When Glencora Borradaile was in elementary school, they learned to program in Basic on their home computer. “I remember that I wanted to program a clock that had hands that moved,” they said. “My dad taught me how to program and my mom taught me the trigonometry so that I could calculate the endpoint of the clock hands as it goes around as a function of time.”
Borradaile continued to feed their interest in computer science in a high school class where they developed their programming skills. In 10th grade, they entered a programming competition and won the top prize.
Their family moved and in their new high school, Borradaile enrolled in another computer class, but found that it wasn’t truly computer science. Instead, the course was more about using computers to do things like using spreadsheets.
“I got this opinion that computer science isn’t something that you learn as a subject; it’s something that is a tool that to help you learn other subjects,” they said.
Borradaile majored in applied math in college, where they continued to use programming as a tool to do applied math research as an undergraduate student.
However, an internship at a company that used data mining techniques changed their mind about the field of computer science, and they liked that it was a fast-moving discipline, especially compared to math. Borradaile earned master’s and doctoral degrees in computer science, focusing on theoretical computer science and algorithms.
Borradaile is now an associate professor of computer science at and, for the past three years, served as associate head for graduate programs in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.
For the first several years at Oregon State, their research was centered on theoretical computer science but after doing volunteer work at the Civil Liberties Defense Center, Borradaile pivoted to an area they found more meaningful.
Their current research focuses on digital security and in particular, investigating ways social movement activists can navigate digital communications, free from state and corporate surveillance. They collaborate with sociologists to examine whether and how social movement groups are using secure digital tools to communicate. Borradaile is investigating ways to look at those results and develop tools to make those communications more secure and easy to use.
Borradaile developed a course at Oregon State on communication security and social movements, and wrote the textbook, “Defend Dissent,” to support that class. This open textbook has been well received by students, professors, and people who are active in social movements.
Cora Borradaile proudly does not own a car and bikes everywhere they go, for practical purposes as well as for pleasure.
Before they were appointed as associate head for graduate programs in EECS, students would often turn to Borradaile looking for advice and help on issues the students were experiencing outside of the classroom. “A lot of the female-identifying grad students would come to me and express difficulties that they were having, but I didn’t feel empowered to enact any real solutions,” they said. “When I became associate head, I felt I was able to help out a lot.”
Borradaile has just been named associate dean for graduate programs for the College of Engineering. In that role, they aim to increase the number of underrepresented minority students who choose to come to Oregon State, and to help meet their needs.
“We need to think about what grad students need to be successful once they’re here, especially those who don’t have a ‘golden path’ laid out ahead of them like I did,” they said, pointing to the fact that their father was an academic and that they didn’t have to hold a job while attending school. “We need to shine up the path they’re on, so that they have the same advantages that I had.”
Borradaile also notes that the programs and strategies the college employs will benefit all graduate students, not just underrepresented minorities.
Though they didn’t know much about Oregon or the West Coast before coming here, Borradaile applied for a faculty position at Oregon State based on a friend’s recommendation. “I feel so lucky; I love Oregon and the Pacific Northwest,” they said.
Oregon is the perfect place for Borradaile to spend their time outside of work, taking advantage of the climate and the opportunity to spend time outdoors. “I love the trees, the ocean, the mountains, the trails,” they said. “It’s incredible.”
July 27, 2021
By Gale Sumida