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As Yale looks to expand its science, technology, engineering and mathematics community, what better way for the University to endorse this cause than by naming one of the new residential colleges after one of its most accomplished graduates in the rapidly growing field of computer science?

Yale alum, Grace Hopper GRD ’34, instantly comes to mind.

First, her credentials are very strongly linked to Yale. In 1928 — 41 years before Yale College opened its doors to women — Hopper graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Vassar College, Yale’s sister school. She then went on to earn an MA and Ph.D in Mathematics at the University. Yale awarded Hopper the Wilbur Cross Medal in 1972, an honor presented to outstanding alumni of the graduate school.

Hopper served in the United States Navy for more than 40 years, eventually retiring as an admiral. Hopper first enlisted in the Navy during World War II. Hopper was 34 at the time, and Navy officials told her she should remain a civilian. Still, Hopper maneuvered her way into getting special permission to serve her country.

Back when computer science was just beginning to develop, Hopper made immense contributions to advance the field. Hopper wrote the first compiler, which is a computer program that allows us to change code that humans write into a form that computers can understand. Hopper helped pioneer better and more sophisticated programming language. She was also the third person ever to program the Mark I computer, which many people consider the first computer in the United States.

Hopper was also a dedicated educator and mentor who taught at Vassar for 10 years. She has trained and inspired generations of young computer scientists, both men and women.

As a woman studying mathematics, working in the Navy and doing research in computer science, Hopper was often the only female in the room. Today, STEM fields like computer science still face the same problem they did 80 years ago. Hopper exemplifies why the University ought to strive for diversity in the STEM fields. She used her talents to the fullest, advancing the study of computer science and helping her country. Yale could reaffirm its commitment by honoring this exceptional person.

Hannia Zia is a junior in Saybrook College. Contact her at hannia.zia@yale.edu.

6 Comments

  1. Holly Rushmeier

    Great column! From http://www.history.navy.mil/bios/hopper_grace.htm

    “Her favorite age group to address was young people between the ages of 17 and 20. She believed they know more, they question more and they learn more than people in what she called the “in-between years”, ages 40 to 45. She always placed very high importance on America’s youth. Hopper often said, “working with the youth is the most important job I’ve done. It’s also the most rewarding.” This seems perfectly natural since she spent all her adult life teaching others.”

  2. carl

    To Holly Rushmeier’s point — at age 17 or so, I saw Adm. Hopper give her famous nanosecond demonstration. With it, she charmed a difficult audience of 1,000 high schoolers. And I still remember that little piece of wire.

  3. yalie

    100200 MAIN-LOGIC SECTION.
    100300 BEGIN.
    100400 DISPLAY ” ” LINE 1 POSITION 1 ERASE EOS.
    100500 DISPLAY “Hello Hopper College!” LINE 15 POSITION 10.
    100600 STOP RUN.
    100700 MAIN-LOGIC-EXIT.
    100800 EXIT.

  4. river_tam

    I support Hopper College, but you’re wayyyyy underselling Grace Hopper.

    Grace Hopper invented the compiler, which is LITERALLY the most important invention of modern computing besides the computer itself.

    It’s not about diversity, about inspiration, etc.

    She is one of the central figures in the story of the computing revolution. Period. Full stop. End of story. Other people may have been “the first black X” or “the first female Y”. You don’t need to discuss Grace Hopper’s race, religion, ethnicity, or gender to argue compellingly for her inclusion as a college namesake.

  5. sy

    I agree that Hopper is a GRD of accomplishment, dedication and personal honor. She is part of the best of Yale, and there are many others like her whose names will not be remembered. Grace Hopper’s name would honor a college or other building, but Yale College women (’69 and forward) are still alive making their place. Only the small Class of ’69 has even reached early retirement age. I would consider naming one college with a placeholder name like Branford or Saybrook, and changing it in 10-20 years for Hopper or another Yale woman, when there will be many more than a small number of graduate school students to consider.

    • MiddleageLiberal

      Quibble: The first Yale College women grads who attended all four years were Class of ’73, entering Yale in the fall of ’69. Junior and Sophomore women were admitted in ’69 also but would be Classes of ’71 and ’72 respectively.

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