February 18, 2020
The National Society of Black Physicists honors Dr. Mary James. Her work to advocate for physics for minorities and women has led to greater opportunities within the physics community for underrepresented groups.
Dr. Mary James is the daughter of a Tuskegee Airman. She enrolled into Hampshire College, in Amherst, MA in 1972. Growing up, she loved science, but quickly realized after one physics class at Hampshire College that her dream of becoming a scientist, might not be possible. However, after some years of persistence and determination through a relentless professor that believed in her, he convinced James to apply for a summer research internship at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC). It was here at the lunch table sitting next to a few senior engineers that were talking about physics, that she realized she could make physics a career. She returned back to Hampshire College where she would go on to receive a B.A. in Physics in 1976.
After graduation, James moved to California and began working as a Junior Engineer at SLAC. She began working on her Ph.D at Stanford University and completed her studies in Applied Physics in 1986 and was awarded her degree in March of 1988. In 1987, Dr. James joined the faculty of the University of Maryland, as an Assistant Professor in Electrical Engineering. In 1988, Dr. James moved on to become a Professor in Physics at Reed College in Portland, OR. In 2013, she was promoted to Dean for Institutional Diversity, a position she holds currently.
Legacy - Advocate for Physics among minorities and women
Dr. James is an advocate for physics among minorities and women. She currently serves on the leadership team of the Liberal Arts Diversity Officers consortium at Reed. She has served as a member and chair of the American Physical Society committee on Minorities in Physics. She established the Center for Teaching and Learning at Reed College, which strives to attract and retain women, first generation students and minorities in STEM majors. In 2018, Dr. James began working with the American Institute of Physics to launch TEAM UP, a Tasks Force to Elevate African American Representation in Undergraduate Physics and Astronomy. Over the past two years, her committee have been investigating the reasons for the persistent underrepresentation of African Americans in physics and has released a report with its finding, which can be found here.