University of Pittsburgh
October 20, 1999


Contact:  412-624-4147

PITTSBURGH, Oct. 20 -- The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced that University of Pittsburgh Computer Science Professor Mary Lou Soffa has been selected as one of 10 individuals to win the 1999 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring.

With the award, President Bill Clinton honors exemplary individuals and groups who encourage minorities, women, and persons with disabilities to pursue careers in science, engineering and technical fields.

"No personal influence is as powerful, long-lasting, and positive as that of a superlative mentor," said NSF director Rita Colwell. "The mentors receiving this award are a true national resource who play a key role in defining the quality of our nation's future human resources in science, mathematics, technology and engineering,"

Up to 10 individuals and 10 institutions annually qualify for the award. This year, five institutions were recognized with the award.

Soffa, of Upper St. Clair, Pa., has been a Pitt faculty member since earning her Ph.D. in computer science from the University in 1977. She also served as the dean of graduate studies in the College of Arts and Sciences from 1991 through 1996.

Soffa's ability in mentoring graduate students is reflected in their success. Among her graduates, 11 have received prestigious pre-doctoral fellowships, four are full professors, six are associate professors, two are assistant professors, and two have received the prestigious NSF Young Investigator Award. Among the students she has mentored is the first Swedish woman to receive a doctorate in computer science.

As dean of graduate studies, Soffa started an innovative program to recruit students from underrepresented demographic groups that increased their number by 100 percent in four years.

Soffa's commitment to diversity also is reflected in her mentoring: Of her

17 graduated Ph.D. students, 53 percent are women. Of her master's degree students,

24 (53 percent) are women, one is African American, and one is physically disabled. She currently advises three doctoral students, including one woman. These figures are even more impressive in light of the percentages of computer science and engineering students in these groups nationally, with only about 13 percent of Ph.D. degrees,

21 percent of M.S. degrees and approximately 15 percent of B.S. degrees awarded to women, and less than one percent of Ph.D. degrees awarded to African Americans.

Soffa also serves as a faculty sponsor for the Organization for Women in Science at Pitt.

She recently chaired ACM SIGPLAN, a special interest group of the Association for Computing Machinery that focuses on programming languages, and serves as vice president for the board of directors for the Computing Research Association (CRA). She also co-chairs a CRA committee exploring ways to increase the number and success of women in computer research and higher education.

Her research interests include program analysis and program optimization.

In 1987, Soffa received an NSF Professorship for Women and spent the year as a visiting professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

She serves as an associate editor for ACM Transactions on Programming Languages and Systems, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' IEEE Transactions of Software Engineering, the International Journal of Parallel Programming, South African Journal of Computing and Computer Languages.

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More information on Professor Soffa is available on her web site: