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A Computer Science Legacy Extends 70 Years

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Valerie Barr.

Valerie Barr joins the Computer Science department of Mount Holyoke College as the first person to hold its Jean E. Sammet Chair in Computer Science.

Credit: Mount Holyoke College

In an act of extraordinary generosity not long before she died, Jean Sammet '48 endowed a chair in computer science, the department's first such funded position.

Sammet, who died in May 2017 at age 89, was one of the most important pioneers of modern computer science. Her accomplishments include inventing the programming language FORMAC and co-creating COBOL, a programming language that is still used today. Her donation was entirely in character with her lifelong commitment to Mount Holyoke College.

With the appointment of Valerie Barr '77 to the Jean E. Sammet Endowed Chair in Computer Science, the legacy continues.

The lineage between Sammet and Barr is more than institutional. Like Sammet, Barr believes deeply that computing can be applied beyond STEM subjects and the social sciences to every field and across every department, including the humanities and the arts. Barr has been at the forefront of the interdisciplinary uses of computing for more than a decade, through both her educational focus and her scholarly research.

"Valerie, much like her endowed chair's namesake, has been a pioneering force in computer science," said Jon Western, dean of faculty and vice president for academic affairs. "She has helped to open the field to many women who otherwise wouldn't have access to it. She is an outstanding scholar, teacher and mentor, and we are very excited that she is returning to Mount Holyoke to share her experiences and her expertise."


From Mount Holyoke College
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