Chemistry Professor Emerita, Dr. Bojan Hamlin Jennings (1920-2015), passed away on Sept. 8 of this year. A member of Wheaton’s Chemistry faculty from 1943-1946 and 1950-1985, Jennings had a passion for encouraging female students to study and work in science related fields. She inspired over 150 chemistry majors over the course of her four decades at Wheaton and continued to support many of her alumni for the remainder of her life.
At the age of 12, Jenning’s interest in the sciences was instigated when she developed an interest in the works of microbiologist Paul de Kruif. She went on to receive a full scholarship to Kemper Hall boarding school, and later a bachelor’s degree from Bryn Mawr College, and a master’s and PhD from Harvard. During this time, she distinguished herself as a member of Phi Beta Kappa, New England Association of Chemistry Teachers and American Men of Science. Jennings began working in Wheaton’s Chemistry department during World War II where she strove to encourage women to enter the field of science. In 1959, she became the first faculty member at Wheaton to win a summer research grant to work with undergraduates. In 1965, current chemistry Professor Elita Pastra-Landis was one of the students chosen to do summer research with Jennings. Pastra-Landis said, “I met her at welcoming party at the President’s House and I told her I was interested in chemistry. That was the end. She took over and designed my life.” During her time at Wheaton, Jennings was the chair of the Chemistry department from 1978-1985 and held the A. Howard Meneely Professorship for Excellence in Teaching from 1975-1978. She also worked as a pre-med advisor for a decade, designed Wheaton’s biochemistry major, published 10 professional articles in scientific journals and wrote four books, all while maintaining a domestic life as a wife and mother. In her later years, Jennings did not slow down. Pastra-Landis said, “When she retired she never let go. She had dinners with every single President and Provost who ever came after her retirement. She stayed in touch with her alums, hundreds of them, all her life. She knew their lives and supported them.” In 2006, it was this dedication that was honored with the American Chemical Society Award for Encouraging Women into Careers in the Chemical Sciences. Jennings won the award after only one application and then donated all of the award money back to Wheaton in order to fund students traveling to scientific conferences. In 2008, Wheaton presented Jennings with an honorary degree of science for her lifetime of achievements and commitment to the college. The Jennings Family Endowed Scholarship and Family Prize continues to support science students at Wheaton. Her life inspired countless Wheaton students and faculty and remains a testament to the leadership and determination of the female scientists who paved the way for women in science today.