Maria Klawe

Women in STEM
Maria Klawe

Birth: 1951

Specialty: Computer Science

Major Contributions:

Former President, Harvey Mudd College

Former Member, Board of Directors at Microsoft

Former Trustee for the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology

President, Math for America

Image: Craig Stanfill (CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED)

Dr. Maria Klawe has said that she wakes up with two thoughts in her brain every day. The first tells her she is a total failure, but the other says she can change the world if she just cares enough about it and works hard enough.  

While studying at the university level, Klawe discovered that her mind understood the construction of the universe in terms of mathematics, and she knew that she couldn’t live without it. As part of her research for her doctorate she solved three twenty-year-old problems, helping her earn a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Alberta in 1977.  Some of her most citied research focuses on using algorithms to solve geometric optimalization problems and studies on the effects of gender on electronic game play.

During her career she worked as a researcher for IBM, a professor at various institutions, and an advocate for women in STEM fields. In 1988 she joined the faculty of the University of British Columbia where she was promoted to Dean of Science ten years later. In 2003 she became the Dean of Engineering and a Professor of Computer Science at Princeton and in 2006 she was appointed the president of Harvey Mudd College in California.  

Stepping down from Harvey Mudd in 2023 she took her passion for supporting STEM educators to Math for America serving as the organization’s President. Because of her expertise she has been asked to be in leadership positions at many institutions including as a trustee of the Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology and as a member of the board of directors of the Microsoft Corporation.

Klawe is also passionate about being an artist and has been drawing and painting her entire life. Afraid that being a painter would somehow make people question her mathematics abilities, she kept her talent hidden for many years.  When she was forty, she began sharing her art as she felt her worth as a computer scientist and mathematician had been well documented. A few years ago, she started painting during meetings and has found that she is a much better meeting participant as she talks much less and listens much more. 

And for those of you that wake up thinking like her that you are a total failure she recommends thinking of her and in her own words, “go forward, do stuff, make a difference, work hard, dream.”

Written by Angela Goad


Harvey Mudd College: President Maria Klawe

Wikipedia: Maria Klawe

The Secret Life of Scientists & Engineers: Maria Klawe (WETA)

MfA: Maria Klawe

See Also:

X @MariaKlawe

Harvey Mudd College

LinkedIn: Maria Klawe

Math for America