By Ben Sherman, Fort Sill March 28, 2013
FORT SILL, Okla. (March 28, 2013) -- Fort Sill celebrated National Women's History Month March 21 with a luncheon which featured a very special speaker.
Dr. Ann Nalley, a professor of chemistry at Cameron University, spoke of her passion not only for chemistry and the sciences, but for developing future leaders, especially women. She believes her career reflects the struggles that women have faced in her field over the past 50 years.
"The role of women in chemistry and the sciences hasn't been easy, and I think what I have been able to accomplish over the years reflects that," said Nalley. "I used to think that I achieved what I have done because I was a woman, but I also know that it's because I worked very hard. It hasn't been good for women in the sciences until recent years, but fortunately I had lots of good opportunities."
This year's theme is "Women Inspiring Innovation through Imagination," and Nalley's life reflects that theme perfectly, according to Col. Jennifer Bedick, Reynolds Army Community Hospital commander. The hospital's Equal Opportunity team sponsored the women's history luncheon at the Patriot Club.
"If you spend any time with Doctor Nalley, you quickly realize her exceptional intelligence. I can't say I understood a lot when she talked about nano-things and her molecular engineering 3-D modeling stuff. It was all above my head. But what you pick up is her passion, her drive and her desire, not only for her craft, but also her teaching, and her desire to get information out to others," Bedick said. "She also has a wonderful passion for what she does, and to show future women leaders how much they can achieve."
"My first female role model was Marie Curie, the famous scientist, who was also my only science role model. I never had a woman science teacher all the way through to college. I read her biography 10 times in the rural one-room school I went to my first four years of school. I fell in love with her and decided then I was going to be a scientist. I didn't know what a scientist was, but I knew I wanted to be one," Nalley told the crowd of 300.
Nalley explained that her real breakthrough came when she went to high school. Her science teacher picked her to enter the state chemistry contest, which she won. Her teacher then had her apply for a summer position at the National Science Foundation, which was created because the Russians launched Sputnik.
"Sputnik changed the whole United States, because everyone began to realize that we were really behind and they wanted to encourage young people to go into science. That changed my life," Nalley said. "I was chosen to go for the summer. So my family packed me up in the back of the pickup truck, and we pulled up in front of the dorm at Oklahoma State University looking like 'The Beverly Hillbillies.' I didn't even have a suitcase. I was a poor little country kid."
She spent six weeks on the OSU campus studying chemical engineering and came home with her name engraved on a slide rule.
"I didn't even know how to use it. After that I got all sorts of scholarship offers, and it changed my life forever," she added.
Nalley started out studying chemical engineering at Oklahoma State and was the first woman in that program. She graduated with her master's degree and got a job at Cameron in 1969. She soon went back and got her Ph.D. in chemistry. That opened up all sorts of opportunities. She hasn't stopped since that summer in 1958 as a high school student when she attended the science academy at OSU.
"I have had many firsts and many opportunities to travel all over the world because of those. I was elected in 2005 to be president of the American Chemical Society, the only woman leader to ever be elected to the top position of a chemical society. That allowed me to visit over 27 countries that year," she said.
In the past four decades Nalley has achieved many honors, and has worked tirelessly to advance opportunities for women in the sciences.
"People think that just because women are women they can't do certain things. For example, people didn't think I could do physics in high school, but I did. So I think we have to open up and let women do the things they are capable of doing," she said.
However, Nalley points out women are still under-represented in the chemical professions, both in education and in industry.
"It's simply because when the employers hire women, they think 'She can't do this because she is a woman.' When you look at one of my graduates, Doctor Betsy Rice, a research chemist with the Army Research Laboratory in Aberdeen, Maryland, you wouldn't think this little woman could lead the way she does. But she works on scientific levels that astound the mind.
"Women are very, very capable and they are often not recognized for their capabilities. If you hold them back just because they are women then they have difficulty achieving all they can accomplish," she said. "Over the past 35 years at Cameron we have had more than 60 percent of the women who entered our program get their degrees in chemistry.
"So that's what I've tried to do in my life; find the potential in the women I encounter in my life, elevate them to their highest level of ability and see where they can take their careers," Nalley said. "I see a bright future for women, and I hope that the men will continue to be strong in the sciences. But women are going to be the leaders, and it takes all of us working together as leaders to make our country the great country it is."
Maj. Gen. Mark McDonald, Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill commanding general, thanked Nalley for her inspiring message. He echoed her words about women as leaders.
"Success in our military is critically based on the success of women in our military. We've just opened up two more specialties within the field artillery realm to females. So as far as I'm concerned we ought to open them all up. That doesn't scare me. We've demonstrated over and over the value we place on our women in the military," McDonald said.