Today, computers are all over Adelphi's campus. This was not always the case. In October 1962, there was a single computer center, run by Mary Louise Buchanan, PhD '62.
Dr. Buchanan was a pioneer for technology and computer science at Adelphi. She came to Adelphi as a graduate student, and after earning her doctorate, was appointed as a full-time assistant professor in the mathematics department. Her dissertation derived necessary and sufficient conditions for stability of finite difference schemes which are now called the Buchanan Stability Conditions.
As the director of the computing center, she was tasked with teaching Fortran programming to faculty and students, including a group of 50 students in the summer of 1963, the first summer the computer center was operational. The computer, called RECOMP III, was also used to teach mathematics and physics.
Laying the Foundation for Computing and Technology at Adelphi
The main goal of RECOMP III was to push the boundaries of education and research. With a concentrated effort by Dr. Buchanan and her assistants, the computer had become so successful that it was apparent a larger computing center was needed. Herbert C. Kranzer, PhD, professor of mathematics and Dr. Buchanan’s adviser, spoke highly of her work at the computer center: “Mary Lou constantly worked to increase the use of computers at Adelphi, and by 1965, her efforts in this direction had become so successful that the need for a larger, University-wide computing center was obvious to all.”
Dr. Buchanan continued to offer Fortran training to increase use of RECOMP III at the University. Before her promotion to associate professor in 1966, she began a sustained endeavor for a larger computer center at Adelphi. Two years later, a grant was received by the National Science Foundation to officially purchase a new computer, a Control Data 3300, which marked a new era of computing at Adelphi. In addition to education and research, administrative workers started using computers for their day-to-day operations.
Remembering Dr. Buchanan’s Impact
In addition to her work as director of the computing center and a full-time professor, Dr. Buchanan was very involved throughout the Adelphi campus. She served on many committees, including the Affirmative Action Committee to promote diversity at Adelphi, and was an active leader for multiple honor societies.
Dr. Buchanan was taken from the world far too early, passing away from breast cancer at age 43, but she’s remembered very warmly by her colleagues and even those who never met her but have been influenced by her work. Walter Meyer, PhD, a professor emeritus and senior adjunct professor in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, said, “Mary Louise Buchanan was a wonderful person whom I remember very fondly. She was in charge of the computing center in an era when it was a mom-and-pop–type operation. She, along with her assistant, Frank Ely, managed all aspects…I learned to program in Fortran by trying things out and then running to Mary Louise or Frank for help.”
Adelphi’s current chief information officer, Carol Ann Boyle, MBA ’17, had this to say about Dr. Buchanan’s legacy: “Mary Louise Buchanan was a pioneer in her field, sharing her passion with her students and faculty colleagues and later with Adelphi administration. At one time, our IT floor was dedicated to her. Her beloved staff ensured that she will always be remembered. She must have had such a powerful impact on many. Through the years, I have looked at this plaque and thought about Mary Louise and how she paved the way for many of us. I am grateful to the leaders who came before us and especially grateful to Mary Louise for her vision to build a state-of-the-art data center at Adelphi University.”
It’s hard to imagine a time where computers were not a part of our day-to-day life. We can sometimes take for granted the fact that we almost all walk around with a mini-computer in our phones. With the shift we’ve recently made to remote working and learning due to COVID-19, we enjoy the convenience and luxury of technology and computers at our fingertips wherever we are. At Adelphi, this journey began with Dr. Buchanan.
A Pioneer for Technology and Women in STEM
Today, the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science offers a wide range of programs including data science, information systems, cybersecurity and video game design. What started as one computer led by a true visionary has evolved into so much more.
Our Office of Information Technology has expanded and evolved so much over the past few decades and has a role in almost everything that goes on at the University. Whether it’s the technology used on a day-to-day basis, transitioning to remote learning and working, adding something to the website, or contacting our friendly Help Desk, IT is there to assist.
While we look forward to continued growth and innovation, we have to look back to our roots and remember how we got started. If not for the guidance and efforts of Dr. Buchanan, who knows where technology at Adelphi would be today.
Dr. Buchanan’s devotion to Adelphi for 15 years of her life—as a student, professor, mentor, fundraiser, colleague and friend—lives on through the Mary Louise Buchanan Award for Excellence in Computer Science, given to seniors.
In honor of her achievements, the plaque that is currently in Boyle’s office will be mounted on the wall on the lower level of the Hagedorn Hall of Enterprise in Fall 2021, where most of the IT department is located.