Chemistry faculty a national leader in gender diversity

With the arrival of Assistant Professor Carol Manhart, seven of the Chemistry Department’s 24 tenure-track faculty, or 29 percent, are women. That’s a significant increase from just 11 percent in 2003—and one of the highest, if not the highest, female percentage at any Research 1 university in the country. The national average is 19 percent.

“It’s something to be proud of, and it didn’t result from a special university or department initiative,” says Ann Valentine, the department’s vice chair. “It just happened with department and college support, through hiring the best people.”   

The department now has female faculty at every stage of their careers and in every area:  organic, inorganic, physical and analytical chemistry and biochemistry. “It totally normalizes the business of being a woman in chemistry, which is all you want,” adds Valentine. “It’s unremarkable, which is remarkable.”

“It’s not something you see at other chemistry departments,” adds Manhart. “It’s nice to have other women as mentors and as models for developing your own career.”

Two of the original seven members of the department—F. Elizabeth Rumrill, hired in 1927, and Hazel Tomlinson, hired in 1928—were women. The next female faculty members hired, however, were Professor Stephanie Wunder in 1985 and Professor Susan Varnum in 1987. Both are currently the longest serving chemistry professors in the department.

“It’s just more normal now,” agrees Wunder. “You’re treated more as a colleague and it’s just easier to interact about the science.”

With 51 percent of undergraduate majors and a third of PhD students now female, the faculty’s gender diversity also has had a positive influence on students, both male and female.

Of the latter, says Wunder, “I think it does make a big difference if you are a female student and you see a woman who is successful and interested in the same things that you are and you then see a path for yourself.”


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