Weaving liberal studies and STEM fields

Lucy Putnam is breaking down barriers for women as she thrives as a student in UWL’s Computer Science Department. Putnam chairs the Computer Science Club and started the Womyn in Computer Science Club.

Student breaks down barriers for women as she thrives as a student in UWL’s Computer Science Department

UWL student Lucy Putnam is used to being asked how her fields of study fit together. The Madison native is majoring in sociology and computer science. “It’s always the first question I get,” she says.

She weaves the liberal studies and STEM fields together by looking ahead to the future — a potentially automated, jobless future — and thinking about the social implications of that work.

Putnam came to UWL as a sport management major but realized she wanted something different. “I wanted to find meaningful work so I could contribute to society and help other people,” she says. “Since I’m privileged enough to get an education, I should use it to better society and seek to give a voice to those who do not have access to education.”

“I wanted to find meaningful work so I could contribute to society and help other people,” she says. “Since I’m privileged enough to get an education, I should use it to better society and seek to give a voice to those who do not have access to education.”

But the experience hasn’t come without its challenges. Putnam says about 11 percent of the students majoring in computer science are women — only about two dozen in total. “I’ve heard of people dropping the major and minor because they don’t feel like they belong,” she says.

She understands that feeling. When Putnam walks into class, she knows she sticks out. “I’m not going to change who I am,” she says. “I’m feminine, I wear make-up and I want to break down barriers. I want to be an example.”

That feeling inspired her to start the Womyn in Computer Science club. It gives the students a chance to ask questions in a comfortable environment and start conversations to find that feeling of belonging.

“Everyone comes in and just talks,” she says. “We complain about the hard parts, ask dumb questions and just speak about computer science. It’s cool.”

In the future, Putnam would like to go to law school so she can pursue a line of work to bring equality into the legal system. “What I’ve learned in sociology, it’s left me no choice but to fight for everyone,” she says.