Just in Time for Mothers’ Day: New Scholarship Honors a Mother’s Inspiration

5/5/2020 Steven A. Hall, Illinois CS

Amy and Eric Tamura have established the Ruey-Feng Shieh Li Scholarship in Computer Science in hopes that it will inspire others.

Written by Steven A. Hall, Illinois CS

Her mother told her to aim high, and Amy Tamura, née Li, did just that while earning her bachelor’s degree in computer science at Illinois in 2005, in her career choices as a young adult, and now as a mother herself of three small children.  Amy and her husband Eric Tamura have chosen to honor her mother’s inspiration by establishing the Ruey-Feng Shieh Li Scholarship in Computer Science at Illinois.

Ruey-Feng Li (left) and Amy Tamura
Ruey-Feng Li (left) and Amy Tamura

Born in rural Taiwan, Ruey-Feng was admitted to the best high school due to her own mother’s insistence—and despite her father’s view that “girls don’t need school.”  After graduating from college, Ruey-Feng followed her roommate to the University of Georgia and received a master’s degree in journalism.   She moved to Illinois and earned a second graduate degree: a master’s in computer science from Northern Illinois University. 

Ruey-Feng embarked on a successful technical career as a programmer beginning with the Chicago Tribune and later with IBM, Sony Ericsson, and Lenovo.  She typically had only one other female engineer as a colleague at each of these companies.  Time and again Ruey-Feng demonstrated to her daughter how to fight for equal pay and against gender discrimination.

Amy came to Illinois knowing she would study computer science in her mother’s footsteps.  She established a very tight friendship with her fellow female computer science majors, and many of those relationships are still close today.  

After earning her degree and working for three years at a traditional CS job, Amy made the bold choice to become a math teacher in San Jose, California, under the Teach for America program.

The Tamura Family
The Tamura Family

Although she was concerned about her daughter's safety and sustainability, Ruey-Feng was proud that her daughter was thriving as a middle school math teacher, helping students discover their talents and encouraging girls to pursue STEM.  Amy now dedicates her time to the educational development of her own children, but she still maintains supportive relationships with former students.

Amy and Eric hope that the Ruey-Feng Shieh Li Scholarship will inspire those who had previously discounted their potential for a career in CS.  They both see the need for increased diversity in tech and hope that their scholarship can be used to support the broadening of participation in computer science. 

Looking back on her own decisions and strong relationship with her mother, Amy offered this advice to today’s students.  “Do what’s right, even when it’s hard.” 

“If you don’t shoot for a star,” says Ruey-Feng, “you’ll never land on top of a mountain.  Aim high!”

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This story was published May 5, 2020.