Sponsored by the Camille & Henry Dreyfus Foundation
When Sandra C. Greer finished her Ph.D. in chemical physics in 1969, “women were not yet welcomed into academia or industry,” observes Elisabeth Wade, professor of chemistry at Mills College, an Oakland, Calif., undergraduate college for women. Despite numerous obstacles, Greer, 68, remained undeterred and carved out a rich career in chemistry. Along the way, she became a trailblazer in advancing the progress of women in chemistry and other disciplines.
Breaking down barriers for women is something that Greer, now a professor of chemistry at Mills, began to do early in her career, Wade notes. After completing her Ph.D. at the University of Chicago and securing what was initially a temporary position at the National Bureau of Standards (now the National Institute of Standards & Technology), Greer helped to found its Standards Committee for Women (SCW), which advocated for equitable conditions for women at NIST. When she was expecting twins in 1970, Greer worked with SCW to press for an on-site day care center at NIST; it eventually opened in 1983.
Greer moved to the University of Maryland, College Park, as an associate professor in 1978, becoming the first woman hired into its chemistry and biochemistry department as a full-time, tenure-track faculty member. In 1990, she was named the department’s first female chair. Shortly thereafter, she accepted a joint appointment with the chemical engineering department, becoming its first tenured female faculty member.
Greer chaired the College Park Chancellor’s Committee on Undergraduate Women’s Education, later known as the “Greer Committee,” in 1987–88. That committee produced the “Greer Report,” which prompted the university to transform its curriculum to include women’s perspectives and contributions and increase the number of women in areas of study in which they were underrepresented.
In addition, Greer was a founding member of the steering committee of the Committee for the Advancement of Women in the Chemical Sciences (COACh), which was formed in 1998.
After 30 years at the University of Maryland, Greer became provost and dean of the faculty at Mills in 2008. She had been involved in the college’s Hellman Summer Science & Math Fellows Program, serving as a role model for students and delivering lectures on the challenges women face to become scientists, says Helen Walter, the program’s director. Greer moved into her current post in July 2013.
“Sandra Greer has mentored numerous women into careers in the chemical sciences across the country,” notes Donald T. Jacobs, professor of physics emeritus at the College of Wooster in Ohio, who has worked alongside Greer during several sabbaticals. “It has been inspirational to see her in action with her students, challenging them while teaching them and providing encouragement.”
Greer says she is pleased to be recognized with this year’s ACS award. “I have been motivated both by the need for science to have contributors from as many perspectives and mind-sets as possible, and by the need for every woman to have every opportunity to realize her own potential,” Greer says. “Science needs women, and women need science.”
Greer will present her award address before the ACS Women Chemists Committee.