
Gladys West: The mathematician who helped invent GPS
After graduating as valedictorian from Virginia State College in 1948, West launched a career in mathematics and computer science, serving as both a programmer and project manager of satellite data analysis. Her work led to award-winning studies, commendations, and important discoveries related to what we know about the shape of our planet as well as the motion of others. Her complex algorithms and precise modeling provided the data that ultimately became the basis of today’s Global Positioning System.
Carol Shaw: A pioneering video game programmer
To Carol Shaw, a video game designer working for Atari during the height of their popularity, the video game industry was a boys’ club. When male colleagues suggested her skills were best used for cosmetic purposes, such as cartridge design, Shaw instead got to work developing a variety of games, including River Raid, a game largely considered to be a masterpiece of game design for the Atari 2600 console. Shaw’s influence continues to inspire young designers today and in 2017, Shaw received the Industry Icon Award at The Game Awards.
Annie Easley: Computer scientist, mathematician, and rocket scientist
When Annie Easley joined NASA in 1955 as a “human computer” doing complex mathematical calculations for researchers, she was one of only four African Americans employed at the Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory. As technology advanced and computers began replacing the work she’d done by hand, Easley became an adept computer scientist. Her contributions to alternative power technology research include creating and implementing the code that led to the development of early hybrid car batteries as well as the Centaur upper-stage rocket.
Kathleen Martinez: The archaeologist on the trail of Cleopatra
Raised in the Dominican Republic, Kathleen Martinez dreamed of becoming an archaeologist and finding the lost tomb of Cleopatra. For years, she researched the enigmatic queen in her free time and developed a theory of where to find the tomb. When Martinez’s proposal was approved and she was finally given the opportunity to excavate, she jumped at the chance, ignoring the scrutiny and criticism of a wary scientific community. But fifteen years later, Martinez has proved the skeptics wrong: her discoveries, including two mummies found within the ancient temple of Taposiris Magna, support her theory. Today, Martinez is closer than ever to discovering the truth about Cleopatra’s final resting place.