The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Margaret Burnett Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Chris Petersen.

January 10, 2017


“Striving for Gender Equity in Computer Science”  January 10, 2017  Location: Valley Library, Oregon State University.  Watch Video | Download Transcript (PDF)

In the interview, Burnett details her upbringing in Illinois, including her early facility for mathematics and the role that her parents played in cultivating this talent. She then outlines her undergraduate years at Miami University of Ohio, noting her studies in Mathematics and, in particular, her earliest exposure to the discipline of Computer Science.

Next, Burnett reflects upon her initial professional job at Procter & Gamble Ivorydale, which hired her as it's first female manager. She then describes the seven years that she spent as a private sector employee and entrepreneur while living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and likewise details the circumstances that led her and her husband to relocate to Lawrence, Kansas. From there, Burnett traces her master's and doctoral studies at the University of Kansas; recalls her earliest exposure to the Internet; and touches upon her founding of the Lawrence Women's Network.

The interview then turns its attention to Burnett's career at Oregon State University. In this, Burnett responds to questions concerning her early impressions of the university and the Computer Science department; her research on visual programming languages and end-user software engineering; the development and impact of the GenderMag protocol; and her contributions to information foraging theory. She likewise touches upon her collaborations with OSU researchers working on machine learning; comments on her associations with Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Microsoft, and Saturday Academy; and shares the background behind her strong advocacy of undergraduate research opportunities. The interview concludes with Burnett's thoughts on the contemporary status of women working in the technology sector; her perspective on change within the College of Engineering; and her ideas on OSU's positioning as it looks toward its sesquicentennial anniversary.