A Brief History of Women in Computing @ CSB

CSB Student in HAB Computer Lab

CSB Student in HAB Computer Lab

Women have long been engaged in computational sciences.  In  the 18th century, women such as Nicole-Reine Lepaute and Maria Mitchell developed significant calculations for astronomy.  In the 1840s, Ada Lovelace designed the first algorithm intended for a computer.   A century later, Grace Hopper designed a compiler which evolved into the COBOL programming language.  Throughout the 19th and early 20th century, computational science was predominantly done by women; significant examples include the Harvard "Computers" analyzing scientific data; codebreakers at Bletchley Park (UK); and NASA's  "Hidden Figures" human computers.  

At the College of Saint Benedict, women have also been engaged in computer sciences for more than 60 years.  Indeed, the first discussions of computers for both campuses began in early 1959, when the CSB Mathematics Department invited a representative of Remington Rand Univac to speak to students on “Components of a Computer and the Flow of Information”.       By the 1960s, Bennie students joined their Johnnie peers in taking courses such as “Digital Computer Elements and Data Processing” in computer science classes taught at SJU.    While the first computers for CSB/SJU use were installed in the Peter Engel Science Center, where students and faculty used terminals to access a mainframe, by the early 1980s St. Ben’s had its own public access computing center.   CSB students adopted computers in a wide array of subjects from chemistry to music.   Bennies applied their interest in computers in many disciplines, such as a 1984 CSB business class that used the market for microcomputers as a case study.   Clemens Library, opened in 1986, had an online catalog as well as public access computers.  

In 1992, CSB and SJU combined their information technology units to become today’s IT Services.   CSB soon had a networked lab in the Main Building.  The campuses made their first Internet connections in 1993, and the following year faculty members Lynn Ziegler, Tom Kirkman and Tom Creed gave a faculty development workshop on using web browsers.   Today, computer use is ubiquitous across the liberal arts, and Bennie computer science alums are working in fields like user experience, programming, and data analytics.   Women now lead information technology at CSB/SJU, including CIO Casey Gordon and Associate Director of Instructional Technology Miranda Novak.In 2019 the College of Saint Benedict invested in a major renovation of space in the Main Building that now houses the Computer Science Department. CSB continues its 60+ year tradition of empowering women in computational sciences.   

A Brief History of Women in Computing @ CSB