I am a Teaching Professor at Khoury College of Computer Sciences at Northeastern University and am based at the Mills campus in Oakland, California. Below are some of the highlights of my career. See also my resume and CV.
Graduating students with faculty

Mills College

In January 1998, I joined the faculty of Mills, a minority-serving women's college in Oakland, California, where I have been able to combine my love of computer science, passion for teaching, and my commitment to social justice.

Four women posing in front of Tech Intersections backdrop

Tech Intersections

I co-created and continue to co-organize a large conference for women from ethnicities underrepresented in computing and their allies, with hundreds of attendeees each year.

Highlighted world map with caption: 'In 2014 almost 60 million students tried the Hour of Code'

Hour of Code

I was part of the small team that developed the interactive tutorials behind the first Hour of Code, I contributed lessons to Code.org's first twenty-hour curriculum, and I improved and evaluated tools for generating feedback on incorrect student solutions.

10 people posing in front of Android sculpture and cover of book App Inventor 2 by David Wolber, Hal Abelson, Ellen Spertus & Liz Looney

App Inventor

I was part of the small team that created App Inventor, a drag-and-drop programming environment for creating mobile apps, and the corresponding free curriculum. App Inventor is used by hundreds of thousands of students worldwide, and I continue to contribute to the codebase.

Logos for Systers/AnitaB.org, Firefox, All Things Open 2020, Internet Archive, and MIT Center for Mobile Learning

Open Source

I have led or contributed to open source projects for AnitaB.org, Google, Mozilla, the Internet Archive, and the MIT Center for Mobile Learning and spoken on introducing students to open source at All Things Open 2020.

Logos of acm-w (ACM Committee on Women in Computing), Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, and the Ada Initiative

Women in Computing

I served on the ACM Council on Women in Computing and the advisory board of the Ada Initiative and presented 7 times at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.


Early Web Information Retrieval

Back when most researchers were treating the Web the same as previous text collections, I was part of the first generation to realize it needed to be treated differently. This work was part of my MIT dissertation and led to presentations at two early International World Wide Web conferences.

Photograph of Ellen in a circuit-board corset and slit skirt with slide rule strapped to her leg and cover of book entitled 'She's Such a Geek'

Geek Spokesmodel

Was named Sexiest Geek Alive in a 2001 geekiness pageant and contributed a chapter about the experience to She's' Such a Geek!, edited by Annalee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders. In 1993, I appeared in a New York Times profile of 3 MIT women under the headline 'Women, Computer Nerds -- and Proud of It'.

Scan of Wired magazine article with headline 'Flame Retardant' and a photograph of a younger Ellen in front of fire

Automatic Flame Detection

I created the first software to automatically recognize insulting messages. The work was written up in Wired and Maledicta: The International Journal of Verbal Aggression and has been cited more than 350 times.

Logos of Just Detentional International, Human Rights Defense Center, and CPSR (Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility)

Non-Profit Board Memberships

I have volunteered with and been on the board of directors of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, Just Detention International, and the Human Rights Defense Center. I was webmaster of JDI (then Stop Prisoner Rape) when it was a co-plaintiff in Reno v. ACLU, overturniing the Communications Decency Act.

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