Honoring Dr. Shirley M. Malcolm, Science Pioneer at Penn State

Written by Nadia Rais
AFRO Editorial Assistant
[email protected]

To honor scholar and activist Dr. Shirley M. Malcolm, a minority pioneer in science, Pennsylvania State University renamed one of its campus buildings on April 8. Malcom Building.

Dr. Shirley M. Malcolm was born in Birmingham, Ala. Malcolm attended schools that were separated from each other until she completed high school at the age of 16. Later, she will go on to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Zoology from the University of Washington in Seattle and a Master’s degree in Zoology from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Malcolm would continue to teach at high school and college levels while he worked on programs to increase participation for women, minorities, and people with disabilities.

“Throughout my studies, I attended research institutions that are predominantly white but large,” Malcolm said. “I’ve never had a black faculty member in science departments, so I know how hard it can be to become something you’ve never seen and to really think that it’s possible. I think that’s what drove me through my entire career, whether it’s as a faculty member or whatever. If someone in the association is working on programs to try to bring more diverse populations into science.”

Malcolm co-authored the landmark report, “The Double Bond: The Price of Being a Minority Woman in ScienceIn 1976. The report brought awareness of the barriers to being an African American woman in science. Throughout her career, Malcolm has worked to increase access to education and careers in science for girls and women.

“Honoring Pennsylvania’s pioneers and innovators has long been a part of our corporate identity,” said Eric J. Barron, President of Pennsylvania State. “In that spirit, I am very pleased that Building 329 will now be known as the “Shirley M. Malcolm Building.” As an acclaimed scholar, former Presidential Member, and a leading advocate for representation in science for women and girls of color, Dr. Malcolm is an inspiration to those who walk on her footsteps.”

Vice President of Outreach Tracy D. Houston noted that “For more than four decades, Dr. Malcolm’s voice has increased the importance of inclusion in areas where it has been underrepresented throughout history.”

“I totally beat it,” Malcom said in response to her honor at Penn State University. “I am honored. To be criticized for this recognition – I am humbled, I really am, and I hope I deserve it.”

Dr. Shirley M. Malcolm has worked to open doors for women, minorities, and people with disabilities in science. (Photo by University of California, Los Angeles)

“It’s okay to use your knowledge for a lot of different things. It’s okay to dream and try to make those dreams come true, and not be limited by what other people think about you or expect from you. You have to be intentional, you have to be aware, you can’t be blinded Colours. These guys experience campus in very different ways.” So the lack of women as members of startups and boards means that a lot is left behind, our science isn’t very good if you don’t have diversity among those who practice science and set the agenda. It’s important to put it out there: We’re taking advantage of this. We do better. It is critical to change this narrative.”

Currently, Malcolm is Senior Advisor to the CEO and Director of the SEA Change Initiative at AAAS. It improves quality and increases access to education and jobs in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics as well as promotes general scientific literacy. Dr. Malcolm is a California Institute of Technology trustee and trustee of Morgan State University and a member of the State University of New York Research Council. She is a former member of the National Science Council, the policy-making body of the National Science Foundation, and has served on President Clinton’s Committee of Advisers on Science and Technology. Malcolm also holds 16 honorary degrees.

Malcolm serves on the boards of directors of the Heinz Endowments, Public Agenda, the National Mathematical Sciences Initiative, and the Digital Promise. Internationally, she is a leader in efforts to improve girls’ and women’s access to education and careers in science and engineering and to increase the use of science and technology to empower women and address the problems they face in their daily lives, serving as Co-Chair of the Gender Advisory Board of the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development and Gender Equality InSITE, a global campaign to disseminate science and technology to help improve the lives and status of girls and women. In 2003, Dr. Malcom was awarded the Public Welfare Medal by the National Academy of Sciences, the Academy’s highest award.

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