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Lucy Nowell

Lucy Nowell

Computer Science
Class of 1993, MS; Class of 1997, Ph.D.

Where is your hometown?
Montgomery, Alabama

How did what you learned at Virginia Tech impact your career?
Every day I draw on the breadth and depth of the computer science education that I received at Virginia Tech. My career has gone in unexpected directions, all made possible by what I learned as a graduate student. When I was at Virginia Tech, nobody – least of all me – suspected that I would manage research for supercomputing systems, but I did so for the National Science Foundation Office of Cyberinfrastructure and do so now for the Department of Energy Office of Science’s Advanced Scientific Computing Research office. That I have succeeded in these environments speaks to the quality of the education I received.

Why did you choose your profession?

I left Virginia Tech expecting to spend my career designing the user experiences for complex software projects. However, on September 11, 2001, I was in the Washington, D.C., area to help a Department of Defense client organize a workshop for a program that was to be called Novel Intelligence from Massive Data. Along with my client and a group of people from several other agencies, I watched live television coverage of the terrorist strikes on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A few minutes later we were evacuated from the facility where we met. Once outside, I turned to my client and said, “You need help,” volunteering to become his assistant. Soon thereafter I became a program manager, a role I have filled ever since for multiple federal agencies. I take great pride in the number of software systems that I have supported that have made it to operational use.

Why did you decide to come to Virginia Tech?

I interviewed at two other universities before I came to Virginia Tech. Faculty members elsewhere seemed to be daunted by the very rapid pace of change in computer science, but the faculty at Virginia Tech were excited and eager to lead the way. That faculty energy and passion are what drew me to Virginia Tech.

Who influenced you during your career and/or time at Virginia Tech?
Everyone associated with the Envision digital library project helped me to grow in multiple dimensions, from expanding my thinking about design to writing more clearly and concisely. I learned about the power of a vision and the importance of project management, not to mention teamwork, communication, and compromise.

What’s one of your favorite memories from Virginia Tech?
When the computer science department was preparing for a National Science Foundation site visit in hopes of securing their first infrastructure grant, I volunteered to help with preparing the slides that were to be presented. Drawing on my background in visual art and oral communication, I aimed to make the materials look more polished and professional. I got to work closely with the faculty members who were part of the process, understanding what they were trying to convey to the visitors and working with them as they rehearsed their presentations. I felt like a member of the team, learned a lot, and shared in the celebration when the visit went well.


Ph.D., Computer Science, Virginia Tech, 1997
M.S., Computer Science, Virginia Tech, 1993
M.F.A., Drama, University of New Orleans, 1982
M.A., Theatre, University of Alabama, 1974
B.A., Theatre, University of Alabama, 1972


GS 15-10 Computer Scientist, Program Manager and Computer Science Team Leader of Computational Science Research Division, U.S. Department of Energy Office of Advanced Scientific Computing Research (2009-present)
Chief/Staff Scientist, Pacific Northwest National Lab (1998-09)
Program Director, NSF Office of Cyberinfrastructure, (2007-09)
Program Manager, Intelligence Community Advanced Research and Development Activity/Disruptive Technology Office (2003-06)
Deputy Program Manager for Novel Intelligence from Massive Data, Advanced Research and Development Activity/Disruptive Technology Office (2002-03)
Associate Professor of Computer Science and Theatre, Lynchburg College (1988-98)
Chair of Computer Science Department, Lynchburg College (1997-98)
Summer Intern, IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center (1996)
Graduate Research Assistant, Virginia Tech Department of Computer Science (1992-97)
Associate Professor of Dramatic Arts and Speech Communication, Lynchburg College (1987-88)
Theatre Program Head, Lynchburg College (1986-88)
Assistant Professor (Tenured) of Dramatic Arts, Lynchburg College (1979-87)
Instructor of Dramatic Arts, Lynchburg College (1976-79)

Member of Association for Computing Machinery (1989-present)
Member of Upsilon Pi Epsilon National Computer Science Honor Society, Virginia Tech Chapter (1991-present)
Member of United States Institute for Theatre Technology (1977-90)
Member of Southeastern Theatre Conference (1970-90)
Member of University & College Theatre Association (1970-89)
Member of Virginia Theatre Association (1986-88)
Member of American Theatre Association (1979-85)
Member of Council of Arts Administrators in Va. Higher Education (1987-88)
Member of Association for Theatre in Higher Education (1988-90)

Class of: 1993, 1997
Year Inducted into Academy: 2018