I'm nerding out right now STEM Sparkers! I got to interview author Laurie Wallmark (and I'm pretty sure I was only mildly nerdy and awkward when I emailed her, haha)! I'm totally a fan, and I've admired her and her books since I came across Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code in 2017. As a retired software engineer and computer science professor who writes STEM biography books to encourage kids, especially girls, in STEM, Laurie truly is a role model and inspiration of anyone who has a spark in STEM.
1. I'm a big fan of your picture book biographies featuring women in STEM. Can you
please tell us a little more about your most recent one, Numbers In Motion?
I’ve loved math ever since I was a girl, so I really wanted to write a biography of a
women mathematician. The subjects of two of my other books, Ada Byron Lovelace and
the Thinking Machine and Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code, were both
mathematicians, but they were more known for their contributions to computer science. I
wanted to show kids how fascinating and fun math is, by writing about a person whose
main accomplishments were in the that field.
2. Yay for a love of math! Are there any future book releases you'd like to share? Or other writing projects you'd like to tell us about?
I have another women in STEM book coming out next March, Code Breaker, Spy
Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars. What’s
striking to me about Elizebeth’s story is she was not especially interested in math and
science. In fact, in college, she majored in English. Her story goes to show you don’t
need to choose your lifelong profession when you’re still a child. This book has an added
bonus for kids–it shows how to make codes of their own. Also, there are coded messages
scattered throughout the illustrations for kids to decode.
3. The coded messages throughout the books sound fun! Speaking of fun, you've also had a career as a software engineer and computer science professor. Do you have any fun or interesting stories from your engineering career?
I have a funny story from when I was a computer science professor. In addition to
teaching students on campus, I also taught men and women inside state prisons. Several
of my classes included men who had been inside for more than 25 years. One weekend, I
had been at a book festival and applied a temporary tattoo of a gear on my hand. I
completely forgot about it, but when the men saw it, they were so excited. “Professor
Wallmark, you’ve got a tat!”
4. What fun facts have you learned about STEM as an engineer and/or author?
Wow, I could answer this question forever. A fun fact from Numbers in Motion is that the
main math problem she solved, the rotation of solid bodies, was called a mathematical
mermaid. This was because every time a mathematician got close to the answer, it slipped
away like the mythical creature. A fun fact from Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code is that she coined the term computer bug after finding an actual bug caught inside
5. Yes, I love that story about Grace Hopper! What advice do you have for anyone interested in STEM and/or pursuing a career in STEM?
For most STEM fields, you need to have a pretty good handle on math. Even if math isn’t
one of your favorite subjects, it’s worth your while to study it. It will make your study of
other STEM fields that much easier. After all, there’s a reason they call math the queen of
Thank you Laurie! It was an honor to have you on STEM Spark! Readers, you can follow Laurie on Twitter and Facebook under @lauriewallmark. For more information on her books, click here. And of course, happy STEM-ing!