Canadian Association of Computer Science
Association informatique canadienne
Award for Lifetime Achievement
in Computer Science – 2014

Maria M. Klawe

Harvey Mudd College

Photo courtesy of the Department of Computer Science (DCS), University of Toronto


Maria Klawe has a phenomenal record of service both in Canada and internationally. This record spans academic, professional and industry leadership roles, both in computer science and in science and engineering more broadly, and additionally includes effective strategies and advocacy to attract women to computer science. Maria also has significant research accomplishments, both in the foundations of computing and in human-centered interdisciplinary research.

Academic Leadership

As head of the Department of Computer Science at UBC (1988-1995), Maria “revitalized [the] department with her energy, her enthusiasm and her vision of computer science as central to the modern university” (supporting letter). At a time in the early 2000’s when significant enrolment growth combined with faculty losses to enormous opportunities elsewhere threatened to severely erode the department, she developed a “rescue plan” with new resources. Her impact is appreciated both by those in the department and beyond. “The resources that came were put to good use, morale rose and things started to click again” (supporting letter) and “the credit that she has received for expanding and elevating the stature of the department here at UBC is well-deserved” (supporting letter). Another supporting letter notes: “As UBC department chair, the department enjoyed a remarkable period of growth and recognition as a leading CS department.” Maria has had further significant impact as Dean of Engineering at Princeton U. (2003-2006) and now as President of Harvey Mudd College (2006-present).

Leadership in Professional Organizations and Industry

Maria’s numerous leadership roles include: President of the Association for Computing Machinery, the world's largest educational and scientific computing society, Vice-Chair of the Computing Research Association, the leading North American organization focusing on computing research (no woman has ever been Chair of this organization), Trustee of the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute and Co-Chair of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Simons Institute. She has also continued to serve in many capacities in Canada, including on the
selection committee of the Canada Excellence Research Chairs (2012-2014).

Women in Computing

Maria has supported women in science and engineering in Canada and beyond, through her visionary leadership and unwavering personal support of innumerable students and colleagues. She co-founded the Computing Research Association’s Committee on Women, which supports women in computing in both the U.S. and Canada through research experiences and career mentoring programs. She created educational programs and curricula that broaden the pathways into the computing field. She has published numerous important articles on the status of women in computing and effective strategies for recruiting and retaining women. One of the supporting letters notes: “She is a role model for everyone and especially for women pursing a career in computer science.”


Maria’s early theoretical research contributed new insights on important models of computing such as logic circuits, as well as algorithms for fundamental searching and optimization problems. Supporting letters note that “Maria has been a very successful researcher (in particular with many seminal results in theoretical computer science” who “published consistently in the strongest conferences in the field”. More recently, she has done influential research on educational computer games, examining the role of interactive technologies in facilitating collaboration in game playing and its implications for learning mathematics and science. She also helped initiate a major research project, conducted jointly by researchers at Princeton University and UBC, on mobile technologies that support people with aphasia, a memory disorder.

Overall impact

One of the supporting letters nicely summarizes Maria’s accomplishments: she is “a tireless and hugely effective advocate for the inclusion of women and other under-represented groups in our field […] there is no one [in Canada] aside from Steve Cook whose international visibility and reputation are as great as Maria’s […] there is no one, period, who has demonstrated anything even remotely approximating Maria’s diversity of first-echelon accomplishments. Maria has played all of the positions, and has played each at the very highest level.”