Dr. Toni B. Pence, a South Carolina native, graduated from Winthrop University in Rock Hill, SC with a B.S. Computer Science. From there, she attended Clemson University in Clemson, SC where she received her Master’s and Ph.D. in Computer Science. She is currently teaching courses in eye tracking and virtual reality at UNCW. Dr. Pence was the recipient of the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship during her time at Clemson University. She spent her time developing a virtual pediatric patient system for nursing students. This system allows those students to practice their interviewing and decision-making skills.
As an undergraduate, Dr. Pence originally majored in mathematics, but after a year in mathematics, she took a programming class and switched majors to Computer Science. During her time at Winthrop, Pence was the only female in her computer science classes. Her advice for young women pursuing a career in STEM is, “Do it. There isn’t anything women can’t do, and though the landscape might look different, and there might not be people who look like you, you should find your tribe. Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to men in the field because they can help change the landscape too, so find those people. Find people who are going to support your dreams!”
Dr. Pence joined the University of North Carolina Wilmington during the 2015-2016 school year. Her current research includes using virtual environments to detect different biases, such as obesity, gender, or race. If a detection is possible, the behavior is acted upon and the bias is corrected.
When asked what it means to her to be a woman in STEM she replied, “For me, the biggest thing is that I want to help as many women and minority students as I can, I want to be their support system. If I had not had that during my schooling, I don’t know if I would be here, and I want to be that for them. I also want to show that the idea of a typical Computer Scientist is changing, it’s not your typical nerd sitting behind the desk with videogames, we’re evolving and there is not one type of Computer Scientist anymore.” In her spare time, you can usually find her being active or crafty with tennis or quilting.