Matt Rice

Sr. Mary Kenneth Keller, a nun in a black habit and veil, stands next to a table sized early computer

Sister Mary Kenneth Keller

  • Catholic Sister
  • First woman to earn a Computer Science PhD
  • Machine learning researcher
  • Technology educator

Sister Mary Kenneth Keller was born on December 17, 1913 as Evelyn Keller. She entered the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1932 after graduating from a high school run by sisters of that congregation.

Sr. Mary began studing computers at Dartmouth College in 1961 and became one of the first people and the first woman to recieve a Ph.D. in Computer Science when she graduated from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 1965. Her dissertation was on algorithms which learn by induction, the basis of machine learning.

Sr. Mary went on to found a Computer Science program at Clarke College and advocate for computer education and smaller-scale computing.

What role did Sr. Mary’s passion for Computers play in her life of faith? For her, coding was an opportunity to grow in virtue.

“The computer does not make mistakes, and it is hard on one’s ego to have to assume all the blame every time something goes wrong. That is where humility comes in and then you get to practice patience by correcting your mistakes”

Rather than a adopting the cynical attitude towards bugs typical of some coders, Sr. Mary shows that every frustration in coding is an opportunity to grow as a person.

Sr. Mary believed that students need to understand the technologies that shape their world:

“Every citizen has a right and a duty to have a knowledge, commensurate with his capacity, of the important forces and instruments which shape his civilization.”

This philosophy is more relevant than ever with the advent of generative AI tools like GitHub Copilot and ChatGPT. Even if AI tools begin to write more of our code, future generations must still learn to code to understand how computers, coding, and machine learning, forces which increasingly undergird our civilization, actually work.

Matt Rice is a full-stack web developer. When he is not coding or designing websites, he can be found running ultramarathons or going to daily Mass.

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