The University of Victoria’s new chair in Transgender Studies was at the forefront of the fall convocation last month when visiting engineer Lynn Conway was given an honorary UVic doctor of engineering for her work as a computer scientist.
Conway was a fitting guest to have as UVic celebrates its groundbreaking role as the first school with a chair in Transgender Studies, which launched back in June, thanks in part to a $1 million U.S. grant from the Tawani Foundation.
Conway spoke briefly at the convocation but also delivered a strong tale of her life, in both the shadows of society and early computer engineering. When Conway underwent gender transition in 1968 she was fired from IBM despite her foundational research in computer architecture. She was forced to rebuild her career secretly moving on with a new name and identity.
Her work was part of the revolution in Very Large Scale Integrated silicon microchip design as she helped to pioneer modern information technology, as well as becoming a leading advocate for transgender rights. The latter, of course, came later, as society slowly grew accepting, moving forward on its backward ideals.
Conway came out upon retirement in 1999 as emerita professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Michigan. A tireless voice for trans people, she was included in Time magazine’s 2014 list of 25 transgender people who have influenced American culture.
She taught at MIT, co-authored the foun-dational engineering textbook Introduction to VLSI Systems, and innovated an internet e-commerce system for rapid silicon-chip prototyping that led to today’s industrial models for microelectronics design and production.
Media documentation of her visit and historical documentation of her work will now live in the Transgender Archives at UVic, which is committed to the preservation of the history of pioneering activists, community leaders, and researchers who have contributed to the betterment of transgender and gender nonconforming people.