Eleanor Harris ’20
By Sasha Nyary
Eleanor Harris took computer science in high school but didn’t pursue it because she wasn’t confident she had the chops.
Then she met Valerie Barr ’77, Jean E. Sammet Professor of Computer Science and chair of the department.
Harris tracked down Barr after reading her United Nations research on computer science education. “She talked to me for an hour about the subject,” Harris said. “I got hired as an assistant. I helped with a research project actually looking at gender and computer science education. She listened to me, recognized my interest and gave me an opportunity to pursue it, going beyond my academic experience.”
Taking Organizations and Inequality with Eleanor Townsley, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Sociology, inspired Harris to pick up a major in sociology.
“It was my first introduction to using structural explanations as a method to understand things that made me mad,” Harris said, noting that Townsley is her thesis advisor. “Getting to work with Eleanor in an advising role has been wonderful. She’s helped me think about social issues in a systematic way.”
Much of that work is focused on equalizing computer science education for those who might be dissuaded from studying the subject. In order to help accomplish this, Harris volunteered to design and teach departmentwide workshops and run an interview study group. She’s been a tutor through the College’s MaGE program and co-chaired the Girls in Technology conference.
She’s also found time to participate in the Five College Consortium. “The Five College offerings are as good as Mount Holyoke makes them out to be — even better,” she said. “I love the small-college experience and I love having the resources of the other colleges, like going to talks on other campuses and having all these class options. Mount Holyoke provides you with both experiences, which is pretty amazing.”
Harris, the winner of a Trustee Scholarship, the Sarah Williston Academic Prize and the Gina Jacobsen Prize in Mathematics, also found time to work at the Mount Holyoke News, where she started MoRomance, the newspaper’s blind-dating column.
After graduation Harris will work as a software engineer at Reddit, where she had previously interned. “I’m really excited to be able to draw on computer science and sociology in a company environment where they care about user safety,” she said. “It’s fun to be fluent in this area. Not every computer science major at every school has been exposed to these ideas.”