Celebrating Women Trailblazers at Michigan Tech

As we welcome March, we honor Women’s History Month—a time to celebrate the remarkable achievements and invaluable contributions of women trailblazers throughout history and at Michigan Technological University. This annual observance resonates deeply with our commitment to fostering an inclusive community where all individuals are empowered to excel.

Michigan Tech’s Pioneering Women

Just four years after Michigan Tech’s founding in 1885, Margaret McElhinney and Mary Louise Bunce enrolled, defying norms of the era. They paved the way for generations of women to pursue education in STEM fields. From that point forward, a powerful legacy took shape as women persistently broke barriers.

In 1933, Margaret Holley became the first woman to earn a bachelor’s degree from Michigan Tech. Women’s enrollment grew steadily, with milestones like the first female engineers graduating and women joining ROTC programs. Throughout the 20th century, their impact expanded through academic excellence, campus leadership, and athletic achievements.

Trailblazing Legacies

Faith A. Morrison

Professor Emerita Faith A. Morrison left an indelible mark at Michigan Tech as a former Associate Dean of the Graduate School, and through her expertise in chemical engineering, polymer rheology, and mentorship. Recognized for exceptional teaching and service, her impact spanned academia, professional societies, and community organizations. She holds a distinguished academic background, including a BSE in Chemical Engineering from Princeton University and a PhD from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Morrison’s expertise in areas like block copolymers and polymer rheology is renowned. Her influence extends beyond academia as an author of three textbooks and a visiting professor at Princeton University and Korea University (Seoul).

Morrison’s leadership in The Society of Rheology, where she served as President and on the Board of Directors of the American Institute of Physics, has significantly shaped the discipline. Additionally, she spearheaded the Rheology Bulletin from 2004-2020, emphasizing her commitment to knowledge dissemination. Notably, Morrison’s impact on teaching and mentorship is profound, as is evident in her recognition for guiding and inspiring the next generation of engineers and scientists.

Beyond her academic achievements, Morrison’s dedication to service is evident through her involvement in organizations like the Society of Intellectual Sisters and her contributions to Michigan Tech’s Diversity Council. Her accolades, including Omega Chi Epsilon’s Faculty Award and the Distinguished Service Award from The Society of Rheology, highlight her exceptional service and teaching. Post-retirement, she remains active in the community through various organizations such as the League of Women Voters of Copper Country and enjoys spending time with friends, engaging in local activities, and supporting healthcare needs alongside her husband, Dr. Tomas Co.

Gloria Melton

Gloria Melton was the first African American Dean of Students at Michigan Tech and played a pivotal role on campus and in the local community. Hailing from Memphis, Tennessee, she received her BA from Rhodes College in 1969. She received her MA from Northern Illinois University in 1972 and her PhD from Washington State University in 1976, with her dissertation on “Blacks in Memphis, 1920-1955.”

In 1982, Melton took an active role in the local community and joined Michigan Tech as a visiting instructor in social sciences and lecturer on Black history and ethnic relations. By that time, the Melton family included two children. Melton, working as a consultant with the Dean of Students Office led by Dean Linda Belote, played an instrumental role in developing a minority student services program. In September 1987, Melton was appointed by President Dale F. Stein as Michigan Tech’s first coordinator of Minority Student Services. Her dedication was recognized with promotions to Assistant and then Associate Dean of Students followed by Dean of Student Affairs and Provost Marty Janners. Finally, her impact grew further in 2004 when she was promoted to Dean of Students, a position she held with distinction until her retirement in 2011. Melton’s commitment to fostering an inclusive campus community was exceptional.

Beyond academia, Melton actively contributed within the local area. Over the years, she participated in several non-profit and public service groups including the Trustees of the Portage Lake District Library, the Pine Mountain Music Festival Board, tutoring students at the Houghton Elementary School, Michigan Tech Pre-school, and the Suzuki String Program.

These remarkable women, and countless others, embody the spirit of resilience and excellence that defines Michigan Tech’s diverse community.

Roots of Women’s History Month

The origins trace back to the early 20th century when International Women’s Day emerged from labor and suffrage movements. In 1980, this expanded into Women’s History Week and eventually the full month-long observation starting in 1987. By highlighting often-overlooked contributions, Women’s History Month provides a platform to honor women trailblazers, inspire dialogue, and advocate for continued progress.

National Women Trailblazers

  • Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” (1962) sparked the modern environmental movement by exposing the dangers of pesticides like DDT. Her meticulous research and eloquent writing catalyzed a ban on DDT and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), leaving an enduring legacy of environmental advocacy.
  • Mae Jemison shattered barriers as the first African American woman in space aboard the Endeavour in 1992, inspiring girls to pursue STEM careers. Beyond her pioneering spaceflight, Jemison continues to be a tireless advocate for science education, diversity, and pushing the boundaries of exploration.
  • Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera were pivotal activists at the forefront of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising, a watershed moment for LGBTQIA+ rights. As transgender women of color, they fought fearlessly for visibility and acceptance within the LGBTQIA+ movement, founding advocacy groups like the Gay Liberation Front.

Honoring the Past, Empowering the Future

While we celebrate the remarkable achievements of women pioneers, we must also address persisting disparities. The gender pay gap remains a stark reality—according to census data, women earn just 84 cents for every dollar earned by men on average. This divide is even greater for women of color—Black women earn 67 cents and Latina women earn 57 cents.

These economic inequities perpetuate broader systemic biases and hinder financial stability for women and families. From occupational segregation to caregiving responsibilities, multi-faceted factors maintain the gender wage gap across industries.

As we commemorate Women’s History Month at Michigan Tech, we reaffirm our commitment to an equitable, inclusive environment that values and empowers women’s voices and contributions. By honoring women trailblazers of the past and present, we pave the way for a future where gender equality is realized for all.

We would like to thank Linda Belote, Lindsay Hiltunen, Gloria Melton, Faith Morrison, and Emily Schwiebert for their assistance in writing this blog.