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Jennie Patrick

Chemical engineer Jennie R. Patrick was born in Gadsden, Alabama on January 1, 1949. Her parents had only achieved schooling up to the sixth grade, with James working as a janitor and Elizabeth working as a maid. They encouraged Jennie and her four siblings to excel in their studies as a way to escape poverty. In 1964 Patrick attended Gadsden High School, a previously all white high school that was forced to integrate due to the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision. She graduated with honors in 1967 and then attended Tuskegee Institute until 1970, when the chemical engineering program was eliminated. Patrick transferred to the University of California at Berkeley, and received her B.S. degree in 1973. She went on to earn her Ph.D. degree in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1979.

Upon graduation, Patrick was hired in various positions in the chemical research and development industry, including General Electric, the Philip Morris Research Facility and the Rohm and Hass Company in Bristol. She was at Rohm and Haas for five years until 1993, when she became the assistant to the executive vice president at Southern Company Services in Birmingham, Alabama. Patrick also served as an adjunct professor at Rensselear Polytechnic Institute from 1980 to 1983, and at Georgia Institute of Technology from 1983 to 1987. Patrick returned to Tuskegee University in 1993 as the 3M Eminent Scholar and Professor of Chemical Engineering. In addition to her teaching duties, Patrick is developing research projects in material sciences, is actively involved in leadership roles at Tuskegee, and remains firmly committed to helping minority students find success, particularly in the fields of science and engineering. Patrick later worked as a senior consultant with Raytheon Engineers and Constructors in Birmingham and, in 2000, she founded Education & Environmental Solutions.

Patrick has received recognition from professional and academic organization, including the American Association of University Women Post-doctoral Fellowship, the National Fellowship Foundation Scholarship, the Outstanding Women in Science and Engineering Award. In 1983, she was featured in the “Exceptional Black Scientist” poster series by CIBA-GEIGY Corp.

Patrick works and lives in Peachtree, Georgia with Dr. Yaw D. Yeboah, her husband fellow MIT alum.

Jennie R. Patrick was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on December 14, 2012.

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James L. Cain Elementary School

Carver High School

Gadsden High School

Tuskegee University

University of California, Berkeley

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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Favorite Vacation Destination

San Francisco, California

Favorite Quote

You Know What I Mean.

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Favorite Food

Cake (Coconut)

Short Description

Chemical engineer Jennie Patrick (1949 - ) became the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in chemical engineering when she completed graduate studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1979.


Environmental Wellness Institute

Raytheon Engineers & Constructors

Tuskegee University

Southern Company Services

Rohm and Haas Company

Philip Morris Research Center

General Electric Company

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Timing Pairs

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Jennie Patrick's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Jennie Patrick lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Jennie Patrick describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Jennie Patrick describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Jennie Patrick describes how her parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Jennie Patrick describes her parents' personalities

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Jennie Patrick describes her siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Jennie Patrick describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Jennie Patrick talks about her upbringing in Gadsden, Alabama

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Jennie Patrick describes the sights, sounds, and smells of growing up in Gadsden, Alabama

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Jennie Patrick talks about her interests as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Jennie Patrick talks about her church and its influence

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Jennie Patrick describes her close relationship with her father

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Jennie Patrick talks about television in her childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Jennie Patrick talks about her curiosity as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Jennie Patrick talks about attending James L. Cain Elementary School

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Jennie Patrick talks about her education at Carver High School

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Jennie Patrick talks about her determination to succeed academically

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Jennie Patrick describes the integration of schools in Gadsden, Alabama

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Jennie Patrick describes the reactions of teachers at Gadsden High School

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Jennie Patrick describes being discriminated against despite her achievements

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Jennie Patrick describes the lack of support from civil rights organizations, following her enrollment in a recently integrated school

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Jennie Patrick describes her second year at Gadsden High School

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Jennie Patrick talks about her graduation and her college application process

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Jennie Patrick describes her time at Tuskegee University

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Jennie Patrick describes her time at the University of California, Berkeley

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Jennie Patrick describes her senior design project and how it was sabotaged by fellow students

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Jennie Patrick describes her experience in Advanced Engineering Mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Jennie Patrick notes the low number of African Americans at the University of California, Berkeley in the 1960s

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Jennie Patrick reflects upon her experience at the University of California, Berkeley

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Jennie Patrick describes her encounter with Dr. John Prausitz

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Jennie Patrick reflects upon the challenges of her educational experiences

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Jennie Patrick describes her doctoral research on superheated liquid temperature limits

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Jennie Patrick talks about graduating from MIT with her Ph.D. degree, and her relationship with her advisor

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Jennie Patrick talks about her relationship with her Ph.D. advisor, Robert C. Reid

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Jennie Patrick talks about her work at General Electric

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Jennie Patrick talks about her work at Philip Morris

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Jennie Patrick talks about her move to Rohm and Haas

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Jennie Patrick describes her work at Rohm and Haas

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Jennie Patrick talks about her work at Southern Company Services

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Jennie Patrick talks about her departure from Southern Company Services

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Jennie Patrick talks about her time at Tuskegee University

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Jennie Patrick reflects upon her impressions of black males at Tuskegee University

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Jennie Patrick talks about her time at Raytheon Engineers and Contractors

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Jennie Patrick talks about her illness

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Jennie Patrick talks about the chemical industry and Environmental Wellness Institute

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Jennie Patrick talks about the risks associated with chemical engineering

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Jennie Patrick reflects upon her career

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Jennie Patrick describes the making of scented products

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Jennie Patrick discusses the harmful nature of room fresheners

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Jennie Patrick talks about her legacy

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Jennie Patrick talks about her family

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Jennie Patrick talks about how she would like to help others

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Jennie Patrick talks about how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Jennie Patrick describes her photographs







Jennie Patrick describes her time at the University of California, Berkeley
Jennie Patrick talks about graduating from MIT with her Ph.D. degree, and her relationship with her advisor
Okay, so 1970, so you no longer had access to the scholarship to go to Berkeley, so--$$So that was a challenge. So I worked a year and saved every penny trying to go to Berkley [U-C Berkley], had enough money to survive about a half a year once I got there. And it was a tremendous hardship. And I didn't have any real support. I met a black professor named Dr. Harry Morrison. I took physics from him, and I was the only black kid in this large auditorium. And one day, he smiled at me. And I thought, oh, my goodness, the professor smiled at me. And so I was reluctant to just, you know, go down and say something to him because I didn't know whether or it would embarrass him or not. But I did. I took, you know, got the courage, and I went down and told him I wanted to say hello. And we started talking, and, you know, he asked me how was I doing. And at that time, I was really struggling financially, really had difficulty feeding myself 'cause I didn't have, you know, enough funds. So I would cut back on the quantity of food that I ate. And I explained to him what was happening. And he took upon, you know, upon himself to go to the financial aid office and secured me a grant, told them that I was an excellent student and there was no reason that the school couldn't find some way of financially helping me. So he really was very, you know, very important in my survival there at Berkley. Later on, it allowed he to house sit for him a couple of semesters which allowed , you know, me not to have the cost of living for that time period.$$Okay, so he was, I think I've heard him mentioned by others at Berkley that we've interviewed as being one of the brightest people they've ever met.$$Oh, yes, very, very bright, very humble, just a wonderful spirit, yes.$$I think one said he was the smartest man he had ever met.$$I think he had a PhD in both mathematics and physics if I'm not mistaken.$$Was he the first physics professor at Berkley, black, you know, physics professor?$$May have been, I mean easily could have been. I'm not totally certain of that.$$Yeah, I'm pretty sure he's the one. Now, did you ever meet Robert Bragg. He was a material scientist.$$Yes, I did.$$Okay.$$Yes, yes, I did.$$Yeah, okay.$$Don't know a lot about him. Berkeley was such an intense period of my life, had very little time to do anything other than study. I was the first black undergraduate student they had had in ten years. I was the only American female in the chemical engineering department at that time. They had three oriental students, female students. It was a challenging environment. Students were hostile, and so were many of the professors, really felt that I did not belong there.$$Was Bill Lester there then?$$Bill Lester was there. He was, I think associated with Lawrence Livermore, I think.$$Yeah.$$So he wasn't someone that I knew at that time.$$Okay, just wondered. So, but from what I've read, there's an interview that we had in the packet where you were asked about your experiences at Berkeley, and they seem to be pretty bad. They almost sound like high school.$$It was pretty bad. It was pretty awful. Yeah, Berkeley was a challenge. My senior year, we had to do design projects, and you usually work in teams of four people. And during the session that we were beginning to separate into teams, I sat in the room waiting for someone to join me and be on my team. And nobody would join me. And so I raised my hand, and the professor's name was Mr. Blue. I don't remember his first name, but I'll always remember his last name because he gave me the blues. But he, you know, was extremely bigoted. And I raised up my hand, and I said to him, nobody's on my team. And he looked at me, he says, "So what? You don't belong here anyway." And it shocked me. And I said, but this is a, you know, a project for a team. He says, "Well, you do the best you can as your team." And so here I am left with doing all this work that three other people should have been doing, by myself; horrendous experience. The teaching assistant was a Hispanic guy from some foreign country. I don't recall where. And he said to me, he says, I'm so saddened by what's, what I heard in the class. He says, I'll help you as much as I can, but I can't work on the project with you. And so I said, I'll do the best I can. I worked night and day, night and day, very, very little sleep. Towards the end of the project, I had gone to the campus early one morning, and again, this is before the days of the computers, so we had these huge Wang calculators that sat in a calculation room, they called it. And I'm sitting there, and I had been there since early morning, typing away, putting my little data there. And I was interrupted by these guys.$Okay, so after your PhD, now was there, did you, was there anything special about your graduation, getting your PhD--I know it is special in the first place. You were the first black woman to achieve a PhD in Chemical Engineering in the country.$$Yes, that is correct.$$So this is a big deal, and was that noted during that time?$$Yes, MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] was the first university, I think it was in 1888, that started chemical engineering. And schools like MIT, Berkeley, Wisconsin had a lot of the history and old timers who had passed the history on. When I finished my PhD at MIT, my advisor was the person who told me that, Jennie, you are the first African American to obtain a PhD in Chemical Engineering, African American female, to obtain a PhD in Chemical Engineering.$$Now, this is 1979, right?$$Nineteen-seventy nine [1979].$$Okay, so 1979, this is the last year of the Carter [President Jimmy Carter] administration. The, I think the Iran hostage crisis takes place that--$$Yes.$$--same year. So, now, were you hired (unclear) (simultaneous)--$$Yeah, I had lots of offers. I was really surprised. Every place I interviewed, I got an offer. My advisor and I often sort of bumped heads. Very, he was a very strong personality, somewhat mischief, somewhat of a prankster, a brilliant man, tremendous teacher, tremendous teacher, loved teaching. I was somewhat suspicious because I, you know, I thought that maybe he would give me the best recommendation because of some of the encounters (laughter) that we had.$$You know, he was also a good friend of the--$$Yes, yes--$$--professor from Berkeley that--$$--but to my shock, he did the reverse. I had interviewed for a position as a professor, and this professor asked me, he said, you know, you got such a--he says, he asked me what was the relationship like with my advisor. And I was suspicious when he asked that, and I said, "Why do you ask?" He says, well, I've never seen a recommendation like this one. And so immediately, I thought, "Oh, my gracious. He gave me a bad recommendation." And I said, so he said bad things about me, is that the case? He says, you thought he would say bad things about you? He says, no, to the contrary. He has you walking on water. I said, "Excuse me?" He said, I've never seen a recommendation like this. He says, I'm surprised that you thought he may give you a bad one. I said, we had conflict. He said, well, obviously, that conflict made him have enormous respect for you. And he says, for him, knowing who he is, to write a recommendation, says, you're pretty special. So I was pleased, of course, but shocked.$$Now, what was your biggest conflict over, if you recall?$$Lots of things, lots of things. He seemed to have wanted to just continue to add work, additional work to me, not always very helpful. So I was pretty much on my own, seemed to just, wanted to challenge me. And if I was going to succeed, it would be because of me and no one else. And that was the way it ended up. And so at the end of the dissertation, when I defended it--you normally present your dissertation and the room is filled with the professors. And they send you out after you present your information and they debate. Sometimes, it'll be a matter of minutes if they feel very good about you, half hour, hour. When it hits an hour, you're really probably in trouble. And after 15 minutes for me, they came back out and said, "Congratulations". And that was rather surprising to me 'cause it took a short time. And my advisor, I noticed he got to the end of the line, and I wondered why was he doing that. So he walked to the end of the line, and everybody had walked out of the room, and he looked at me, and he says, "You know, you're a tough cookie" (laughter), and I'm looking at the man. He says, you're one of the strongest people I've ever met. Congratulations, you won this war.$$That's an interesting comment, isn't it?$$Yes.$$So I can see why you might have suspected that--$$Yeah, you won this war. That was profound to me.$$Interesting.$$What were the backgrounds of these men? I mean did they share a similar background or did you ever--I mean I don't know if you had the opportunity to--(simultaneous)$$No, I think, I think chemical engineering traditionally was very, very conservative. Traditionally, it was a white male discipline. And since it started at a place like MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology], it had a lot of elitism associated with it. And so I was pretty much out of place when you think about it, in every sense of the word. I was neither male nor white. And--$$I wouldn't (unclear) be surprised if they had that much energy that--we hear often from people in the sciences that once they can get to the MIT level or that people don't really think about that--$$Well, MIT, in general, was a very good place for me. It did, the hostility was nowhere near the hostility at Berkeley [University of California, Berkeley]. MIT had a lot more black people by the nature of the school in science and engineering, had a lot more women. And so I loved the environment. I loved, I thrived on the intellectual challenge there. I thrived on meeting people with such brilliant minds. So for me, it was a great environment. The hostility was not as blatant as it had been at Berkeley. There were still lots of problems, don't get me wrong. But I never had, you know, really ugly confrontations with professors.