‘The force that brought the community together’: A profile of UC Berkeley professor Susan Graham

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Susan Graham serves as UC Berkeley’s Pehong Chen Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences Emerita and was the only female faculty member in the electrical engineering and computer sciences, or EECS, department for 17 years.

In 1971, Graham was hired as an assistant professor of computer science in the College of Letters and Science, according to campus EECS Director Emerita of Diversity Sheila Humphreys in her essay, “A Woman Appointed to Computer Science.” Two years later, the EECS department was formed in the College of Engineering.

Graham then became the first female faculty member in the College of Engineering. Upon arriving at her first faculty meeting, her colleagues whistled at her, but she persisted for 17 years as the only female faculty member in the EECS department, according to Humphreys’ essay.

“I was transferred into the College of Engineering, and thereby became the first woman faculty member in the College of Engineering,” Graham said in Humphreys’ essay. “It wasn’t because they wanted a woman; they inherited me rather than hiring me.”

According to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, or IEEE, Computer Society website, Graham earned her bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Harvard University and earned her master’s degree and doctorate in computer science from Stanford University.

Graham is known for her work in software tools, programming language implementation, high-performance computing and software development environments, according to the IEEE Computer Society.

Additionally, Graham played a key role in the Berkeley Unix project. During this project, she helped create the popular program profiling tool gprof as well as the Berkeley Pascal system, which is designed for interactive instructional use.

Mark Wegman, a doctoral student of Graham in 1975, described her role within the computer science community.

“She knew everyone,” Wegman said. “She was the force that brought the community together.”

Graham has also been the recipient of many academic accolades, including the Harvard Medal in 2008 and the Computing Research Association Distinguished Service Award in 2012. In 1995, Graham was also recognized as a University of California Honored Woman of the CAL Community, and in 2011 she was named a Berkeley Fellow.

Marshall McKusick, a doctoral student of Graham from 1976 to 1984, commented on her impact in a letter to Martin Meeker, the Charles B. Faulhaber Director of the UC Berkeley Oral History Center, in 2019. McKusick said Graham’s guidance during and after his time working at UC Berkeley helped to bring the final 4.4 Berkeley Software Distribution, an operating system, to its level of popular usage.

“Her efforts on behalf of the Berkeley software distributions has significantly strengthened the premier status of the Berkeley Computer Science Division and has also had a broad and lasting impact in both the US and the rest of the world,” McKusick said in the letter.

Contact Amanda McNamara at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @amandamcnamara_uc.