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Sister Mary Kenneth Keller PhD’65 was in the habit of both teaching and learning. In 1932, at 18 years old, Keller entered the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and began a decades-long teaching career after taking her religious vows in 1940. While teaching elementary and high school math, Keller earned degrees in math and physics from DePaul University in 1943 and 1953, respectively. Throughout this time, Keller saw just how vital computers would be in the future of education. In the early 1960s, the president of Clarke College (now Clarke University), then a women’s institution run by her order, decided that students needed to prepare for the upcoming information age and sent Keller to the UW to get her doctorate so that she could return to Clarke to lead their computer science program. On June 7, 1965, at age 51, Keller came just short of receiving the first doctorate in computer science in the United States — Irving Tang of Washington University became the first person just hours earlier in Saint Louis. Her thesis, “Inductive Inference on Computer Generated Patterns,” confirmed what Keller had suspected long ago: not only would computers be necessary tools in classrooms, but automation and artificial intelligence would become standard in everyone’s day-to-day lives. Often referred to on campus as “Sister Computer,” Keller returned to Clarke and led its computer science program as an educator and administrator for more than 20 years. Throughout her life, she was a tireless advocate for education and computer literacy for all, even continuing to give computer lessons to her fellow sisters until she died in 1985.

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