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Andrea Lawrence

Computer scientist and computer science professor Andrea Lawrence was born in Asheville, North Carolina on October 6, 1946 to Jeanne Hayes and Emory Williams. Her family supported education and both of her parents finished college after she was born. Lawrence graduated from Allen High School in Ashville in 1964 and enrolled at Spelman College. She finished her undergraduate education at Purdue University earning her B.S. degree in mathematics in 1970. From 1979 to 1983, Lawrence taught mathematics in Cincinnati Public Schools before beginning her long career at Spelman College. She earned her M.S. degree in computer science from Atlanta University in 1985.

Having begun her career at Spelman as a lecturer and computer literacy coordinator, Lawrence was promoted to director of the computer science program in 1986. She held that position for three years before going back to school to pursue her doctorate. In 1993, Lawrence became the first African American to obtain her Ph.D. degree from the Georgia Institute of Technology in computer science. She then returned to Spelman as an assistant professor in computer science, and in 1994, she became chair of the computer and information sciences department. Lawrence was promoted to associate professor of computer science in 1995. Throughout her career, she has been instrumental in programs to increase the number of minorities and woman involved in scientific disciplines, serving as president of the Association of Departments of Computer Science/Engineering at Minority Institutions (ADMI) and associate director of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) Scholars at Spelman College. Lawrence teaches a range of computer science classes including programming languages, computer graphics, artificial intelligence, and human-computer interactions. She also supervises projects on remote sensing in Antarctica, which uses satellites or aircraft to gather information about Antarctic ice. In addition to her teaching, Lawrence has published numerous papers for her research on human-computer interaction, including using computer animations to teach algorithms.

Lawrence has received several awards to date including the National Technical Association’s Technical Achiever of the Year Award in 2004. She was also named a Technology All-Star in 2005 by the National Women of Color (NWOC). Lawrence lives in Atlanta, Georgia and has three grown children, Deirdre, a scientific consultant, Allegra, an attorney and Valerie, a student.

Andrea Lawrence was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on March 17, 2012.

Accession Number

A2012.071

Sex

Female

Interview Date

3/19/2012

Last Name

Lawrence

Marital Status

Divorced

Middle Name

Williams

Schools

Allen High School

Spelman College

Purdue University

Clark Atlanta University

Georgia Institute of Technology

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Andrea

Birth City, State, Country

Asheville

HM ID

LAW04

Favorite Season

Summer

Sponsor

National Science Foundation

State

North Carolina

Favorite Vacation Destination

Orlando, Florida, Hawaii

Favorite Quote

Find a way or make one.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Georgia

Birth Date

10/6/1946

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Atlanta

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Shellfish

Short Description

Computer science professor and computer scientist Andrea Lawrence (1946 - ) was chair of the computer and information sciences department at Spelman College from 1994-2009 and is currently as associate professor at Spelman. In 1993, she became the first African American to earn her Ph.D. degree in computer science from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Employment

Cincinnati Public Schools

Spelman College

Main Sponsor
Main Sponsor URL
Favorite Color

Orange

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Andrea Lawrence's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Andrea Lawrence lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Andrea Lawrence describes her family history

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Andrea Lawrence talks about her grandmother

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Andrea Lawrence talks about her grandfather

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Andrea Lawrence talks about her mother's growing up in North Carolina and Georgia

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Andrea Lawrence talks about her father and how her parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Andrea Lawrence talks about her early relationships with her parents and grandparents

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Andrea Lawrence shares her earliest childhood memories

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Andrea Lawrence talks about her love of reading, starting at age four

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Andrea Lawrence talks about the integration of Ashville, North Carolina

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Andrea Lawrence remembers her introduction to computers

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Andrea Lawrence discusses her relationship with her father after her parents' separation

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Andrea Lawrence talks about the influence of her elementary school teachers

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Andrea Lawrence remembers her days at Allen High School

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Andrea Lawrence talks about traveling along with her father, uncle, and cousins

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Andrea Lawrence describes her interest about technology

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Andrea Lawrence talks about her coursework at Allen High School

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Andrea Lawrence describes meeting President Lyndon B. Johnson as a Presidential Scholar

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Andrea Lawrence talks about Spelman College

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Andrea Lawrence talks about her role with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Andrea Lawrence talks about her coursework at Spelman College

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Andrea Lawrence describes how she met her husband

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Andrea Lawrence talks about living in West Lafayette, Indiana

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Andrea Lawrence talks about her computer science classes at Purdue University

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Andrea Lawrence talks about reactions to the assassination of Dr. King

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Andrea Lawrence talks about her graduate work in computer science

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Andrea Lawrence talks about Dr. Etta Faulkner and her decision to pursue a Ph.D.

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Andrea Lawrence talks about computers and her mentor, Albert Bodder

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Andrea Lawrence discusses her difficulties she fared as a woman attending Georgia Institute of Technology

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Andrea Lawrence discusses the state of teaching of computer science at HBCUs

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Andrea Lawrence describes her work with NASA Wives Scholars program

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Andrea Lawrence talks about how her writing skills helped her computer science

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Andrea Lawrence talks about her book and the psychology of computers

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Andrea Lawrence talks about computer literacy

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Andrea Lawrence talks about cultural and gender bias in the computer science field

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Andrea Lawrence talks about Spelman College's future and her current research

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Andrea Lawrence shares her concerns about the African American community

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Andrea Lawrence reflects on her legacy and career

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Andrea Lawrence talks about her three daughters

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Andrea Lawrence reflects on her life and career

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Andrea Lawrence describes her photos

DASession

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DATape

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DAStory

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DATitle
Andrea Lawrence talks about Spelman College
Andrea Lawrence discusses her difficulties she fared as a woman attending Georgia Institute of Technology
Transcript
Okay. All right, so, okay, so in 1964, you start school at Spelman.$$I did.$$And how did you like Spelman[Spelman College]--$$Oh, I loved it.$$You already knew a lot about it.$$Right, I knew, and, right, because I had come down in the summers, and my mother was working. And I had, in fact, spent one summer mostly on the campus, living in--when she had a dorm room on the campus. They had faculty, female faculty housing at that point and male faculty housing. A lot of single faculty would live on campus for a couple of years. So I felt right at home. I knew the names of all the buildings because I found out as a child that if I could name all the buildings, people--when, say I was nine or so, people would be impressed and give me a nickel. And I could buy an ice cream cone in the snack shop. So I had learned all the buildings. And I moved into Packard Hall, which is no longer a dormitory. It's now administration. And I really had a great time. I joined the glee club. I was on the newspaper staff. I took a overload in classes most years. After the first semester, I took an overload, and I loved being here where you could, where there were dances and remember, I was just coming from an all-girls school that did not have a all-male school across the street. So, I said, "This is really nice." I can, you know, I don't have 'em in my classes, but they're right over there.$$Now, you took an overload of courses?$$Most time, after the first semester because I was trying to do two minors. So the average load was fifteen hours. I generally took eighteen.$$Okay, you're, you described yourself as a speedy reader?$$Yes.$$Okay.$$I mean not like the ones that come out of their courses that claim they can read, but I read very rapidly. I also type rapidly, which has been very handy. It came in very handy when I started writing those computer programs.$$Okay, okay, now were you exposed to computer science at Spelman?$$I was not. A few years later, they had computer science. The only computers I knew about were, as I said, the ones my mom used in the office, in the registrar's office, the Wang's and the, she brought me a computer. But that was later. No, I was not exposed at all. My first real exposure to computers was when we left Atlanta and went to West Lafayette, Indiana. I dropped out of school when we got married. And my, when my ex-husband finished Morehouse, he went to graduate school at Purdue.$$Okay, now, let's, moving very fast, back up and go back (laughter). We've got a lot of ground to cover.$$Okay, I was trying to figure out where the computers, when I ran into computers and like that.$$Yes, okay, so now I know.$$Okay, I'll hold--$Okay, all right, so 1993, you became an assistant professor here--let me ask you this before we get into teaching. What were some of the struggles that you had as a woman, you know, in computer science? Was there any problem with that at, here, even at Spelman?$$Not at Spelman.$$Okay. But at--$$At Georgia Tech.$$At Georgia Tech (unclear) (simultaneous)--$$At Georgia Tech [Georgia Institute of Technology], the percentage of women in the PhD program was very small. I would say less than 10 percent. So we knew, of course, all the women, other women, and I will have to say that they got, used to get together some times as a group and give each other support. They might have a brunch or something, give each other support. But it was difficult because many times, you would be in a class, and there wouldn't be any other women. And some of the men might not want you to be in their group. And you had to make groups or partner up. So they just really didn't wanna be partners with me. Now, whether that was because I was as old as their mothers or because I was African American or because I was a woman, it was hard to say. But I did find that. My best bet for getting a partner was to either find someone who has been sent back to school by some company or the Army, Armed Forces or another woman. So it was really a situation where if a woman--I'll give you an example. One of the women PhD students had a baby. And she was married to a male PhD student. And I heard someone say, they didn't know I heard them, well, she can't be serious about her degree or she wouldn't have had this baby. And I later heard someone say about one of the male students whose wife had had a baby, "Well, you know, we need to hurry up and get him out so he can get a job." And I know one of my friends who was asked to teach a course over here in the AU Center part time, was told that she shouldn't be doing it because she was taking away something that some man might need. So it was, and she was a single mother with a teenager. She really needed it. But perception was, as a woman, she shouldn't be taking the mouth out of the--the bread out of the mouth of the breadwinner, so to speak, taking the money away from the breadwinner.$$So were you involved in any efforts on the part of women to organize themselves against this kind of thing?$$We didn't really. Tech actually formed, offered us a support group through student services where we could get together. And those weren't all computer scientists. They were from different areas. And we got together once a week, and we would talk about situations and advise how to handle situations we ran into. The computer science women, as I said, sometimes would have meals and get together and encourage each other, but no formal organization.$$Okay, so, so at Spelman, now, you were already teaching at Spelman, right, while you were--$$Right, I was teaching math until I got the CS degree.$$Okay.$$'Cause I had enough graduate hours in math to, from getting a teaching certificate to be a, to be able to teach. But once I graduated with the Masters, then I started computer science.$$Okay, so you just moved right over to another--$$Seamlessly, yeah.$$Yeah, so they had a department, computer science department right here or--$$They had a computer science department by '93' [1993], but they did not have one in the late '80's [1980s] when I was working in the department. The, it was part of mathematics, the mathematics department. So they said we had to have, I think five faculty members and had finished the graduating class before we could become separate. And I believe, that happened under the auspices of Dr. Martin. While I was in grad school, he was able to bring the department out of mathematics and into a separate department.$$Okay. All right, oh, now what was your--I'm sorry. I didn't ask you what your dissertation was titled?$$Oh, it was "Empirical Studies of Using Algorithm Animations to Teach Algorithms. So I did, basically, it would look like little movies where I animated things going through a different processes on the computer. It might be putting things in order, sorting, or it might be some other process that you could carry out. Most of the ones I did were based on sorting. There're probably 12 ways to sort numbers, and the best one to choose depends on the problem and the computer you're using and the data. So in computer science, Algorithm courses, you teach several methods. So what my work was about was trying to figure out ways to teach these methods more effectively, and I created these algorithms. I did experiments at Georgia State and Georgia Tech with students to see which ones worked best for them. So that was, it was pretty interesting, especially, my final conclusion was that the animations were good, but they were only good as long as the students interacted with them. If they just watched them, this TV generation, it didn't really have an effect. They had to do something with it like choose the data to be sorted or choose the next step. They had to do something with it for it to be effective.$$Okay, we have to pause here again.