Remembering Jean Sammet

Photo of Joud Mar’i ’19 and Jean Sammet ’48

Everyone in the Makerspace was sorry to hear of the passing of Jean Sammet ’48, a pioneering figure in computer science and prominent Mount Holyoke alumna. In just the past year or so, she endowed a Chair in Computer Science and visited campus to talk with young women in technology. Joud Mar’i ’19 was one of those students, and reflects on her meeting with Sammet in the Makerspace last fall:

“I met Jean Sammet in iDesign, a course I was taking my first year at MHC. I was then working on my final project ‘SPLIT,’ which is an educational tool model that simulates neurological symptoms in split-brain patients. I was using chips, called Neurobytes, that act as electronic neuron models and can be connected to create different biological representations of neural networks in the brain.

That was my small pitch I gave to Jean as she was observing my project. She was very intrigued by the idea, and laughed at how fast science and technology are evolving. She asked me if I was planning to major in computer science, and encouraged me to seek more innovative ways to incorporate technology and neuroscience.

I am very grateful for the short encounter I had that day with Jean Sammet. As a first year, meeting a role model and a pioneer like her played one of the biggest roles in shaping the academic endeavors I pursued later. When first coming in, I did not expect I would ever end up taking computer science courses, or even be able to write and understand code. Jean reminded me, and every student in our class, that we are smart and fully capable of bringing change to an unwelcoming tech world dominated by men.

Today, I am a rising junior majoring in Neuroscience and Behavior, with minors in Computer Science and Nexus Biomedical Engineering. This summer, I am working as a research fellow for Backyard Brains, a neuroscience/tech company. I am continuously inspired by my memory of meeting Jean Sammet. The world indeed lost a one of a kind figure!”