Early women faculty members reflect on time at CANR

Early women faculty members reflect on time at CANRIn the early 1980s, as at many institutions of higher education across the United States, change was taking shape in the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR).

That change came in the form of Judy Hough-Goldstein, Lesa Griffiths, Sherry Kitto and Robin Morgan – four of the first female faculty members hired by the college – who would go on to prestigious careers at UD, some ending up as CANR department chairs and in the case of Morgan, as dean of the college.

Judy Hough-Goldstein

Hough-Goldstein, professor of entomology who will retire this summer, was the first of the four to come to UD when she was hired by the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology in 1981, and she said that she was preceded by Sue Sullivan, a plant breeder who worked in the college in the 1970s.

Hough-Goldstein said that it really hit home that she was the only female faculty member during her first college-wide faculty meeting.

“It was definitely intimidating and some of the older faculty members and extension personnel were not used to female faculty members, but I must say that in my department, everybody was extremely supportive,” said Hough-Goldstein, who pointed out that the newer faculty members in her department had been working with women peers in graduate school and had no problems working with her at all.

Hough-Goldstein, who would eventually become chair of the department from 1994-2001, and make significant strides in researching a biological control agent — a stem-boring weevil — to help fight the invasive mile-a-minute weed, said that when the other departments started hiring women faculty members, it was a big relief.

“Sherry Kitto, Lesa Griffiths and Robin Morgan, once we had them coming in, after that it seemed like it was fairly rapid,” said Hough-Goldstein.

In Cooperative Extension as well, Hough-Goldstein said that having Joanne Whalen, a retired integrated pest management extension specialist, already established helped her to be accepted by the farmers she had to work with.

“She was a real pioneer too. Working with farmers back in the day, it was tough and I think she helped me in the farming community because they had gotten used to her, they loved her. She’s very gregarious and very easy to talk to and so that helped me a lot,” said Hough-Goldstein.

Hough-Goldstein said that she is proud of receiving an Outstanding Advising and Mentoring Award from the Office of Graduate Studies for mentoring graduate students.

She is also proud of helping to establish a doctorate in entomology and wildlife ecology while serving as chair of the department.

Sherry Kitto

Kitto, now retired from the department, was hired in 1984 as a horticulturist in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences (PLSC) to perform plant tissue culture and work with ornamentals and native plants.

When she arrived in the department, Kitto, who grew up with three brothers and worked jobs previously where she was the only woman, said that she knew how to take care of herself. She found the environment was collegial and she got along with her colleagues in the department.

Kitto was especially appreciative of being mentored by Al Morehart, who was serving as the department chair at the time.

When the department welcomed Yan Jin, professor in PLSC, to the faculty, Kitto decided to have lunches at her house to welcome new women faculty members.

“I lived right in Newark and so on a regular basis, two times a year I had a lunch so [Jin] could meet all the women on campus that I knew that I considered power people that would help her,” said Kitto.

Kitto notes that the PLSC faculty is now almost a 50-50 split between men and women.

In addition to the lunches, Kitto also helped to found Minorities in Agriculture and Natural Resources Related Sciences (MANRRS) on a national scale while at UD, and said she is proud of the undergraduate and graduate students that she taught.

In 2007, Kitto received the E. Arthur Trabant Award for Women’s Equity.

“My dream for working here is that the students I worked with would do better than I did – that they would have an easier path, that they would come out with more knowledge of life skills and come out with knowledge in the field but also how to negotiate, how to succeed, how to have a good life,” said Kitto.

Robin Morgan

Morgan was hired in 1985 and, as she came from a biological background, she had to adjust to a college focused on agriculture.

“I made a transition when I came here to agriculture but also I had not done virology. I had to learn the virology and luckily I was around people who knew it really well,” said Morgan, crediting Jack Gelb, director of the Avian Biosciences Center and professor of avian virology, for helping her along the way.

Morgan noted that ten years after she arrived, she and Gelb were at a conference where Gelb was giving a talk on molecular biology and she was giving a talk on testing a vaccine in chickens and she remembers feeling like the department had turned a corner.

I was giving the pathology talk and Jack was giving the molecular biology talk,” said Morgan. “At that point, I felt like the department really had been able to merge those worlds [biology and agriculture] together and they were able to do it way before other groups got on board, so it was a really exciting time.”

Morgan grew very interested in agriculture and eventually became associate dean in 2000, acting dean in 2001 and dean in 2002.

Of her time as dean, Morgan, who was also director of Cooperative Extension for the first year of her tenure, said that she wasn’t afraid to make mistakes and that everyone was very patient and tolerant with her as she learned the ropes.

She is proud of many things during her tenure as dean, notably the creation of the UDairy Creamery, for which she credits Tom Sims, who served as associate dean under Morgan and helped get the popular creamery off the ground.

“Tom figured out all the details so that is something I think will endure long after either one of us are here,” said Morgan. “What I like most about it, is that it has such a life of its own. There are so many things that we build in academia that depend on us, so they don’t endure when we leave, but that won’t be the case with the creamery. It’s going to last and last. You build something that has its own legs and becomes way bigger than you ever imagined.”

With regard to the hiring of more women by the college, Morgan said she knew the college had turned a corner when she could no longer immediately recollect the number of women faculty members.

“There was a time when I always knew how many women were in the college. Now I can’t instantly recollect that number, and I would have to actually count them. I think as dean I remember someone asking me how many women are in the college and I said, ‘I’ll have to count them.’ That was sort of an ‘oh man, we turned a corner’ moment, when I wasn’t saying, ‘Oh, three. Here they are.’ It was a number that I couldn’t immediately remember and I’m really proud of hiring a lot them,” said Morgan.

Lesa Griffiths

In addition to Morgan, the Department of Animal and Food Sciences added Griffiths, the T.A. Baker Professor of Agriculture and Natural Resources, in 1986.

Morgan called Griffiths a great colleague and one of the most gifted teachers she’s ever worked with. “A lot of the students looked to Lesa and she has taught thousands of them,” Morgan said. “She influenced so many young women. She is incredibly gifted with thinking about how to reach someone; she is a really talented teacher.”

Griffiths developed the first UD study abroad program to New Zealand in 1999 and with her 2018 program, she will have taken over 250 students abroad. She went on to serve as associate provost for international programs and director of the UD Institute for Global Studies (IGS) for 10 years.

“Like the others, I received a lot support from my colleagues in both the department and the Provost’s Office when I was in IGS. Judy is a wonderful role model and while Robin and I shared many experiences in our department, it is reflecting on some of our shared personal experiences during our early careers that we roll in laughter about,” said Griffiths. “Sherry remains my most influential mentor, helping me develop my network of strong women and building the confidence to use my voice on behalf of students.”

Griffiths also served as associate dean for academic programs in the college for five years.

As of the fall 2016, CANR has 26 female faculty members, roughly 32 percent of the faculty in the college.

In addition to increases in the amount of female faculty members, CANR has 615 females enrolled as undergraduate or graduate students, out of 939 total students in 2017.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photo by Wenbo Fan

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