This post was written by Colleen Gerrity, Reading Room Coordinator. She is currently pursuing her MA in Psychology.
Happy March, and Happy Women’s History Month! On this 35th celebration of Women’s History Month, we honor the ongoing achievements and contributions of women in the United States and around the world. Women have and continue to play a vital role in the growth of our culture and society, especially here at George Mason University. Dr. Eugenie “Jean” V. Mielczarek was one of those astounding women.
Hired in February 1967 as an assistant professor, Jean was the first woman physicist at Mason, in addition to being a founding professor of the Physics Department. This was a monumental feat in the male-dominated world of physics, science, and academia, but Jean didn’t stop there. She was also a leader and advocate for women, particularly women scientists.
Throughout her 35 years at Mason, Jean taught several physics courses, along with publishing papers and two books on the study of biomagnetism and biophysics. She was renowned for her teaching and high standards for the department. Jean’s leadership and drive paved the way for the diversity in science that Mason is known for today.
Jean was known for being a member of the Women’s Action Group, which notably fought for salary equity among the genders at Mason. She advocated for women to be part of the conversation, such as by questioning why women weren’t on government science advisory boards and writing about the discrimination women face in the field. Jean worked tirelessly for women to be welcomed fairly and with respect in the world of science.
Starting at the high school level, Jean hosted a Women’s Career Day, which featured STEM-related discussions and panelists to get young girls excited about science. Joining her were several women who broke glass ceilings to achieve their success. Among them was one of my professors, Dr. Jane Flinn. Formally a professor in the Physics Department, she now teaches and conducts research in the Department of Psychology and Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience. Jane has been at Mason for over fifty years, and similar to Jean, she developed the Ph.D. concentration in Biopsychology (now Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience).
While women today still face adversaries in the professional world, we can honor women like Jean Mielczarek who have improved the climate for women in STEM and women at Mason. We now remember Jean, who passed away in 2017, and the many women throughout history who helped make women’s future bright.
Eugenie Mielczarek papers, Collection C0059, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.
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