Jewel Plummer Cobb
By Kathleen McFadden
Jewel Plummer Cobb encountered some
covert racism growing up in a prosperous middle class African-American
community in Chicago, but it was when she entered college that
she came face to face with the ugly realities of segregation.
After being forced to live in segregated housing at the University
of Michigan for three semesters, Jewel transferred in protest
to the historically black Talladega College where she graduated
with a degree in biology in 1944. That achievement made her the
third generation in her family to pursue a career in the medical/scientific
field. Her father was a physician who had graduated from Cornell.
Her grandfather was a pharmacist who had graduated from Howard
University in 1898. But Jewel wasn't finished with school yet.
She applied to New York University for graduate school and was
initially rejected once the admissions department learned her
race. Instead of accepting the rejection, Jewel visited the school,
appealed the decision by presenting her impressive credentials,
and secured her graduate fellowship. At NYU, Jewel earned a master's
degree in cell physiology in 1947, followed by a Ph.D. in 1950.
After teaching for several years at NYU, Jewel became professor
of biology at Sarah Lawrence College, a post she held for nine
years. She then moved along to Connecticut College and Douglass
College, and held the position of dean at both schools. In 1981,
she was named the president of California State University at
Fullerton. While at Fullerton, Jewel was instrumental in establishing
the first privately funded gerontology center in Orange County,
California, and she also promoted ethnic diversity on the campus
by creating the school's first president's opportunity program.
Through her long career, much of Jewel's research has focused
on the skin pigment melanin, with the most significant work done
in testing new chemotherapeutic drugs in cancer cells. She is
the recipient of 21 honorary doctorates from schools such as the
Medical College of Pennsylvania, Rutgers University, Tuskegee
University, Northeastern University, and Rensselaer Polytechnic
Institute. In 1993, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award
for Contributions to the Advancement of Women and Underrepresented
Minorities from the National Science Foundation. Now president
emerita of Fullerton, Jewel actively promotes science education
programs for minority youth and greater representation of women
in science. She will celebrate her 77th birthday on January 17.
Learn more about Jewel Plummer Cobb at http://writetools.com/women/weekly.html#cobb