NCWIT Pioneer Award

In 2012 NCWIT created the NCWIT Pioneer Award to recognize individuals whose lifetime contributions have changed the way we think about women's participation in the history of computing and technology.

The 2014 winner of the NCWIT Pioneer Award is Eleanor Kolchin, a retired computer scientist and web developer who's most well-known for her work at IBM as well as NYU. Eleanor will be honored at the 2014 NCWIT Summit on Women and IT with her award and a scrapbook of commemorative artwork, created by recipients of the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing.

Eleanor Kolchin

Eleanor Kolchin graduated from Brooklyn College in 1947 with a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics. She was treasurer of Pi Mu Epsilon, the national honorary mathematics society. After a short period of teaching math at the high school level, she was hired by IBM in 1947, and eventually became the tabulating supervisor of the computing staff at IBM’s Watson Scientific Computing Laboratory at Columbia University. The Watson Lab was one of the first to apply business machines for scientific research. While working at the Lab, she was able to attend classes toward a master’s degree in Math at Columbia.

Dr. Wallace Eckert, the director of the Watson Lab, was an astronomy professor at Columbia University and one of the first assignments he gave Eleanor was computing the orbits of a number of asteroids. The early computers were plugboard computers; each program required wiring a different plugboard to be inserted into the computer. Many projects were being developed at the Lab. A very famous one was Fortran, a widely used scientific computer language and another was the extremely accurate calculations of the phases of the moon, which were ultimately used in our moon landings. A very new computer built at the time was the SSEC, which occupied an entire room, enabling us to compute with high accuracy, the orbits of the outer planets.

Prof. Louis Green of Haverford College came to the Watson Lab to do his research in astrophysics. After Eleanor left IBM to raise a family, she worked for Dr. Green for many years solving various differential equations and doing Fortran programming. Many papers were published in this time. Dr. Green was given computing time on the new powerful CDC computer at NYU, which Eleanor used. She was subsequently hired part time by NYU when Dr. Green retired. One of her many jobs was as a consultant to researchers using Fortran programs. Eventually she ended up developing web pages for various NYU projects. She retired from NYU in 2006.

Eleanor still is using her computer skills in maintaining a web site and data base for over 1000 people as a volunteer at her Florida Country Club.

2013 NCWIT Pioneer Award Winner

Jean Sammet

Jean E. Sammet is a retired computer scientist and programmer who is best-known for her work on FORMAC, the first widely used general language and system for manipulating nonnumeric algebraic expressions. Sammet supervised the first scientific programming group for Sperry Gyroscope Co. (1955-1958). She worked at Sylvania Electric Products (1958-1961) in various positions and while there she served as a key member of the original COBOL committee.

Jean Sammet
She joined IBM in 1961 to organize and manage the Boston Programming Center. She initiated the concept, and directed the development, of the first FORMAC (FORmula MAnipulation Compiler.) During the 1970s and 1980s, she worked for IBM’s Federal Systems Division in various positions, emphasizing programming language issues including Ada.

Sammet is the author of “PROGRAMMING LANGUAGES: History and Fundamentals,” which became a standard book on its topic, and was called an “instant computer classic” when published in 1969. She was very active in ACM and held many positions including President, Vice-President, Editor-in-Chief of Computing Reviews, General and/or Program Chair for the first two SIGPLAN History of Programming Languages Conferences (HOPL) in 1978 and 1993. She organized the AFIPS History of Computing Committee, and helped start the Annals of the History of Computing.

She is a member of the National Academy of Engineering (1977), and among other awards received the ACM Distinguished Service Award (1985), Augusta Ada Lovelace Award from the Association for Women in Computing (1989). She is a Fellow of ACM (1994) and the Computer History Museum (2001).

Sammet has a B.A. from Mount Holyoke College and an M.A. from the University of Illinois, both in Mathematics. She received an honorary D.Sc. from Mount Holyoke in 1978.

2012 NCWIT Pioneer Award Winners

The 2012 winners of the NCWIT Pioneer Award are Patricia Palombo and Lucy Simon Rakov, mathematicians who worked on NASA's Project Mercury at a time when computing was in its infancy.  

Patricia Palombo


Patricia Palombo completed her undergraduate career at Barnard College, where she was one of two math majors in her class. Following her graduation she was recruited by IBM. Ms. Palombo later  became a member of the team assigned to work on Project Mercury, based out of the Goddard Space Flight Center. On Project Mercury she contributed to the re-entry phase of the first American staffed space flights. 

For the purposes of this project, Ms. Palombo was responsible for writing the FORTRAN program that was actually used in controlling the spacecraft. Following the completion of this program, Ms. Palombo spent months simulating the mission and testing the software. The successful completion of this program has been her greatest professional achievement.

Ms. Palombo earned her Master’s degree in piano. After her retirement from IBM, she went on to work with non-profit music organizations, promoting the use of information technology for more efficient planning. She now runs a music studio in her home, where she teaches piano and music theory.

Lucy Simon Rakov


Lucy Simon Rakov has more than fifty years of operational experience and technical expertise in computer science and mathematics.   Her career began at IBM as a member of the NASA Project Mercury Space Computing team. This team of 100 mathematicians (of whom 10 were women) created the first realtime computer system. This Mercury tracking system imported live radar data and astronaut medical data into the mathematical orbit computations program.  The results generated the Mercury capsule flight pattern and critical reports on the astronaut.  Later Lucy worked for IBM on a differential orbit correction program for the NASA Apollo project, worked on the ANNA satellite data for mapping, and on an integration orbital program for NASA.

Lucy ran her own business, Lucy Systems, Inc., (LSI) for 27 years. LSI provided information management consulting services for small businesses in the knowledge-based services sector. Lucy also teaches Mathematics, Computer Science and Management of Information at the graduate school, undergraduate, and high school levels.  She has been a speaker for the Association of Women in Mathematics. Lucy holds a BA in Mathematics from Wellesley College, an MS in Mathematics from Boston College, and an MS in Management from MIT.