Wetterhahn to be first female dean of faculty
By Kristen King, Senior Editor
Published on Wednesday, February 9, 1994
Karen Wetterhahn's six-month stint as dean of the faculty next year will not be the first time she has paved the way for women to follow in her footsteps.
Four years ago, Wetterhahn became the first associate dean of the sciences - a position from which she will retire this June.
In 1976, just three years after the College became coeducational, Wetterhahn became the first female professor in the chemistry department, a position in which she has worked to forge new paths for her fellow female scientists.
Wetterhahn, who is currently in the last few months of her four-year tenure as associate dean, will fill in for Dean of the Faculty Jim Wright when he becomes acting College president during James Freedman's six-month sabbatical starting next January.
She not only brings to the position her perspectives as a professor and a dean, but also her experiences as a female scientist and a co-founder of the Women in Science Project, a program designed to support female students in math, engineering and the sciences.
Wright, who recommended Wetterhahn to Freedman, said he is excited the president appointed her to take over his duties.
"I think she's an exceptional scientist, colleague and administrator. She does a great job in whatever she does," Wright said. "She's committed to research and teaching and I couldn't be happier about the appointment."
Wright said Wetterhahn is especially qualified because she has served as an associate dean in both the sciences and graduate studies.
Wetterhahn served as associate dean of the sciences and graduate studies in 1990 before the position was split into two separate jobs with Wetterhahn taking over in the sciences.
Because Wetterhahn's stay in the dean of the faculty position is only temporary, she will be limited in terms of the initiatives and long-term planning she can pursue.
"I certainly plan on continuing the fine work [Wright] has done and work on serving the faculty," Wetterhahn said.
Dick Birnie, associate dean of graduate studies, said "Some of the things developed under Jim Wright have developed because of Karen," he added. Birnie pointed specifically to Wetterhahn's involvement in WISP and actively seeking more grants for scientific research.
Carol Muller, associate dean at the Thayer School of Engineering, said seeing a woman in the high positions Wetterhahn has held is inspiring.
"I think Karen has been a role model and mentor for as long as she's been at Dartmouth," Muller said.
In the fall of 1990, Wetterhahn and Muller co-founded WISP, bringing together their similar interests to plot out a course to encourage women to pursue endeavors in the sciences.
Wetterhahn stepped into her position as associate dean earlier that year with three goals in mind, including "considering ways to increase the presence of women students and faculty in the sciences," she said in an interview with The Dartmouth in 1990.
"Being a woman in science, I have always been interested in women in science," Wetterhahn said earlier this week from her office in Wentworth Hall. "When I came over here one of my goals was to do something here in that area."
But Wetterhahn said not all women receive the amount of support she has throughout her science career.
"I was very lucky - I think perhaps in the places that I went, including here at Dartmouth," she said in an interview for a November 1992 WISC newsletter. "At all of the different environments - Saint Lawrence, Columbia, here - the atmospheres were very collegial and very nurturing and full of support."
Wetterhahn graduated in 1970 from Saint Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y, with a bachelors degree in chemistry. She received a doctorate in Inorganic Chemistry and Physical Biochemistry from Columbia University in 1975.
Even though Wetterhahn has herself experienced positive ventures in science, she said she thinks programs like WISP, which offers internships, lectures and guidance to women interested in the sciences, are necessary.
"Certainly, I think over the years there has been more and more acceptance of women and less and less discrimination. But we are not where we should be yet - not to the ideal situation," Wetterhahn said in the 1992 interview.
"Until we have universal acceptance, then we must still continue to offer programs and support and making sure that we will reach that goal," she said.
By simply serving in her positions, Wetterhahn serves as a role model for female students as well as faculty.
"Women can see we have women on the faculty that can be successful and even serve as deans and in administrative positions," Wetterhahn said.
Mathematics and Computer Science Professor Fillia Makedon said Wetterhahn is the first female dean she has worked for.
"She is the best dean I've worked for. She is a visionary person, full of support, confident and clear in what she tells you," Makedon said.
Since Wetterhahn and Muller founded WISP in 1990, the percentage of women majoring in math and the sciences has doubled, WISP Director Mary Pavone said.
Twenty-four percent of the women in the Class of 1995 have declared a science-related major, but only 12 percent of the women from the Class of 1992 did so, she said. The actual number of women majoring in the sciences has increased from 65, in 1992, to an estimated 115 in 1995, Pavone said.
Wetterhahn said in 1990 that she also wanted to focus on improving science facilities and developments in the life sciences during her tenure as associate dean.
In the last four years, the science departments have seen the completion of Burke and Sudikoff laboratories as well as initial renovations to Steele Hall to create more room for all of the sciences, Wetterhahn said.
She has also helped reorganize the life sciences.
"We now offer a broader range of options for undergraduates in terms of majors in the life sciences," Wetterhahn said.
Originally, Wetterhahn was supposed to relinquish her position as associate dean of the sciences last June, but because two other associate deans were scheduled to leave at the same time, Wright asked Wetterhahn to continue in her role for another year.
Wetterhahn will step down as associate dean in June to take a six-month leave from the College. But, she said she will be doing research at Dartmouth during her break and so will be in close contact with the dean of the faculty's office.
Wetterhahn lives with her husband and their two children, an 11-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter, in Lyme, N.H.