Issue Date: January 1, 2007
ACS Award for Encouraging Women into Careers in the Chemical Sciences
Sponsored by the Camille & Henry Dreyfus Foundation
In the early 1930s, women were a minority in science professions. The first woman wasn't admitted into the National Academy of Sciences until 1925, and Harvard University didn't allow women into its medical school until 1945. But that didn't cause Bojan H. Jennings to stifle her dream.
"When I was about 12, I read 'Microbe Hunters' by Paul De Kruif," she says. "I was fascinated by his accounts of medical research and decided then and there that I wanted to be a doctor."
Despite the less-than-encouraging atmosphere for women in science, Jennings says she had support from her parents, especially her mother, and eventually received a full scholarship to Bryn Mawr College, in Pennsylvania. "We students got the message that we could pursue any career that interested us," she says.
Jennings soon discovered that chemistry interested her more than biology. "I loved physical chemistry," she says. During her senior year, the then-chair of Bryn Mawr's chemistry department "saw to it that I was admitted to the chemistry graduate program at Harvard/Radcliffe," she says. "I was guaranteed a fellowship sufficient to support me."
Jennings received an A.B. in chemistry from Bryn Mawr in 1941 and a Ph.D., also in chemistry, in 1955 from Radcliffe. In 1943, she joined the faculty at Wheaton College, in Massachusetts, as an instructor, where she taught chemistry until she retired as professor emerita in 1985. Because Wheaton did not become a coeducational school until 1987, all of the students Jennings taught were women.
"I met Bojan in the president's garden at Wheaton College when I arrived as a freshman in 1965," says Elita Pastra-Landis, professor of chemistry at Wheaton and former student of Jennings'. "A model woman of endless energy, initiative, and compassion, Bojan was a beloved teacher to scores of undergraduate women at Wheaton for over four decades. She was the most supportive of professors, spending hours in her office to review concepts or problems."
Among the many chemistry majors with whom Jennings interacted while at Wheaton, a significant number went on to receive advanced degrees, according to Suzanne T. Purrington, professor emerita at North Carolina State University and one of Jennings' former pupils.
"One of her students, who graduated in 1946, obtained an M.D. and became a clinical professor of medicine at Columbia University," Purrington says. "One student who graduated in 1961 earned a Master of the Arts in Education and spent 25 years teaching science in junior high school, as well as being a Science Olympiad team coach. Many of the women mentored by professor Jennings over the years are currently employed in higher education, industry, government, and the health care sector."
When asked what keeps women away from chemistry, Jennings replies: "My gut feeling is that from grade school through college, a majority of females are wary of the field—even in 2006—fearful that they will not be able to compete. Our education system has not yet found a way to overcome these attitudes, which are deeply rooted in our culture."
But for women abandoning this stigma and pursuing careers in science, "make sure that you enjoy 'doing' chemistry," Jennings says. "Once you are, find a friend, partner, or mentor who appreciates your interests and supports what you are doing, for there will be times when the going gets a little rough."
In 1984, Jennings received the Alumnae Award for Excellence in teaching, and in 1985, Wheaton College created the Bojan Jennings Endowed Chair in Natural Sciences.
The award address will be presented before the Women Chemists Committee.—Faith Hayden
- Chemical & Engineering News
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