“My professors were appalled. They would say, ‘You’re bright enough to do a PhD in mathematics, why would you lower yourself to computer science? You’ll never find a job with a computer science degree,’” she said. “But I saw computer science at the time as being a new field, wide open for new people, lots of things that hadn’t been thought of yet — and more room to be creative.”
She hasn’t stopped creating since becoming the first woman to receive a PhD in computer science from the University of Virginia. In 1979, she received an invitation from WVU to help launch a computer science PhD program. Among her many achievements, she laid the foundation for the University’s software engineering master’s program, developed narrative-based computer games and created technology to assist students with visual impairments to learn math.
She became adviser for the Game Developers Club and, along with other computer science professors at the University, she created game development courses that have helped several students become game developers.
And then there’s her latest project. Van Scoy — who is also a writer — thought while at a conference in 2008: What if she could transmit what she saw and heard in her imagination directly to text and video files?
COMPUTER SCIENCE ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR FRANCES VAN SCOY IS WEARING AN EMOTIV EEG HEADSET THAT SHE AND HER STUDENTS HAVE USED TO DEVELOP PROTOTYPE PIZZA-ORDERING SOFTWARE.
The results? The software correctly understood anchovies and mushrooms every time, but ground beef and Italian sausage were matched incorrectly more than 50 percent of the time. But Van Scoy saw the identification failure as an indicator that the program was recognizing meaningful brain signals because ground beef and Italian sausage are similar.
In a speech she gave in 2013 on her acceptance into the Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering Academy of Distinguished Alumni, she talked about one day being able to make a stronger link between thoughts and computers.
“The problem? I’m estimating it’ll take 20 more years for the technology to get to that point,” she told the audience. “And that means I get to push my anticipated retirement date back a few years.”
Alumna Ysabel Bombardiere sees it in the girls’ eyes: They are comfortable asking questions, they feel encouraged and there’s a sense of sisterhood.
“My daughter is a middle school girl … and there’s a huge need for those educated in computer science,” said Bombardiere, BS ’00, Industrial Engineering. “Girls my daughter’s age begin to lose interest in engineering and math, and I wanted to help do something.”
ALUMNA YSABEL BOMBARDIERE, AN ENIGNEER, LEADS THE GIRLS WHO CODE CLUB AT THE KANAWHA COUNTY WVU EXTENSION OFFICE BECAUSE SHE WANTS GIRLS TO BE A BLE TO CONSIDER CAREERS IN TECHNOLOGY.
“They’re tech savvy and very ambitious. They want to do amazing things, so we let them decide what project they want to pursue and we give them the tools to get there,” she said.
Bombardiere has helped to create other chapters in the Charleston area, and plans for more are in the works. If you’d like to open a chapter in your area, visit girlswhocode.com.
“Being in this club is like a secret super power,” Bombardiere said. “They might not talk about it, but it gives them a lot of confidence and lets them know they can do whatever they want.”
Kelly Doyle is that Wikipedian. Her job is to show how women have fit into our history and encourage women to have an equal representation on Wikipedia. In other words, women have been doing incredible things since the beginning of time — but if no one documents it, how do we know that it happened?
KELLY DOYLE IS THE FIRST WIKIPEDIAN-IN-RESIDENCE FOR GENDER EQUITY, A ROLE WHERE SHE INCREASES THE NUMBER OF WIKIPEDIA ARTICLES RELATED TO WOMEN FROM WEST VIRGINIA. BEHIND HER IS THE WIKIPEDIA ENTRY FOR KATHERINE JOHNSON OF THE MOVIE “HIDDEN FIGURES.”
“Less than 10 percent of people who edit Wikipedia are women, and only 16 percent of biographies are about women. So, if it’s only men who are writing about other men, we’re missing half our history — and if it doesn’t exist on Wikipedia, it might not exist anywhere.”
To help change that, Doyle has hosted edit-a-thons where students learn to edit Wikipedia and offered service credit for those who can help fill those gaps in every industry and every field.
On her watch, students have created more than 50 articles on Wikipedia related to women from West Virginia. And another 100 existing articles on women from the state have been edited and improved.
“My knowledge is that the gaps are comprehensive and across every industry,” Doyle said. “There are notable women missing, and if we can help fill in a piece of that story, we’re helping to more accurately portray information and sending a clear message that women contribute significantly — even if they haven’t been credited.
“And, that sends a clear message — that women have been a huge part of history, and they will continue to be.”