our hidden figures

[Proc. IEEE, 105(10):1847–1850, Oct. 2017. Point of View column]

“Your mom made five palačinka [crêpe in Serbian], your brother ate two; how many are left for you?” For some reason, this “sweet” math got etched in my mind as one of my earliest memories. It was my dad, playing number games with me. And many others: card games, puzzles, word riddles, brainteasers, anything where you had to figure out things, he loved. Then of course, so did I.

I grew up in ex-Yugoslavia, a socialist country at the time, where gender equal- ity was guaranteed (or at least that is how it sounded to me). Women were sup- posed to be able to do everything men did; in my family, in particular, run by my fierce Montenegrin mother, that was fully on display. My mom had infinite confi- dence in me and believed I could do anything I wanted. The only time I remem- ber her being disappointed was when I sold myself short. My dad, to this day the most brilliant man I have ever met, was a true intellectual, intensely curious and fearless; he went on to be the Mayor of Belgrade and Yugoslav ambassador to the United States for two years until he was recalled by Miloševi ́c for not promot- ing his nationalist agenda. Instead of collecting a pension from the State Depart- ment, he resigned and at the age 59 became unemployed. He transformed the last 20 years of his life by writing books; he wrote the first English-Serbian and Serbian-English dictionaries of idioms and became a linguistic authority together with books on diplomacy and negotiation. As busy as he was, he left an indel- ible mark on my life; he treated me as an equal even when I was just a little girl, empowering me for the rest of my life.

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commencement speech 2017

So here is where I’m supposed to tell you something deep and share wisdom, to inspire you and make you remember this commencement, be funny, maybe a bit sentimental. And maybe I will say some of these things; but I want to start with something that is bigger than all of us; a sense of responsibility to something outside ourselves and to those less fortunate than us.

You are graduating in challenging times. This past academic year, we have lived through the end of an election and the beginning of a presidency that have been like no others; and I don’t mean this in a good way. Regardless of where you are on the political spectrum, where you come from and what you believe in, there are lessons we can learn and actions we can take.

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in the wake of election results

[letter to Carnegie Mellon ECE community, November 9, 2016]

Last night, Americans have spoken and have chosen the new president. Regardless of where you are on the political spectrum, I know that many of you are feeling sad, anxious, angry, disappointed, or all of the above; I feel the same. In the words of our president, “We try very hard to persuade people that we are right; and then people vote. And then if we lose, we learn from our mistakes, we do some reflection, we lick our wounds, we brush ourselves off, we get back in the arena. … We try even harder the next time.”  Continue reading “in the wake of election results”

let’s talk about tough issues

[letter to Carnegie Mellon ECE community, September 22, 2016]

Dear all,

the shootings in Charlotte, the latest in the string of terrible and disheartening events across the country seem to be pushing our country backwards. The intensely divisive US presidential election, full of demagoguery, contempt for minorities and disdain for science and facts, puts even more stress on all of us to do something. This is not about my personal political beliefs but about basic human decency; everyone deserves respect and, more importantly, a chance to be heard and understood.  Continue reading “let’s talk about tough issues”

how to raise a scientist daughter?

I’ve loved math since I was a little girl; I loved puzzles, riddles, and number games of any sort. My dad used to play with me palačinke (Serbian for crêpe) games: “Your mom made ten palačinke, your brother ate three; how many are left?” Math was sweet.

I’ve loved music for almost as long; I was fascinated by the patterns notes would dance in front of me. I could quickly recognize themes and transitions just by looking.  Continue reading “how to raise a scientist daughter?”