Bloomington's Professional Theater Company

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HT: Bloomington celebrates 2nd annual Ada Lovelace Day

Emily Cox | The Herald-Times

October 14, 2020 ‘

Being able to watch the Project Mercury space launch is the reason Laurie Burns McRobbie’s father bought a television.


During a virtual panel of local women in science, technology, engineering, art and math on Tuesday, the Indiana University first lady recalled how watching on the small black-and-white screen is part of what inspired her to engage others in STEAM. Now, she’s made it a point to show her 3-year-old grandson, who has seen SpaceX launches, photos of female astronauts.


The panel, hosted by Cardinal Stage, was held on Ada Lovelace Day. Lovelace — a mathematician who lived in the first half of the 19th century and wrote the very first algorithm ever published — is considered the world’s first computer programmer. Ada Lovelace Day is held each year on the second Tuesday of October.


“Here in Bloomington, we have a community that celebrates both technological advances and artistic achievement,” said Kate Galvin, artistic director of Cardinal Stage. “Today, we are joining communities all across the globe to honor Ada and the women who uphold her legacy.”


People have had to increasingly rely on technology due to the pandemic, Galvin said. For moderator Katy Börner, Victor H. Yngve Professor of Engineering and Information Science at IU, COVID-19 has exposed strengths and weaknesses in institutions, leadership and individuals, leading panelists to discuss what they most wish to see come out of the COVID-19 pandemic.


A vaccine was at the top of the wish list, but aside from that, McRobbie said one thing the pandemic has brought to the forefront is lack of ubiquitous broadband, an important topic as students have had to learn from home. Socioeconomic disparities that already exist and are growing wider, she said. McRobbie said she hopes that the pandemic has sparked a change in attitudes about the need to level the playing field in that way.


Nichelle Whitney, founder of The Guarden LLC, said with the disruption and restrictions the pandemic has caused in people’s lives, she hopes the idea of “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” can be abandoned. She gave the example of workplaces where leaders believe that for workers to be productive, they must work 40 hours a week from 9 to 5. The pandemic brought about alternatives like working from home, and productivity has increased in many ways, Whitney said.


“Do all students need to be in the classroom to learn? Do all students need to take standardized tests to be admitted to universities?” she said. “There’s just so many things that COVID has brought about that I hope that we hold onto the innovation and the difference that we’ve been able to experience, the good things, moving forward, and hopefully this grants a new freedom to people.”


Bryony Gomez-Palacio, graphic designer and co-founder of UnderConsideration, said she hopes the pandemic is a wakeup call for the education system, especially at the K-12 level. The pressure society puts on teachers, staff and administrators to solve many problems should instead fall on the government and other areas of a city or town rather than a school, she said.


Teri Willey, IU Ventures executive director, said her wish is that respect increases for evidence-based learning, inquiry and decision-making. She said when paying attention to research and evidence, things can be learned, like that diverse teams and inclusive leadership outperform their less diverse counterparts and peers; immigration is good for the economy; meaningful access to health care, education and employment is the most effective way to reduce the number of women who die in childbirth; and that climate change is real.


At the end of the panel discussion, Börner, recipient of the inaugural Ada Lovelace Day award last year, announced McRobbie as the award recipient this year.


“She is a true Renaissance lady, combining the arts and technologies,” Börner said.


Jane Martin, a retired venture capitalist and chair of the board of the Dimension Mill, thanked all panelists for their inclusion of the arts, or the “A” in STEAM.


“I’m of a mind that every tool, every medical discovery, every leap in social justice began in someone’s imagination,” Martin said.


The panel was followed by a data visualization open house at the Dimension Mill, where large-scale data visualizations, created by researchers at IU’s School for Informatics, Computing and Engineering, called “Macroscopes,” which analyze and visualize data, were shown.


Congratulations to our 2020 Ada Lovelace Day Award Winner, Laurie Burns McRobbie!