Hometown: Warwick, R.I.
Major: Computer Science
Elizabeth Koller was a tinkerer as a kid, building everything from theater sets to tiny mousetrap cars. In high school, she excelled in math and science, fields often dominated by men.
“I remember being at an engineering competition with 300 other students and the host of the awards ceremony thanked me for being the only woman in the room. I still cringe thinking about it,’’ she said. “I don’t think of myself as a woman. Even before I got the language, I identified as gender neutral.’’
That summer, her eyes opened even wider when she took a Brown University residential class for high school students on the history of human sexuality. She had never explored gender studies. “I didn’t even know it was a topic,” Elizabeth said. “Everything just burst into color for me.’’
After transferring to URI to study computer science, she wandered into an LGBTQ event and her life changed in an instant. “Everyone was so friendly and enthusiastic,’’ she said. “I knew I had found the place I wanted to be.’’ The Gender and Sexuality Center became her home away from home.
One of her highlights at URI was attending the Grace Hopper Conference for women in computer science in Houston. And she coordinated URI’s computer science summer camp for kids, ages 8 to 14. “You give kids code, and they take it and run with it,” she said. “It’s really fun to watch them light up.’’
She also found time for fun. She’s an artistic collaborator and model in the steampunk community, a genre of science fiction and fantasy with Victorian elements and steam-powered machines. Koller makes accessories, including top hats and feathered hair clips.
“I don’t want to ever feel limited by one type of expression,’’ Elizabeth said. “I choose to live fearlessly.’’